The Breath of Life
Scriptures: Psalm 104:10-30; John 20:19-23
There is a fascinating book about the spiritual life of
American teenagers called Soul Searching by Christian Smith. It describes interviews and surveys with over 3000 randomly selected teenagers across the country about their religious beliefs. Here is part of an interview with a 14 year-old Protestant girl from Idaho.
Interviewer: What is God like? Teen: Um, good. Powerful. Interviewer: Okay, anything else? Teen: Tall. Interviewer: Tall? Teen: Big. So far the teenager agrees with Psalm 104. Psalm 104 says,
"O Lord my God, you are very great. . You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind." That's big!
But now the interviewer asks the teenager a different question. Interviewer: Do you think God is active in people's lives or not? Teen: Ah, I don't know. . People have different views. Interviewer: What about your view? . Do you think God is active in
Teen: In my life? Yeah. Interviewer: Would you say you feel close to God or not really? Teen: Yeah, I feel close. . He's just done a lot of good in my life. . Interviewer: Like, what are examples of that? Teen: I don't know. Interviewer: Well, I'd love to hear. What good has God done in your
Teen: Well, I have a house, parents, I have the internet, I have a
phone, I have cable.
[p. 135] There you have it. God gives us cable. What could be
better? The author concludes,
The point here is not that U. S. teenagers are dumb or deplorable. They are not. . Most teens do believe something religious or other. But religion simply doesn't seem consequential enough to most teenagers to pay close attention to and get right. Rather, most teens seem content with a low-visibility religion that operates somewhere in the mental background of their lives" [p. 137].
Interestingly the interviewers found that the same was true for many
of their parents. Like their teenage children, many parents have a low-visibility religion operating somewhere in the mental background of their lives.
That is the view of faith challenged by Psalm 104. Psalm
104 describes how God created the world using many of the same descriptions in the same order as Genesis 1. But here is the key. Psalm 104 does not describe these things as happening once long ago. It describes them as ongoing actions of God in the present.
For example verse 2 says, "You stretch out the heavens like a tent."
This is an echo of Genesis 1 where it says, "So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. . God called the dome Sky." In Genesis 1 God made the sky when the world was created. But in Psalm 104 God is still doing that in the present. Verse 2: "You stretch out the heavens like a tent." This did not happen once long ago; it is happening every day. God is holding up the sky as we speak.
Another example is verse 10: "You make springs gush forth in the
valleys." Notice the present tense. God did not create springs and rivers only once when the world was created. God is still doing it today. The world survives because of God's ongoing irrigation project. Without it we would have nothing to eat.
The most dramatic example of this in Psalm 104 is verses
29-30: "When you hide your face, they [all living things] are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit [in Hebrew the word breath and the word spirit are the same word], they are created; and you renew the face of the ground." Genesis 2 says that God breathed into the first human being the breath of life. But Psalm 104 says that did not happen only once. It happens every time you breathe. You live by divine CPR every moment of your life.
On different occasions I have heard people say something
like this. They say to me, "I believe in God. I believe we were put here by some higher power, but the rest is up to us." This represents a view of religion called "deism." Deism says that God created the world and set it running like a clock, but now God sits back waiting to see what we will do with it, whether we will keep it running or whether we will break it. Deism says that we were put here by a higher power, but the rest is up to us.
However the Bible insists that God is much more involved
than that. God did not just create the world; God is holding the world together as we speak. God is breathing into you the breath of life right now, with every breath you take. If you don't realize that, you don't understand situation.
But if this is true with our physical lives, it is even more
true of our spiritual lives. In John 20 we read how Jesus breathed on his disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. There is a pun here, because in Greek as in Hebrew the word for breath and the word for Spirit are the same word. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, which means it is not something you receive once and that's it. It is something God must breathe into us again and again.
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples in John 20, but at
Pentecost in Acts, chapter 2 it happens again. The Holy Spirit blows again into that same group of disciples. Then Acts 4:31 says, "When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit." So it happens a third time and there are more as the book of Acts goes along.
Pentecost did not happen just once. It happens over and over. Jesus,
like God, is still breathing into us the breath of life.
Which brings me to something else I have heard people say
over the years. Sometimes people say to me, "I went to church all the time as a kid. I learned all that stuff. I don't need to keep going to church anymore." Have you heard that? It's like someone saying, "You know, I ate food all the time as a kid. I don't need that anymore."
If your faith is deism, if you believe that God created world and then
left everything else up to people, then you are right; you don't need to go to church anymore. It's all up to you.
But the truth is it is not all up to you, and it never has
been. We live by divine CPR every moment, and this applies even more to our spiritual life. If you want to follow Jesus, then you need the Holy Spirit just to breathe. Otherwise the world will crush the air right out of you. If you want to serve Jesus, then prayer gives you the oxygen to keep going, and the Bible the direction to go, and worship the hope of getting there. We live by divine CPR, spiritually as well as physically, and the farther we stray from the breath of life, the more likely we are to be gasping for direction and hope.