If God decided to hold His breath, every man, woman, and child would die for lack of air.
Job 34:14-15, The Message
What a vivid picture! Wholly basic, of course, but that's how God was viewed in Job's time – and still is by children and even some university students! The old man in the sky, Blake's divine architect, surveying His creation and putting it to the test.
And as He holds His breath, this act deprives earth of its life-force until slowly it dies – every last thing – from the aged human right down to the most robust infant – and all nature shrivels and dies until trees lie bare and blackened, rivers and seas dry up, the cold clay of earth cracks and exposes the dead roots of all vegetation and he bare bones of its already dead matter.
The words spoken to Job by Elihu are stark and frightening – and of course, a mere fabrication. What if? The stuff of fantasy. Then what? Finally, so what? It's only a story.
Or is it? What Elihu is doing well before his time, is painting a scene of what would happen if all the air on the planet – God's breath – were to be polluted. Dead air leading to disease, devastation, total destruction.
Only this time – our real time – it is not God's fault, but humanity's – that race given free will that got out of hand, got too clever – and now all its expertise and inventiveness is sucking the entire life-force out of the very universe itself.
We have names for it – global warming, climate change, pollution, carbon poisoning – all these and more besides.
And now we really do have a situation where death stalks us daily, sucks the life out of society, damages community – even the community of saints on earth. We have given it a name – Coronavirus – something almost supernatural out of the ether – not God-breathed but human-made – created out of carelessness and ignorance – from a source that has no belief in Divine creation beyond itself. The scientists have named it Covid 19. It has reached pandemic proportions, and like something out of science-fiction it is constantly mutating and fear strikes in its wake.
And what of God? People watching their loved-ones die or being separated from them want to know. They want answers. They also want action – but from whom? Suddenly some wake up to the notion of the Creator – the myth they had long dismissed from their lives now becomes a possible target. He should be doing something – wave His magic wand, raise the staff over the waters and bring healing swamping over us.
But it doesn't work like that. If human beings want help they must help themselves by using the gifts and skills given to them. They must first of all listen to what science and politics are telling them, even when the two often seem in conflict. If they exercise their God-given gift of hearing they will learn how to protect themselves and others. If they follow rules rather than flout them they will be considering others, helping them to stay safe. Those who act selfishly are putting others at risk rather than themselves.
Many are doing more then listening – - or helplessly watching. They are doing – not only in serving their isolated lonely neighbours with food and the fulfilment of needs, but in the employment of skills they have learnt in their daily work – scientists developing vaccines, medical workers – doctors, nurses, carers – employing their skills in helping save lives, seeking and finding solutions – above all, caring for one another.
It is not God who is withdrawing His breath. It is the whole of humanity by its self-centred acquisitiveness that has withdrawn the good air from the planet by polluting it. Now we must work together to restore that good air and enable all creation to flourish once more, as it was intended to do.
Perhaps, in spite of so much suffering, isolation and deprivation of human contact the virus has done one good thing. It has brought communities together in care and service and awareness of one another, making us more sensitive to others' needs and situations – often in the simplest yet effective ways and new friendships have been forged, whether by digital or practical means. All this may reassure us that however great the threat or unknown the consequence, God is still breathing!
Patricia Batstone, 2021