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Breath of Life
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. – Genesis 2:7
The word for spirit, breath and wind in the Hebrew language is ruach. The New Testament Greek word Pneuma is used for spirit or soul and for breath.
The Bible says that God breathed the breath of life into man. Every human being regardless of colour, race and background is created by God and that makes every life sacred. This passage from Genesis came to my mind as I have been thinking and praying for the United States, watching as people have been protesting against police brutality, systemic injustice and racism.
The arrest and death of George Floyd has become a familiar scene in the United States: it is symbolic of how black and people of colour are unfairly, disproportionally and unjustly treated by the police and the criminal justice system. People are justifiably outraged by seeing unarmed black men being treated with prejudice, contempt and unjustified violence that has led to many deaths. I believe what is taking place in the United States should make all of us pause and reflect on what it means to be a human being created in the image of God, who breathed life into man to become a living being, a nephesh, a soul. (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). The USA is also not the only country that needs to repent of its injustices and genuinely strive for structural reform; Canada needs to keep recognizing its systemic injustice and racism, especially against the First Nations in Canada.
I Can’t Breathe
As I have been reflecting on the scriptures that speak of God giving us the breath of life and the phrase, “I can’t breathe”, I am struck by how injustice and racism is literally and figuratively choking the life of our communities. The slogan “I can’t breathe” has been used by people protesting against excessive force used by police, stemming from Eric Garner’s words – another African-American man who was choked to death during his arrest in 2014 as a result of unreasonable force by white police officers. As Martin Luther King Jr once wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail, “…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…” The plea for the breath of life from Eric Garner and George Floyd should move all of us, regardless of our skin colour and country of residence, to fight against systemic racism and inequality.
What Does the Lord Require of Us?
I love the verse in Micah 6:8 that reminds the Israelites of what God requires of His people who are set apart to bring glory to His name and spread His fame: ”…He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (or ‘to love mercy’ NIV translation), and to walk humbly with your God?…” The Church today is also required by Jesus to do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with their God. To do justice requires compassion and action, which requires us to live with a sense of right and wrong as taught in the Bible. To love kindness or mercy means we need to set aside our own self-interest and walk in forgiveness. To walk in humility before God takes a Spirit-empowered willful act of daily recognition of our complete dependence on God and our new identity in Christ. It is because of God’s amazing grace that we each have the breath of life and only because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross do sinful people receive the right to walk with a Holy God and call Him Abba Father (John 1:12; Romans 8:15).
Speaking of the breath of God and His pneuma or Spirit, I am reminded of Apostle Peter, who preached on the day of Pentecost saying, “…repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call…” (Acts 2:38-39). God has promised to grant every believer a gift, and that gift is His Holy Spirit. God is once again breathing His Spirit into His creation in order to revive and regenerate people to be alive in spirit. Every human being has been affected by the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden where the four foundational relationships (with God, self, others and the rest of creation) broke down and also caused disintegration in, “…the economic, social, religious, and political systems that humans have created throughout history…” (Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts. P 58.) It is only by God’s grace, and faith in Jesus Christ, that we can enter into a reconciled relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:20).
The protests in the USA have made things even more complicated as we are still in the midst of a global pandemic, fighting against the coronavirus (aka COVID-19) that can attack the lungs and other key organs in the body causing serious illness and death.
When COVID-19 attacks the lungs patients develop a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) causing oxygen levels in their blood to plummet and they struggle to breathe, often leading to death. Racism and injustice, like the coronavirus, can spread fast choking out the life of people and communities. As it takes the work of individuals, communities and governments to fight against the coronavirus and save lives, we, too, need individuals, churches, communities and governments to work together to fight against racism and systemic oppression. However, the only way a person can have a change of heart is by the move of the ruach of God.
Our Petition to God
Let us continue to pray for the Spirit of God to move in the US and here in Canada. May the Gospel of Jesus Christ shatter stony hearts and replace them with hearts of flesh.
May the Spirit of God convict people of their sins and turn enemies to friends. Instead of looting, arson, violence and more excessive police force, may we see God’s Spirit falling upon thousands (including those in places of authority) to repent and believe in the Gospel. Instead of tear gas filling up the streets of America and seeing thousands temporarily blinded and shouting, “I can’t breathe”, may we see the wind of God moving and making a way for people’s eyes to be opened to the light of the Gospel and justice flowing like a river through the streets of North America.