Breath of Life
God on Monday
‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Welcome to the second God on Monday reflection on purpose and the environment!
In the first instalment (here), I suggested that the commission God gives to humans to ‘have dominion’ over God’s creation (Ps 8.6, echoing Gen 1.26) has been misunderstood. That misunderstanding is as much on the part of those who have used it at a pretext for environmental exploitation as it is on the part of people who reject Christianity because it appears to endorse such exploitation. I sought to correct that misunderstanding by appealing to the second account of creation in Genesis 2, which suggests that having dominion is about the careful nurture of nature.
Why did I do so? Surely it would have been easier to agree with many climate sceptics and many of their critics, to conclude that the bible does not endorse care for the environment. I looked to scripture to understand scripture because of the truth cited from 2 Timothy above. For it suggests that we can have confidence, when we consider the environment - or any other issue - from a Christian perspective, that the bible provides insight because it is ‘inspired’.
The Greek actually says ‘expired’. That is why some translations render that phrase as ‘All scripture is God-breathed’. This reflects the beautifully onomatopoeic Hebrew word ‘ruach’, meaning breath or exhalation. It occurs in the second verse of the bible: ‘The ruach of God was hovering over the face of the waters’ (Gen 1.2). It reoccurs in God’s bringing to life of the first human being: ‘The Lord God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being’ (Gen 2.7).
Against this background, Paul’s use of the term God-breathed contains an important message: that the breath that animates the scriptures is the same breath that animates creation. While some passages of the bible have been used to justify the human degradation of the earth, and have been used to reject Christianity because it is inherently hostile to the environment, Paul’s words to Timothy indicate a better way to handle such problematic passages.
His words suggest that we need to re-examine those texts in the light of other passages of scripture and in the light of our current climate crisis. Being God-breathed, they will then prove useful for ‘teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’, thereby making us ‘proficient, equipped for every good work’, for that is what on earth we are here for.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business