Then Yahweh God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being. And Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the human whom he had formed.
Those three words, uttered by a man whose life was stripped away from him by the powers, stand in stark contrast to the gift of God. The moment the first human drew in the breath of God was a promise of freedom, creativity, and joy. Adam’s first breath was taken in peace; he was whole.
These days, it is hard to imagine that life on Earth was ever so idyllic. Even the wealthiest and most privileged among us are wracked with anxiety and insecurity. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that life can be full of the most unpleasant surprises. On top of political turmoil, racial unrest (to make an understatement), a global pandemic, the climate crisis, a faltering economy, and a shadow of the failure of democracy, each of us has our own personal struggles, battles, failures, and fears to wrestle with as our friends and family suffer.
as we suffer
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why George Floyd’s death caused so many in our nation to finally wake up to the persistent depravity of racial injustice in America. In the weeks and months after footage of Floyd’s murder went viral, the country seemed to hit a tipping point. Social media was filled with awe-inspiring videos of crowds marching, chanting, and crying as people across political, social, and religious lines gathered to demand change. Many white Evangelicals who were apathetic at best or in denial at worst began grappling for the first time with the realities of systemic racism. Many took to the streets in protest; some are still there. There has never been a more concentrated and global effort to challenge such a powerful evil. At the same time, however, we also realized just how entrenched systemic racism is: despite protests and riots in major cities all over the world, Breonna Taylor’s killers have yet to be charged for killing her.
Meanwhile, the emergence of COVID-19 has sent the world into a panic. Regardless of whether or not the virus is “as bad” as the media is portraying it, its effects on society cannot be denied. Millions have suffered—some worse than others—from a disease that steals breath as it kills and has left the economy gasping for air. In nearly every sector, workers are being furloughed or laid off, and businesses large and small are closing down permanently. At home, mothers and fathers struggle each day with new limits and insecurities as they try to manage homeschool, online school, or no school at all. The hourly updates, rising number of cases, and rising death tolls are a constant reminder that we are all constantly in danger
In the midst of all this, the Trump presidency has exasperated rising tensions between the left and the right in unprecedented ways. His actions in office have set precedents for future presidencies our nation may never come back from. As a result, families are at odds with one another. Friends are no longer friends. No longer can we confidently say of our nation that we are a people committed to the democratic process. Instead, increasingly, we lust for power and vengeance.
Perhaps a political reality like this was always looming on the horizon, whether Republican or Democrat, but this is the one we have. It is the tendency of power to want more power, just as it is the tendency of all “great” nations to become tyrannical. Will the United States be an exception? Probably not, unless a stone cut not by human hands topples it before it has the chance to become so. What now?
It is in moments like this that the Church can become the carriers of God’s presence. We are always already bearers of his presence, but in times of turmoil the light within us begins to shine brighter. Certainly, there are those on the left and the right who are still committed to the ideologies of the binary split, but there is also a growing number who are discontent and asking God the question, “What now?”
I believe the Holy Spirit is answering, counterintuitively, “Be still.”
This is not to say there aren’t things to be done right now. This is not time to be silent about injustice and unrighteousness; but being still before God is a different kind of action. One that allows us to quiet down amidst the anxieties of the age so we can listen. We want to hear the voice of the suffering. We want to hear what is truly going on in our own hearts. Most importantly, we want to hear the voice of our Father. There is a way forward and through this time that will form us into the image of Christ, and that is the way of stillness and, dare I say, the silence—of a deep inhale. You can’t talk when you’re inhaling.
In the midst of national and global chaos, it is vital to remember that chaotic situations are where God does His best work. Over and over, Scripture shows us how God shows up and turns chaos into peace, beginning with the very first sentence.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was chaos and emptiness and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
Chaos. Empty. Dark. These three words describe our lives well. But this is where the Spirit of God hovers. There is a tension in this verse we often miss because we are so familiar with it. But read it slowly…
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth
The earth was chaos
and darkness covered the face of the deep
and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.
Then God said…
It’s in this circumstance that God speaks, creating light, life, and abundance. What begins with chaotic meaninglessness ends with a man and a woman created in God’s image, a man and woman who look like Jesus. The same Spirit who hovered and fluttered over the chaos waters is breathed into the man and woman by the Father, and they become God’s manifest presence in the world.
In these days, when things are tumultuous and feel bleak, the Father is calling us to be still, to hover over the chaos with the Spirit. As we are still and silent with the Lord, he will breathe his Spirit into us again. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). He will speak, and his voice will shatter the chaos. Out of destruction he will again call forth light. Then we will be the apostles and prophets he has called us to be, manifesting his presence into the world until the day all are finally able to breathe, because he himself will be our breath.