Taking Their Breath Away

The Psalmist
covers most but not all of the possibilities.

In praise
of God’s wisdom and power, the Psalmist says that when God chooses to
hide God’s face the creatures of the earth “are dismayed,” and when
God chooses to “take away their breath they die and return to their

This life-taking
by God is the counterpart to God’s creative – God’s life-giving
– activities, which are as wide as the whole creation:

O God,
how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures. (104: 24),

And it
is the counterpart as well to the life-sustaining and re-creating
activities of God, which are worldwide too:

you send forth your spirit they are created;

and you renew the face of the ground. (104: 30)

But what
the Psalmist doesn’t cover is the phenomenon of a relatively few of
these creatures (compared with vast number of creatures in the world)
who take the place of God by employing their wisdom and power to satisfy
only their own individual and collective ends at the expense of the
rest of the creation – and even at the expense of many of their own

that happens, then it isn’t God who is choosing to take the
breath of the other creatures away. No, it is that relatively small
number of creatures – believing they are the real life-givers and life-sustainers
and life-renewers – who are making the choice about whose breath should
be taken away, whose breath should be sustained, whose breath should
be renewed.

They are,
in short, taking it upon themselves to determine who should suffocate.

The Psalmist
didn’t take these suffocators into account when writing about God’s
wisdom and power, God’s truth and spirit.

But we
need to.

It may
be a little bold on our part, for which we will need to ask God’s forgiveness,
whenever we overstep our own limits in trying to stop the suffocation.

But I
think it is fair to the Psalmist’s text to claim that God welcomes human
partners who are intent on and active in allowing the whole creation
to have the breath that God provides for its flourishing, allowing all
the peoples of the earth the breath God provides for living in their
own thriving cultures, allowing every citizen the breath God provides
to participate equally in the governance of their society, allowing
every individual the breath God provides for living healthy lives, allowing
every child the breath God provides to learn and be fully prepared for
realizing her or his potential and for contributing to the well-being
of others – to the common good.

In the
season of Pentecost especially, when we acknowledge and receive the
presence of God’s Spirit in the world, the work of God’s partners is
to put an end to the suffocation of the earth and its human inhabitants.
The work is to return to what the Psalmist asserted: that it is God,
not a relatively few self-selected human beings, who should choose when
to “take their breath away.”

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