Whenever I have come down with a cold and my breath becomes labored I yearn for the days of clear sinuses. Along with this yearning comes the question of why were we made to breathe anyway? Could God not have just as easily made us breathless? Why give us a heart that has to independently flex and push blood through our body so we can continue living? As with any internal monologue this can go one of two ways. I could just shrug at the mystery and carry on rummaging for cough drops, or I could take the physical reality of biology and see what it is teaching me about the Creator. I chose the latter.
There is a beautiful paradox bound up in our essential life-sustaining functions, and the nature of humanity. We are made in the image of God as regents of creation, with what appears to be a fairly liberal agency, yet we are dependent on involuntary reactions. I cannot make my heart beat, or conceptualize my respiratory system into processing the atmosphere properly. Rather I am “victim” to my cells doing what they do, and whenever they stop it’s lights out for Matty. There seems to be an initial application to be made that counters the heretical Gnostic notion that we are first and foremost minds that have to put up with a body. What becomes clearer is that our bodies are not just useful for lugging around our minds, rather they are part of the general revelation Word and a means by which God glorifies Himself as Creator and Sustainer.
Too often we give ourselves too much credit with regards to our command of our lives. The very function of breathing and beating hearts testifies that our life hangs in the balance each moment. For some reason God designed a world in which we would need the very atmosphere around us to stay alive. He wanted us to be intimately tied to the environment. Perhaps this bonding was an incentive to be good stewards of the world he gave us. Another possibility is that the atmosphere and our involuntary breathing is to be a constant reminder of the work of the Holy Spirit. Another word for the spirit is pneuma or “breath”, so when God breathes into Adam the breath of life (Gen 2:7) it seems we are to think of the Holy Spirit as the quicken-er of life.
This parallel between Spirit and breath gives us an analogy to then understand the omnipresence of God. Without becoming pantheistic and saying God is in the molecules of the atmosphere, He is ever present. God is Spirit as well, He is mystery, and we can not grasp him, just like the wind. The windy God, Yahweh, envelopes the Earth just like at Creation when the Spirit Hovered over the face of the deep (Gen 1:2). This saturation is what brings and sustains life, so when we breath we are demonstrating our very reliance on the Godhead for our life and being. While we bear his image, we are also testifying that we cannot find the means to exist on our own. We are also told that the atmosphere is a representation of heaven (Gen 1:8). The purpose of humanity is to fashion Earth into a dwelling place for God, to emulate the pattern of Heaven. Therefore, our breathing is tying us to the heavenly places, the sky itself is to keep us heavenly minded.
Just as a crime needs two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15), so does our biology. While our breathing is testifying the the Holy Ghost of the God-head, our heartbeats testify to the Son. Adam is placed in a garden that is sustained by a river that flows out into four other life giving rivers. Eden is the center of the world, and the linchpin of the organic system. Adam, the fountain head of humanity, is placed at the center to also produce life. As a side note Adam’s failure immediately brings the promise of the messiah, God the Son, to become the new Adam and become the fountain head of the new humanity. At the center of Adam, Christ, and every other human is a heart with four chambers, like the four branches sourced from the river in Eden. The heart sends life sustaining liquid through the whole created being, of which it is the center. Just as in Christ all things hold together (Col 1:17), and he is the living water (John 7:37), so our heartbeats as the typological reminder of the bounty of the Garden, and the Incarnate God who poured out life giving blood and water to set us free so we may have our hearts regenerated into the new humanity. The new garden is built with fresh water, produced by fresh hearts.
Bear in mind this dependency that undermines the godless freedom we find ourselves fighting. Next time you catch yourself counting heart beats, or laboring in your breath, remember the story of creation, the fall, and redemption is being told.