Tuesday, June 14, 2011

5 Reasons Why the Force and the Holy Spirit are Not the Same Thing

Hello Folks,
So it’s been a while-but I am glad to be back. I hope that you enjoy my latest foray into the powerful subjects of Science Fiction and Spirituality:

Some Quick Clarifications/Qualifications

I love Star Wars. Okay I should qualify that. I love Episodes 4, 5 and 6 of Star Wars. I saw them first on Laser Disc in the 80’s and I have some pristine VHS copies of them which do not include any new explosions, music (which makes it impossible to hear Carrie Fisher’s laughter at the end of Episode 6), a computer animated cities, Hutts, or unnecessary laser shots (yes Greedo, I am glaring at you). Star Wars is an epic Science Fiction joy, a fantastic story arc with beloved characters and snappy dialogue that I still LOVE to watch. I have 3 light sabers in the back of my car currently, you know-just in case.

And this blog is not meant to be derisive of those films. This is blog is not meant to be a hater-fest on the Force either, and if it reads that way to you please recognize that although I prefer the Holy Spirit to the force for reasons that will become evident (namely #5) I do think “the Force” is conceptually cool.

I don’t think it’s a sin to jokingly say “May the Force Be With You” to friends. As for watching the movies themselves, they maybe stumbling blocks to some believers and fine for others, only you can seek the Lord to know where you have liberty and where you don’t.

What had started to bug me is that Christians and non-Christians alike making two things equivalent to each other which are in fact very different. The reasons for these comparisons are understandable because the two do share some similarities:

Christians hold a belief in the Holy Spirit as the 3rd person in the Godhead (the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) through faith. One of the very first references to The Force comes a few scenes into Episode 4, when an imperial military officer is deriding Vader for his belief in “old religion” a lack of faith that Vader finds disturbing. Han Solo is established early on as someone who doesn’t believe in the force; in contrast, Luke becomes a true believer with his faith in the force at the climax of Episode 4 when he turns off his targeting computer but uses the force to take the shot that takes out the Death Star.

Another similarity between the Force and the Holy Spirit, is that both supposedly give humans superhuman abilities and knowledge. With the Force the Jedi or Sith have the abilities to manipulate physical objects without touching them, to defy the laws of physics other ways (such as super-human speed or levitation), to anticipate actions without sensory data, to calm or clear the heart and mind of disturbing emotions such as anger or fear, to impose your own will on the weaker minded, and in some cases to see into the future. With the Holy Spirit, the Christian or Christians have the abilities to overcome the sinful nature of their flesh, providing them with a supernatural love for others, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, allowing them to forgive in impossible circumstances, to discern spiritual things, and even in some cases having a gift of knowledge (a supernatural access to knowledge or insight about a person or situation that a Christian had no possible way of knowing) and to prophesy (which can include descriptions of future events).

Despite these similarities the Holy Spirit and The Force are two distinct and different concepts. And I respect the Holy Spirit’s person too much to just let that go, the same way I wouldn’t keep calling someone by the wrong name when I could easily learn his or her real one.

#1 The Force is not a Person and the Holy Spirit is.

In A New Hope Obi Wan Kenobi describes the Force as:
“An energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

I am going to stick to the movies for any information about the Force because they are most strictly cannon.

The Force does not have a will of its own-it is for the people who use it to determine how they will use it and do so in the enforcement of their own will upon others. It does have a light side and a dark side

Obi-Wan tells Luke that Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force (Episode 4 and Episode 6), but I would argue that he isn’t personifying the force in this statement. He speaks of the draw of that dark side, but not as if the dark side was seeking to gain or recruit Anakin Skywalker. If you look at Anakin’s fall into the dark side, it is much more comparable to drug use or any other addiction, in that he begins simply by giving in to fear and anger, and then after he commits genocide against the Sandpeople in the power of the dark side (Episode 2) he’s become more and more beholden to that power. But the dark side of the Force doesn’t want him anymore than a beer wants to be held in the hand of an alcoholic.

There are a few references to the Force having it’s own will, Qui Gon Jinn speaks of finding Anakin as being “the will of the force” (Episode 1) and later in the same movie he tells Anakin that midichlorians continually speak to people “telling us the will of the force.” But how this idea of the force having its own will reconciles with its having a dark side and a light side is problematic, because if the force is indeed dualistic, it must therefore have two existing wills in constant conflict with one another.

What I would argue is the only major canonical argument for the force being sentient is the immaculate conception of Anakin Skywalker (Episode 1) implying the force produced him as an act of its own will. This is problematic because which side of the force was enacting it’s will by bringing about this pregnancy: the light side or the dark side? And if the Force has a will, why does this will continually remain subject to the wills of its users-either for good or evil? Because it has a super passive personality? I would contend that determining the personality of the force is very difficult using evidence from the movies.

Finally, the majority of references to the force in the movies don’t describe the force in a relational way; Obi Wan does not have a relationship with the Force the same way he has a relationship with Luke, another person. And the pronoun used almost exclusively to describe the force is “it” which is not a personal pronoun.

In contrast, the Holy Spirit is only described in the Bible, by name, by title, or by the personal pronouns of “He” and “Him.”

When Jesus is talking to his disciples about his imminent departure from earth speaks of the Holy Spirit in John 14: 16-17 saying “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you will know Him, for He dwells with you.”

The word Helper here, sometimes translated comforter, encourager, or advocate, in the Greek version of the New Testament is the word “parakletos” meaning “one who comes alongside to help.” A person can come along side you to help you with something, this description indicates sentience and more specifically that the Holy Spirit is a person.

Other evidence the Holy Spirit is a person includes:
He has a mind/intelligence because He searches the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).
He can be lied to (Acts 5:1-11 focus on verse 3).
He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
He prays for Christians indicating He loves them (Romans 8:26).
He convicts Christians and Non-Christians of the truth regarding their sin and their need for Jesus indicating that he loves them (John 16:8-10)

#2 The Force is Impersonal, the Holy Spirit is Personal.

With my previous heading you are probably asking- aren’t these the same thing? But bear with me.

With the Force what we’ve basically got is a mystical power source that can help a person who has accesses it to accomplish super-human feats and have supernatural knowledge. So the Force is mystical and also impersonal. For example, anyone who was “listening” could have gotten the same message relayed to them about Alderaan being destroyed before the facts came out (Episode 4), the Force did not specifically intend it for Obi-Wan.

This is not to say that the Force isn’t utilized regarding personal issues since it apparently works very closely in sync with a person’s emotions. Yoda initially refuses to accept Anakin for training as a Jedi because he senses much fear in him and fear is the path to the dark side of the Force: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” (Episode 1). When Yoda is training Luke he tells him that the way to tell the good side from the bad side of the Force is through feelings and that he will know the good side when he feels “calm, at peace, passive” (Episode 5). Qui Gon Jinn tells Anakin “feel don’t think, use your instincts” (Episode 1), whereas Obi Wan warns Luke when he is going to face Vader again to “bury his feeling deep down” because they can be used to serve the Emperor (Episode 6). The general idea seems to be that those who are on the light side of the Force use it to control personal emotions, whereas those on the dark side use the Force to amplify emotions. But again, the Force is being used as a tool, it is not relational.

The force can also be used to infringe upon someone’s free will and manipulate that person if he or she is weaker minded: more classically referred to as a Jedi Mind Trick and used throughout the movies.

One way the Holy Spirit is personal, is his respect for your personhood, or your free will. Unlike the Force, the Holy Spirit will not ever use a Jedi mind trick upon you to make you act outside of your own will. Evidence for this respect are:

Paul urges Christians to “walk in in the Spirit” implying they have a choice in the matter (Galatians 5:16).
Paul describes Israel as resisting the Holy Spirit indicating a person doesn’t have to listen to Him (Acts 7:51).
The spirit of a person (or will) is recognized as separate from the will of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11)
People can be lead by the Spirit, which indicates choice and not compulsion (you choose to follow a leader) (Romans 8:14).
Jesus appeals to the churches to hear what the Spirit says to them- He wouldn’t ask Christians to hear unless they had a choice not to listen (Revelation 2:7)

It is easy to get freaked out by such scriptures as (John 14:17) and 1 Corinthians 3:16 which describe the Holy Spirit as dwelling inside Christians, and to conclude that this would translate into an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to control or possess you much in the way demonic spirits can possess a person. But these scriptures (above) directly refute this idea. Remember the word Helper used in John 14: 16 is parakletos “to come alongside” and just in case we don’t read greek Jesus goes on to say the Spirit “dwells with you and will be in you” in verse 17.

One of my favorite ways that the Holy Spirit is personal is that he is our advocate in prayer, even when we ourselves are beyond words. He knows me personally on a deeper spiritual level that I can’t share with other human beings. There have been some times in my life when I’ve been in such intense grief or fear that there was nothing I could say when I tried to pray. Other times I feel like a blind idiot because a situation facing me is so beyond me that I think no matter what I pray I have no way of measuring if I am asking for the best thing. That’s when this scripture is so encouraging to me:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

The Holy Spirit is our advocate before God in prayer, and He prays for us with a spiritual wisdom and personal tenderness that transcends language. He prays for Christians in accordance with God’s will, which leads us to our next point of contrast:

#3 The Force does Your Will, the Holy Spirit does God’s Will.

I don’t really think I need to give a lot of examples of how the Force is utilized to do the will of Jedi and Sith alike in the Star Wars movies. To have access to that kind of power is in short, stinkin’ cool. Who wouldn’t like to be able to lift cars or even coffee mugs through sheer will power? How many of us can honestly say we haven’t been in horrifically annoying conversations that we longed to escape via a Jedi mind trick? This is why the Force is such a satisfying fantasy concept-we all want to use it.

Moreover the ideas that something mystical defies the supposed superiority of technology (aka Luke vs. the Death Star) and that there is a Spiritual level to the universe that can’t be seen by the naked eye are ideas that humans have harkened after for centuries. The idea the unseen is more powerful and enduring than what is seen, that the natural world is just a shadow of a spiritual realm haunts us because it is true (2 Corinthians 4:18). But how a person utilizes this knowledge in accordance with the choices they make is where Star Wars and the Bible part ways.

The Holy Spirit is unlike the force because it does not perform our own will, it performs the will of God (see verse 27 above). The Holy Spirit does this several ways:

He testifies of the truth (John 14:17)
He convicts (convinces) the world (all people) of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and the judgment we deserve that is born by Jesus on our behalf (John 16: 8-10)
>He helps Christians supernaturally recall the words of Jesus (John 14:26) which is why the Bible, though penned by some many authors, has agreeing accounts of Christ.
He reveals the deep things of God to Christians and gives them the mind of Christ (indicates God’s will to them) (1 Corinthians 2: 10-16).
>He gives spiritual gifts to Christians individually in accordance with His (God’s) will (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
He helps Christians supernaturally accomplish the will of God that we can’t accomplish in our own strength (Galatians 5:16-25)

By the way, this supernaturally accomplishing the will of God includes resisting adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousy, outbursts of wrath (extreme anger), selfish ambitions, dividing people from each other, heresy (lies about God), envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries and the like. It also includes Christians being empowered to have and give to others supernatural love, joy, and peace, to endure suffering for a long time, to be kind, to be good, to be faithful, gentle, and to exercise self control in circumstances where it seems improbable if not impossible to do so.

If this last description sounds similar to the Jedi’s own precepts that’s because it is. The difference is that while the Jedi must learn to utilize the force in his or her own strength to do good, the Holy Spirit works to do good simply because it is the will of God, and supernaturally works that good in the life of a Christian. Where a Christian’s personal responsibility comes in, is that she or he must actually pray and submit their own will to the will of God in order for the Spirit of God to be able to work in them.

#4 The Force is for the Chosen Few, the Holy Spirit is for All.

Yes I know some of you are already cringing, but I have to bring up the M word: Midi-chlorians. Yup, you and I can both be sorry that Lucas ever introduced them, but there it is: they are in Episode 1 and therefore they are cannon.

In Episode 1, Qui Gon Jinn tests Anakin Skywalker’s blood and finds his midi-chlorian count is higher than your average Jedi’s. He explains to Anakin that “without midi-chorians life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the force” (Episode 1). Further dialogue in the movies go on to explain that where there are midi-cholorians present, that person has a greater ability to sense and use the force.

While pursing Luke, his identity still unknown, Darth Vader remarks “The force is strong with this one” (Episode 4). And in The Return of the Jedi as Luke slowly introduces Leia to the idea that they are brother and sister he says “the force runs strong in my family.” And so an idea that had been hinted at, that a person could be genetically predisposed to use the force was at last solidified or explained through midi-chlorians.

I would like to submit that midi-chlorians is among the most reviled ideas among Star Wars fans along with the “Han Shot First” controversy and the sadly inexcusable existence of Jar-Jar Binks. And here’s why: what the introduction of midi-chlorians essentially does is to take the Force, which was previously accessible by all through faith, and limit it to those who are gifted through biology. They take something that is mystical, and make it scientific, and to be honest somewhat elitist.

The Holy Spirit don’t play that way, Yo.

The Holy Spirit speaks to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Jesus explains about the Holy Spirit:
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin because they do not believe in Me, of righteousness because I go to my Father and you will see Me no more; of judgment because the ruler of this world is being judged” (John 16: 8-10).

There is a lot more going on in this verse and I’m not going to go into all of it-I’m just going to touch on some of it. Specifically what the Holy Spirit will speak to a non Christian about are these 3 things: that all human beings are sinners, that our only righteousness before God is through Jesus, and that Satan (the ruler) is being judged by God, just as all sinners will face judgment unless they accept Jesus as their savior. In other words, the Holy Spirit will speak God’s truth to a non-Christian’s heart to appeal to them and convince them of their need to come into a relationship with God through Jesus.

It is true that when Jesus describes the Holy Spirit in John 14: 17 He calls Him “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him,” and since the term “the world” is typically used to refer to non-Christians in the Bible they may think this means the Holy Spirit is not for them. However, what Jesus is talking about here is the inability of a person who is focused on the things of the world to understand or accept spiritual things.

This is idea is comes up again in connection with the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, where Paul explains that the mysteries of God that he has been writing about weren’t from man’s wisdom (or worldly education) but had been taught to him and other Christians by the Holy Spirit. He explains “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can they know them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Jesus spoke about this very thing to Nicodemus in John 3:1-21, when He explains to him that to be able to see the kingdom of God and to understand spiritual things a person must be born again, not physically but spiritually. Jesus goes on to explain that to become born of the Spirit a person must believe in Him, and alludes to his own upcoming death as a means for whomsoever believes in Jesus to have eternal life.

If a non-Christian prays and asks for the Holy Spirit to show them the truth, or help them understand a part of the Bible they don’t understand, the Holy Spirit is going to honor this prayer (Jeremiah 29: 12-13). If God only listened to the prayers of Christians, how could anyone ever become a Christian? Every Christian, myself included, didn’t know Jesus at one time in their life but chose to believe in Him.

We also know this is true because of what happens when the Holy Spirit first shows up in the book of Acts: Peter who is filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) lays the gospel out before a huge crowd of non-Christians, and it describes them as “being cut to the heart” so they ask what they can do to be reconciled to God. Peter responds: “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). That idea of being cut to the heart by the truth-that is evidence of the Holy Spirit working on the hearts of the listeners who weren’t Christians when they heard Peter speak.

It is true that only Christians who have repented and accepted Jesus as their savior get to have the Holy Spirit empower them to lead supernaturally good lives. And the Holy Spirit won't empower a non-christian to live a good life apart from Christ, because His whole purpose is to bring humans into a living relationship with Jesus.

But here’s the good news-ANYONE may become a Christian! In fact, it is God’s desire that everyone comes into a personal relationship with Jesus, shown by the following:

Jesus died for all (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15, John 3:16)
Jesus wants to gather all things (including people) to Him (Ephesians 1:10)
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit specifically to appeal to the hearts of non-Christians by sharing testify of the truth to them (John 16:8-10, Acts 2:37).

Not everyone can become a Jedi, but anyone may become a Christian. And not all Christians lead constantly supernaturally good lives, we are still as flawed as anybody else. What we do have is access to a means to living a victorious good life when we choose to submit ourselves to the will of God and the Holy Spirit.

#5 The Force is Epic Fantasy, the Holy Spirit is Real.

Now I know this last point may be controversial, and I know there are groups out there (some living in California) who do believe the force exists in our world. I have yet to see any of them in action, manipulating matter or people throughout our galaxy. So I am going to argue here that the Force is not real, it is fiction, in fact I am going to argue it is fantasy.

Even though Star Wars is Science Fiction, I believe that the “the Force” with all its laudable features is really fantasy on an Epic scale, and the best kind too, because it draws us into a world that mirrors our own and shows us what we know to be true. Anger and fear can corrupt, and as Anakin proves, no person is unsusceptible to them or to the desire to cheat death. Likewise we all want to be Luke Skywalker: both powerful and good- destroying the Death Star, being amazed as Yoda lifts our X wing from the swamp, finding redemption for our Father, using the Force to see his humanity in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

The Holy Spirit is not fiction; He is both stranger and better than fiction. He reveals to us the truth, from the evil condition of our own hearts, to the readily available and boundless love of God. He desires that we come into a relationship with Himself and with God the Father and God the Son. He desires to come alongside us in our pain, our sorrows, our conflicts, and our fears, that we through trust in him might be able to supernaturally overcome them. He also desires to dwell in us, God in us working to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

The Holy Spirit exceeds my greatest imaginings; He goes beyond my best fantasy because it is promised:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man,
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

All scriptures used from the New King James Version of the Bible. Search several versions of the bible at: Blue Letter Bible.Org

My movie quotes and other extemporaneous information regarding Star Wars came from the online wiki Wookiepedia: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

I also used the Word Study Greek-English New Testament edited by Paul R. McReynolds which can be ordered on Amazon and is surprisingly easy to use.

Until next time, may the Spirit meet with you!



  1. Nicely done. Well-researched and organized. Good use of Scripture. Also, enjoyable even for Star Wars amateurs. I also have a light saber, or perhaps two, but not in my car, mostly because the other members of my family are armed with them so it seemed the thing to do.

    The one point I might differ on is that the force is not entirely fantasy. I have always thought, even from my first viewing of the first movie in the theatre back in....a long time ago, that the force was a re-packaged version of the forces of spiritual darkness, which we know are very real. But that is just my take on it.

    Have you read Star Wars Jesus by Caleb Grimes? What are your thoughts? I haven't read it, I was just wondering what someone with actual Star Wars knowledge thinks. It is too far beyond me in terms of movie knowledge required.

  2. I have not read it, but I will add it to my summer reading list!

    I like your take on the force-and I would say a lot of my friends share that thought. I think it was because the force so utilized by humans (or humanoids in some cases) that I always saw it as more of a reflection of human nature than supernatural.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, it is always gratifying to find a new intelligent reader!