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Many articles and books have been written about the Holy Spirit as the invisible, shy, mysterious, or even missing person of the blessed Trinity. This is not surprising if we consider the names and images for the Spirit of God that we find in the Bible. "Spirit," for example, comes from the Hebrew ruah, which is literally translated "breath" or "wind." Invisible and free but also life giving, alternately gentle and serene, or powerful and howling--all this is implied in this meaning of "spirit." "Spirit" is appropriately chosen as a name for the third person of God. We do not see the Spirit, but he is life. His presence and voice can be as gentle as a spring breeze or as forceful as a hurricane. He is the Holy Spirit, because he is God--the one who is holy--totally unlike and infinitely above all else.
The very word "spirit" makes the Holy Spirit difficult to picture in our minds. Other images of the Spirit in Scripture are somewhat more concrete, and each one highlights different truths about him.1
The Holy Spirit is portrayed as living water flowing from the believer's heart (see John 7:38-39; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Isaiah 44:3-4; 55:1; 58:11; Revelation 22:1-2). This image reveals the Spirit as God's life-giving refreshment, cleansing and healing.
The Holy Spirit is represented as a dove that descended upon Jesus (see Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10, 3:33; John 1:32). This image evokes the memory of God's covenant with Noah and represents the beginning of a new covenant that surpasses the old. The dove is a sign of the peace and purity of the Holy Spirit, which he gives to those who receive him.
The Spirit is presented as the tongues of fire at Pentecost (see Acts 2:3). He is also the radiant, purifying fire manifested in the prophets--among them, Elijah, John the Baptist, and, ultimately, Jesus, who came to "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16). Jesus said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled" (Luke 12:49).