Emotional and Physical Manifestations of the Holy Spirit

I was watching a revival meeting online recently. A well-known revivalist was inviting God to touch people in the congregation and people were reacting emotionally and physically. Some were crunching and laughing. Some were crying and trembling. Others were sitting peacefully. At one point several people leaped out of their seats explosively and ran about the room. It was noisy and messy and beautiful.

As I watched, I sensed God’s presence and touch myself, which for me at that moment meant a combination of giggles, goose-bumps, and twitches.

I was also fascinated by the real time comments flooding in as the video played. Mostly they were very positive, but a smaller percentage was quite critical.

“This is so unbiblical.”

“I’m very concerned by this.”

“These people are so deceived.”

Some of the negative responses were quite strong. In the midst of my own giggling and twitching, I began to wrestle with why such manifestations of God’s presence so often trigger strong opposition. I think there are a lot of reasons, but here’s some of what I thought about that day.

  1. We live in a religious culture that has a deeply cultivated mistrust of emotions. “Emotions can’t be trusted” is the basic thought process. The belief that an emotional response to God is something that shouldn’t be trusted is a logical conclusion within that framework. But I reject that set of assumptions. Emotions are a gift from an emotional God. They are part of what it means to reflect God’s image on the earth. Emotions are a valuable indicator of the reality of what we actually believe. That our emotions would resonate with the presence and touch of God makes complete sense if you haven’t already rejected emotions as a valuable part of our humanity.
  2. We live in a religious culture that believes our bodies (and the material world they inhabit) is, at best, unimportant and, at worst, bad. Within this framework, “heaven” is defined in terms of no longer having a body. The ultimate goal of the gospel narrative within this framework is to escape material reality through death or the rapture and to spend eternity in a non-material reality. As above, this way of thinking positions us to reject the body and to have no anticipation that God’s touch could affect our physicality in some observable way. I reject that way of thinking as well. God created our bodies and he thinks they are very good. He created the material world and he thinks it is very good. His plan includes the resurrection of our bodies and the renewal of earthly reality through the rejoining of heaven and earth.

Once we begin to see that God has created us body, soul, and spirit and that God desires to connect with us as whole persons, it only makes sense that we might at times experience God holistically.

I wonder if overwhelming experiences like I saw in this video are meant by God to shake us out of our belief that Christianity is primarily about doctrine and behavior, that God primarily wants us to relate to him as an intellectual exercise.  We tremble and cry and laugh and twitch and fall down and all kinds of other things because God wants us to experientially learn that we are more than intellect, that faith is more than mental assent, that God is a person, not a propositional statement, and that relationship with God can and should touch the totality of our being in an experiential way.


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