23 Apr Divine breath and COVID-19
4/23/20 –Rebekah Haile, Ed.S., NCSP – Licensed School Psychologist
It’s well-known that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus causing dry coughing and shortness of breath. In the most serious cases, one’s ability to breathe independently is lost, becoming a matter of life and death without access to proper medical care.
This has got me thinking about how it’s no accident that breath is a central component of this virus. We can learn about who God is and how He’s created us from taking a look at breath in the context of our culture and Scripture.
Respiration is an on-going topic in the medical field, health sciences, psychology, and theology as there are significant implications that overlap across disciplines.
In yoga, movement is linked to breath since breath is considered one’s “life force,” sustaining all life. Deep-breathing in yoga and meditation practices has been studied for its numerous physical and mental health benefits. These include reducing one’s heart rate and blood pressure, lowering stress hormones in the body, and decreasing feelings of depression and anxiety, just to name a few.
I often teach students breathing techniques to assist with anxiety and stress. In our fast-paced, frantic world, one’s primitive fight or flight response is initiated by constant stimulus, relational conflict and societal pressures. Breathing not only physiologically calms the body, but it allows one to engage with the thought processes responsible for many of the body’s natural responses to stress. Breathing can be a start to addressing underlying beliefs, as it takes the body away from a state of reaction to reflection.
Historically, monks used breathing as a way to pray, matching breath to truths about God, short confessions and bursts of praise. Since the Bible declares, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6), breath prayer is a way to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). See this and this article for more info.
Going back even further, to the very beginning of creation, we get a first glance into God’s nature as an intimate, relational Creator.
When God created Adam, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The significance of this scene cannot be exaggerated. Divine breath gave life to what was previously mere dust from the ground.
In this first instance of connection between God and man, God demonstrated His intention to keep man close to His heart the same way you have to be in close proximity to feel someone’s breath on you. This is an intimate moment—one of distinct contact between the creature and his Creator.
There was no sin to cause distance yet, no space for lies to enter in, and no knowledge of death for its stench to fill Adam’s new lungs. All that was known in man’s first moment of life was God.
If only the purity of this connection could have lasted. Genesis 3, the turning point in man’s history, establishes a trajectory of disobedience and inevitably death.
Following Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, life is reduced to a “breath” – vapor that can evaporate in an instant (James 4:4). The Psalmist says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4). Man’s frailty and mortality cannot be denied. “You, indeed, have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing before You. Truly each man at his best exists as but a breath” (Psalm 39:5).
Mankind is left desperate for someone to fill their dying lungs afresh with breath that can never end. Following tremendous loss and suffering, Job cries out,” My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is but a breath; my eye will never again see good” (Job 7:6-7). Job elaborates on man’s mortality saying, “But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? … If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:10, 14). In his despair, Job longs for a mediator who can plead his cause before God in order that he may be justified.
Jesus became the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), making it possible to live with God after our final breath on this earth. On the cross, Jesus called out with a loud voice and said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46, emphasis added). Jesus gave His last breath to God, surrendering to His will in order to give life to us who are dead in sin.
The death and resurrection of Christ imparts life to those who die to their sin with Jesus:
“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:9-11).
I’ve since been reflecting on the things that I have looked to for life. In our sin we are like statues, dead in mind and heart. We need someone to breathe life and purpose back into our plaster-filled lungs. The only person who could do that and did that was Jesus, the embodied person of God, Creator of life, who breathed His resurrected breath into my nostrils:
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23).
The current crisis is a reminder that every breath is a gift from God, evidence that His grace continually sustains us. You are not entitled to life, breath or anything good this world has to offer. One’s very existence is a gift from an intentional Creator who created you to know Him.
I am now alive to God and though my breath will someday cease, I will breathe with new lungs in the life to come (Romans 8:23).