From the original language of the Hebrew Bible, we get the "name" satan. It is a word that means accuser or adversary. Today, on Pentecost Sunday, as we close the Easter season, we are introduced to the Advocate. It's the original legal smack-down: The Accuser vs The Advocate.
From Perry Mason to L.A. Law to Law and Order, television has taught us how this legal business works, even if we've never actually sat in a trial. Enter the defendant, or, if you prefer, the accused. She stands before the judge. She faces her accuser.
The accuser claims to have been wronged by the accused. Sometimes the accuser is the state, a representation of the idea that we citizens collectively stand behind the idea of right adherence to the law. The accusation is that the accused has violated the just law. And often, she has. And we have.
We can say that our adversary, the Accuser, is out to get us. But what if we're guilty? What if what I've been accused of is exactly what I've done?
We live in a culture, in the 21st century, in the developed Western world, that says in nearly every imaginable way, It's all good. I'm okay; you're okay. We elevate personal freedom as the highest possible good. We ratify every choice in the name of individual liberty -- or the preservation of national liberty. We're entitled, and we raise entitlement to the status of right. The problem is, we know it's wrong.
I know it, because I feel guilty. I have food to spare while others starve. I take long showers while others don't have clean water to drink. I want a smartphone while others want their governments to stop shooting at them.
We try to live post-guilt, but guilt is not a bad thing. It's the sign of a well-formed conscience. I'm guilty. I'm guilty of lots of things. It's not just the social/cultural sin of being a rich white girl. It's in the ways I'm petty. It's when I gossip. It's the countless times I don't show up or show up mean. It's the inescapable truth that I don't live up to the potential I'm given to be a God-image-bearer. If I stand accused, it's because I'm guilty.
The Accuser is right.
So I need an Advocate. Standing on my own, I stand condemned. But notice that Jesus identifies the Advocate with the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17). That means that the Advocate isn't given in order to excuse or cover up my guilt. The Advocate will reveal what's true, and that includes my guilt.
But that's not all.
There is more that is true of me. It's not just that, along with my weakness and, yes, sin, there is good. There is. But there is an even truer truth. I am beloved of God just as I am.
The Advocate stands behind me, before the judge. All too often, I am the judge. I can be my own worst adversary, ready to condemn myself in my guilt. The Advocate pleads my case. The Advocate sees my potential to reform. The Advocate knows, even when I'm not so sure myself, that I'm worth saving.