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Contemporary Comments

"The Personality of the Holy Spirit" |January 28, 2017 | Order Info

Texts: John 16:13-14; Romans 8:14-16; Romans 15:13; John 14:6; John 17:17; Romans 5:5

As soon as you approach Pepper she starts sizing you up. Using facial recognition capabilities, Pepper determines your gender and age. When you ask her questions, she draws from cloud-based information to give what she thinks are relevant answers. If you smile, she determines the conversation is going well. If you don’t, she might ask if she misunderstood your request.

Pepper’s maker, Softbank Robotics, envisions a world in which retailers incorporate this technology, where it feels normal to approach a robot with customer service questions. At the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York last week, demonstrations abounded of technology that could assist a store employee in closing the deal—or, in some cases, that could answer the very questions clerks might typically help with.

The advances raise thorny questions about what the retail workforce of the future will look like if a growing array of tasks can soon be punted to robots or tablet applications. Pepper’s makers stress that they don’t see the technology replacing human workers. Rather, they see it as a supplement. While Pepper is answering simple questions such as, “Where’s the restroom?” a sales associate can handle complex tasks such as recommending shoes to go with your dress, or helping you find the last pair of jeans in your size.

When you encounter Pepper, it’s hard not to be struck by the quirky novelty of the situation: You’re being chatted up by something that looks part animé cartoon, and part Star Wars stormtrooper. And yet the interaction feels strangely familiar, because of how uncannily humanoid her gestures are. From the way she cocks her head when asking a question to the way her fingers curl up when she draws her hands to her hips, it all feels very integrated. Almost a real person, but not quite. 1

We often envision the Holy Spirit in a similar way: a soulless force, lacking independent sentient capabilities. Our lesson this week dispels this notion as we explore the personality, and the personhood, of the Holy Spirit. One of the first descriptions we see is Jesus’ words in John 14:26: “He will teach you all things.” The one we often call “the third person of the Godhead” for lack of a better way to express the Spirit’s personality, is simply a “He.”

The challenge we face with our limited language capabilities is that we don’t know how to assign personality to a seemingly nameless person. The Father has a name: Yahweh; the Son has a name: Jesus. We even name a robot “Pepper” and assign it a gender to give the illusion of personality. We only know the third person by His job title: the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s as simple as removing the definite article “the” from the title and recognizing that this person does have a name: Holy Spirit.

~ cb

1. washingtonpost.com


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