Borrowed Breath


Borrowed Breath

Some thoughts shared at the memorial for Mae Fortier

January 18, 2014

Everyone who is alive is only alive because the God of the universe, who created everything and everyone, allows that person to breath.

We can live weeks without food.

We can live days without water.

We cannot live minutes without air.

The breath you just took was a gift from God, and could have been your last.

People are born into this world and the first thing the doctor does is make sure the airways are clear so that the baby can breath.

The sign that the child can breathe

is the cry he or she makes.

We come into the world struggling for breath.

We leave the world struggling for breath.

The Bible says that when God created the first man, Adam, that he did so by forming him out of dirt (a pinch of clay – Job 33:3) and then breathing into him the breath of life.

The breath made him a living soul.

The breath of life is a gift from God.

The breath makes the person who they are.

It is the animating part of every person.

Long ago a man named Job was put through a terrible trial. Three old friends who appeared to have great wisdom tried to help. Unfortunately they were useless. They brought their old sayings, traditions, baskets of conventional wisdom, and a grand buffet of nostalgic idealism, but no real truth.

Therefore they offered no real help.

Only the young wise man had anything worthwhile to say.

Job 34:10–15

10    “Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding:

far be it from God that he should do wickedness,

and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.

There are certain things that God cannot do. He is incapable of doing anything wicked, and he is incapable of doing anything wrong. These “men of understanding” (do you feel the sarcasm?) apparently had forgotten this central reality.

11    For according to the work of a man he will repay him,

and according to his ways he will make it befall him.

12    Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,

and the Almighty will not pervert justice.

When God judges a man, or a woman, it will always be with absolute fairness.

Righteous deeds will be rewarded.

Wicked deeds will be punished.

God never gets it wrong when he does payroll.

The wages are always fair and right.

But how are we to understand this if the Bible is clear that all our deeds done in an effort to earn salvation are meaningless? If all our deeds are corrupted by impure motives then everything we do is sin.

If God gives out wages for our deeds,

…and all our deeds are sin,

…and the wages of sin is death,

…then we are in big trouble.

Unless we find some righteousness somewhere we are all doomed. In fact the perfect holiness of God would demand our damnation.

The wonderful truth is that we do have access to an alien righteousness. A righteousness that is not our own. Jesus Christ was crushed for the sin of all who the Father knew one day would believe. His perfect righteousness is given to us in exchange for our sin.

He changes the name on our death warrant. He becomes our sin and suffers the punishment that should have been paid by us.

So the wages of sin is death

…and Jesus died.

The Father demands full payment and Jesus made a full payment. Letting sin go unpunished would be wickedness, and a perversion of justice, and God can’t do that.

Therefore payment must be made, but grace allows for someone else to stand in as the substitute. That alone would be wonderful. But God is even more merciful and gracious than that.

He puts our sin on Jesus Christ

…but also puts Christ’s righteousness on us.

We are wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ. Therefore when the Holy Judge repays man, he sees the perfect works performed during the life of Jesus Christ and repays us according to those deeds.

13    Who gave him charge over the earth,

and who laid on him the whole world?  

No one.

God is a Leader.

He isn’t given charge over the earth.

He takes charge after creating it.

This is one of the perks of being God. As the Creator it’s his right to give life when he wants to, and to take life when he wants to. He lends it. He asks for it back.

14    If he should set his heart to it

and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,

15    all flesh would perish together,

and man would return to dust.

For the moment he has set his heart to give breath to the living. However that gracious borrowed breath is used to curse the God who gave it. There is an old hymn that says, “All that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care”. And when the time comes for that borrowed breath to be returned, God is just in taking it back.

Borrowed breath fills our lungs

…until it doesn’t.

 “Dust to dust and ashes to ashes” begins when the breath of a person goes back to the maker. The empty shell that is left behind is not the person we loved. The vitality and the spirit are gone. All that remains is momentary flesh.

Only the soul lives forever.

This is wonderful news

for the person who is sure that God has forgiven their sin.

This is terrifying news

for anyone who isn’t.

The realty of everlasting conscious existence is not up for debate. The Bible is clear that everyone will live forever. The question is where. Will it be in glorious joy alongside the splendor of a Holy God, or the other place?

The only thing separating any of us from the reality of our eternal destiny

…is that

…the breath we just took.

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