Word and Spirit

Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s selection is from The Source of Life. He’s talking about the life of creation, and I love the picture he gives here of the interconnection of Word and Spirit:

According to Wisdom literature (Ecclesiastes, for example), this creative Wisdom can also be called God’s Word or God’s Spirit. But what is meant is always the presence of God immanent in the world and present in all things. If all things are created by one God, then a transcendent unity precedes their diversity. If they are created by God’s Wisdom, then their diversity is also grounded on an immanent unity. Through Wisdom the community of created things is formed, a community in which they exist with one another and for one another…

Where God’s Word is, God’s Spirit is, too. According to Genesis 1:2, the vibrant energies of God’s Spirit precede creation through the Word. God creates all things through his words, which name, differentiate, and judge. That is why everything is individually different, ‘each according to its kind.’ But God always speaks in the one same breath of his Spirit, which gives life…The Word specifies and differentiates; the Spirit binds and forms the harmony. When human beings speak, the words differ, but they are communicated in the same breath; God speaks through individual created things and ‘breathes through all creation.’

The story of creation is not only found in Genesis, of course. We hear echoes of it in John 1 (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God) and in Revelation (Behold, I am creating all things new!). In these poetic acts of creation, we see the Trinity at work: God sends forth, the Spirit hovers and breathes upon and into creation, the Word dwells and distinguishes. Lovely.

What we often miss, and what Moltmann points out so eloquently here, is the reciprocal relationship of Word and Spirit, of naming and distinguishing with binding together in harmony. You see, if we do only one of the two, we are going to be lopsided, and something will be missing. We cannot be nameless, or without shape. We can’t live without any sense of judgment, any sense of “what’s what.” But if we only live there, if we ONLY name and differentiate and judge, it can become a lifeless place. It’s often known by the name of legalism.

Similarly, if we live only in the binding and the harmony, if there is only togetherness and there is no distinction, problems abound there, too. What about the person who needs to set healthy boundaries between him and his oppressor? What about the teen who is becoming an adult and needs to separate from the parent? What about all the things that make us uniquely who we are? Smooshing us all together without thought is careless and it mutes the very beautiful diversity God’s creation was designed to show.

So, then, Wisdom tells us, we meet where the two join together. The Word, who names us with love, and the Spirit, who binds us together even in our differences. They are both true; they are both real. We can’t lose sight of what makes us “us.” But we can’t lose sight of Who holds all of this together, either.

That’s why I love this picture Moltmann gives of a person speaking words but breathing with the same breath. No matter the language, or the age, or the mental capability, words are words, distinct and different. But even in the most distinguishing situations, we all breathe the same. We all are sustained by the breath which brings tone and sound and life to our words. We are distinct, but even in that distinction, we are held together by a reality bigger than our own.


  1. You have given me a great gift, Danielle. I had a sense and a vision of the relationship between Logos and Pneuma, Word and Spirit, but could never verbalize it to anyone else in a way that made any sense. Speaking words. Breathing with the same breath. I get it! The Great Distinction unified.

  2. Exactly! A unified distinction. A distinct unity. (Moltmann loooves to do those two-sentence-word-switches.) The full reality isn’t in just one: it’s where they meet together and amplify one another.

    Your sense and your vision will always lead you to what’s True. :) Glad our German friend helped you know how to communicate it!

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