Why You Can’t Capture the Holy Spirit on Video
The Holy Ghost
In Western culture, we sometimes call the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost. We think of it as some force that empowers people in some way, but we don’t always know why. So we settle for the image in our minds of people shaking involuntarily, laughing, falling over, and speaking in unintelligible words.
This image of the Holy Ghost in culture is used often to ridicule Christians. Even worse, it’s used to accuse them of misleading and brainwashing people – including children. If you go right now to look up videos about the Holy Spirit on YouTube, and if you haven’t experienced the Holy Spirit yourself, you’ll probably agree with the cultural consensus on the matter.
What is the Holy Spirit?
Here’s my definition, based solely on my own experience:
The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God. It’s how we move from knowing about God, to knowing God.
Tacit Knowledge v Explicit Knowledge
Explicit knowledge is defined as:
Knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, accessed and verbalized. It can be easily transmitted to others.
This basically means “knowledge” as we generally know it. Information transmitted verbally or in writing or other visualizing.
And if you know God from Bible stories, religious texts, or some holiday blessing, you know Him explicitly. Kinda like memorizing and reciting Scripture.
Scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi introduced the term “tacit knowledge,” which he defines as:
Knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.
This sounds like an attempt to communicate a spiritual experience. It’s interesting that the prophets in the Bible use the word “like” often, when explaining a vision. They’re describing beasts, locust, flames, hail, etc. – it seems that they’re at a loss for words. I believe they had difficulty articulating what they saw. They didn’t have Michael Bay or Peter Jackson around to produce the image of a beast with ten horns rising out of the sea…
A Deeper Knowing
Because we rely heavily on explicit knowledge, we tend to put God in that category. We want to know Him explicitly. We want to keep Him at arms length, making sure we’re OK with Him, and that everything’s cool.
But He wants to know us tacitly. So much so, that there’s a battle between the two types of knowledge in our lives. He is in pursuit of a deeper relationship with us, of a deeper knowing. We’re reading books, trying to make sense of who He is. We’re trying to compartmentalize that knowledge to give us peace of mind, and then pass it on to others. But He is constantly drawing us to a different place, he’s inviting us to go to a higher level, and that requires experiencing Him.
A Zeal for Tacit Knowledge
In Nathan Kontny’s article, he communicated the amazing story of Sir Robert Christison. He was one of the people who inspired the character Sherlock Holmes.
Christison had a zeal for tacit knowledge in a medical context. It was so great, that he actually drank poison to learn of its effects. In doing so, he walked out a modern version of one of the more harrowing priestly practices of scripture:
‘…and may this water that causes the curse go into your stomach, and make your belly swell and your thigh rot.’ Then the woman shall say, ‘Amen, so be it.’ (Numbers 5:22 NKJV)
In the book of Numbers, an adulterous woman is judged by making her drink “the bitter water that brings a curse.” If she’s guilty of adultery, she will drink the water and it will make her “belly swell and… thigh rot.” However, if she’s not guilty, no harm will come to her.
Now, we can talk about this on the level of explicit knowledge. But in doing so, we go no much further than understanding that this was a cruel historical act, and thank God we don’t do it today.
But Christison knew that it is being done in modern times. A similar process was being conducted in African tribes using poisonous calabar beans. They were served to prisoners in a concoction, and if you’re guilty, you die, if you’re innocent, you don’t. How does that make any sense? Is Numbers 5 really happening today?
Christian was so hungry for tacit knowledge on the matter, that he drank the calabar bean concoction. Without going too much further, you can read the rest of Nathan Kontny’s wonderful article here.
You Will Look Crazy (and That’s OK)
God is as real today as He was when the events in Numbers 5 were taking place. He knew what He was doing when He instructed the priest to serve poison to the suspected adulteress. And He knows what He’s doing when He causes people to look like fools at church meetings on YouTube.
I remember once getting a flurry of emails about revival meetings taking place in the US. Of course, they came with YouTube links. I checked out a video, and I saw people lying all over the floor, laughing, falling over, etc.
From the viewpoint of explicit knowledge, this was pretty much a closed case. They all looked drunk or crazy. That’s it. Even Eli the priest didn’t get it when Hannah was praying in 1 Samuel – he called her a drunkard. God knows this, He knows how people look when they’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows about documentaries that have been made to portray revival meetings in a negative light.
And I don’t know how much He cares about that. Because you can only go so far with explicit knowledge, and that isn’t enough to know God. To know God is to answer the tugging at your heart to put yourself in a place where you are going to look like a fool if you get caught on video. He wants to give you a tacit understanding of Him.
Next time you become aware of God’s invitation to you, don’t fall back on your explicit knowledge and shrug it off. Instead, pursue the tacit knowledge He wants to give you.