The Breath of Christ and the Life of the World
“If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust.”
– Job 34:14-15
The Intimacy of Existence
“IF He should set His heart to it….” With these words, Elihu (the one friend of Job’s who has good theology) teaches us that all life – from the moth to the archangel, from the saint to the atheist – all life hangs on the disposition of God’s heart. Let the wonder of that reality sink into the groundwater of your emotions and thoughts…life continues only because God’s heart is set to sustain it.
This truth makes our existence a profound experience of intimacy with God Almighty. Why do I say that? Consider this: the only reason we woke up this morning, the only reason I can type these words and you can read them, the only ultimate reason is because the personal Creator God has a will and His will – the posture of His heart – is that we should be sustained. Every second of our life is proof that God’s eyes are on us and that His personal desire is to sustain us….our lives are upheld, not by some blind dispassionate force of nature, but by the living, willing personal God who holds us in existence because His heart is set to do so.
And how does He do this? Well, the mysteries here are deep and many, but this verse gives us one way to talk about God’s sustaining of human life, namely, His spirit and His breath. Elihu says that if God should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, then all life would disintegrate. We live by the life-giving influence of God’s spirit and we breathe, as it were, by God’s breath in us. It is almost as if Elihu creates the image of a divine act of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, with God continually “breathing” life into mankind just as He did for Adam in the Garden (Gen.1:7).
Take a moment as you are reading and consider the fact that you exist….you are alive…you are conscious…..that is because of God’s spirit. Now take a few deep breaths….God “breathed” each of those into you, you are breathing by His own breath. Stunning. The metaphorical imagery of being animated by God’s spirit and breathing His breath should remind us that existence itself can be viewed as an act of personal communion with the living God.
The Issue of Death and Hell
However – we know that, because of sin, eventually all people die. It would seem that the “spirit and breath” of God do not remain in anyone forever. And worse than physical death, we know that the Second Death of hell awaits those who have breathed God’s breath in unrepentant rebellion against Him. So what does God do about this? If – as Elihu says – His heart is not set to destroy life, what does God do about the inevitability of death and the outpouring of His wrath on the souls of Adam’s descendants?
The Breath of Christ and the Life of the World
There is another passage of scripture that talks about the spirit and breath of God….and when it is compared to the text in Job, we can see some beautiful truths about the heart of our God and the hope that He gives:
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this, He breathed His last.”
– Luke 23:46
Friends, this is our God. This is our Creator. This is the one whose spirit sustains our lives even as we live them in opposition to Him. This is the one whose life-giving breath we’ve breathed back out in blasphemies toward Him and bitterness toward others….This is God Almighty come into our midst, clothed in flesh, driven by love, saving our eternal lives. Glory to His name.
I want us to see, in Christ’s death, the heart of our God. Consider what Elihu taught us in Job:
“If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish…”
As the incarnate God hung on the cross, all of created reality hung on His heart. Which way would the heart of God turn? Would He “set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,” and so obliterate creation in His holy justice? Or, would He set His heart toward mercy, toward grace, toward self-outpouring love, bearing the obliteration of justice in His own flesh and so saving the ones who hate Him?
All glory to our God – He set His heart to save.
And see the parallels here between Job and Luke. First, rather than gathering His spirit to Himself, Jesus releases it, draining His life into the hands of His father. And then, rather than holding in His breath and so asphyxiating all life, the God-Man, the Giver of Life Himself, breathes His last. The breath of God spent, the lungs of God emptied, the life of God poured out….
If Christ had set His heart to it, in that moment on the cross He could have withheld His spirit and breath, He could have gathered them to Himself and so ended all created life – and He would have been just to do it. But this is not God’s heart. Rather, He poured, He gave, He spent Himself, and so – if we will love Him as Savior, Lord and God – we are saved.
Walking as He Walked
There is no God like YHWH, and Jesus Christ makes this plain. There is no God who pours Himself out without reservation to the utterly ill-deserving, who gives Himself unto death for His Beloved One and then conquers death and claims eternal life for all who would trust in Him.
May what we see in Him be echoed in us. May we not be those who “gather to ourselves” and so bring death, but who “pour out” and so give life. May we revel in the out-pouring heart of our God so that the torrent of grace that flows from Calvary and erupts from the tomb would make us an outpouring people….in Christ’s name, Amen.