As when the time to venture comes, she stirs them out to flight, so we are pressed to boldly try, to strive for daring height.1
And if we flutter helplessly, as fledgling eagles fall, beneath us lift God's mighty wings to bear us, one and all.
I don’t usually spend much sermon time focusing on Greek words, but this word is so rich it deserves our attention. If you look up the passage in different English translations, you’ll discover that it can be translated in different ways. Each translation picks up a nuance that help us understand who and what the Spirit is.
I. The Advocate
In the same way, the Spirit stands before God and the World to defend us. This Advocate intercedes with the words we don’t have the courage to say to God. We get a sense of what this might mean in the first letter of John, which says that "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous." In 1 John, Jesus is the Advocate, but in both cases – whether it’s Jesus or the Spirit – there is one who will defend us and will bring reconciliation to our lives.
The image of God as comforter could make God seem passive and weak, which is how many people think of women. But if you look at the women of the Bible they were neither weak nor passive; most were active and strong-willed. As the divine Comforter, the Spirit of God is acting for us, intervening on our behalf, providing the care we need when in trouble. Theologian Michael Welker speaks of the Spirit as being the Comforter who gives us "strength in unfamiliar situations, and acts out of them for my benefit." Not only that, but the Spirit empowers us to bring strength and steadfastness to others who are "distant, foreign, even hostile."2 Thus, having been comforted by the Spirit, we can comfort others.
A third translation of parakletos is Helper. It’s the choice of several translations, including the Good News Bible, the Contemporary English Version, and the New American Standard Bible. But what does it mean for God to be our helper? Genesis 2 could offer us some insight. In that passage, God sees that it’s not good that Adam is alone, and so God creates a "helper fit for him." This "helper" is a partner who would complete Adam by helping him tend the garden and share his life. Although the passage has implications for marriage, it also speaks of a more general need we have as humans for companionship. In this context the Spirit is the one who brings completeness to our lives and provides companionship so that we’re never alone. What our families, our spouses, our closest friends provide us at a human level, the Spirit provides us at a deeper spiritual level.