GOD IS NOT NICE
In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells the familiar story of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles when they are huddled together in a room, afraid that at any moment they will be found and arrested(Acts 2:1-13). A close look at the passage reveals some surprises. Take, for instance, the tongues of fire that appear above each apostle’s head (2:3). Fire is never used in scripture as a symbol of peace or contentment; it is rather a means of purifying or even destroying (as in Luke 3:9, 16-17). The phrase "tongues of fire" appears in Isaiah as an image of destructive power: "As the tongue of fire devours the stubble…" (Isaiah 5:24). The fire of Pentecost, then, should remind us of what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews warns us: “Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). This is hardly a soothing image!
Another detail in the story of Pentecost brings out this unsettling side of the Spirit: “They were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong, driving wind, and it filled the entire house where they were" (Acts 2:1-2). The metaphor of "wind" already gives us a hint that the Spirit may not necessarily be something soothing, static or passive. In fact, it is Luke's description of the wind that sends the clearest warning that what is about to happen is anything but peaceful and gentle. The Greek says literally “And there came suddenly out of heaven a sound as of a rushing, violent [biaios] wind" (Acts 2:2). The adjective biaios comes from the noun bia, “violence, physical force.” A quick look at the other places in Acts where Luke uses bia gives an idea of what he is implying with his image of the wind.
In chapter five, as soon as the angel had led the apostles out of jail, they hurried back into the temple to continue preaching. Then “the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without violence [bia], because they were afraid of being stoned by the people" (Acts 5:27). Bia is the kind of force that can unleash a riot in the streets. In fact, Luke later uses the word to describe just such a melee: with the whole city in turmoil, a mob rushed in and dragged Paul out of the temple. A cohort of Roman soldiers was sent to break up the riot, and “When he reached the steps, Paul was carried by the soldiers because of the violence [bia] of the mob" (Acts 21:35). In Chapter 27, during a fierce storm, the captain deliberately runs the ship aground, and its stern is shattered to pieces "under the violence [bia] of the waves” (Acts 27:41).
Biaios warns me that the same "mighty wind" that troubled the waters in Genesis (Genesis 1:2), and that blew on the apostles, continues to blow today. Now and then the wind of the Spirit is going to roar into my own comfortable life and uproot my favorite assumptions, and perhaps tear the roof off of my snug spirituality. Luke wants me to remember that this is a part of the mysterious, creative pattern of God’s work in my life: the Spirit sometimes needs to remove obstacles that are standing in the way of my spiritual growth, so as to replace them with new possibilities and new promises.
............................Martin Sharp. "PENTECOST"