If Genesis 1 is the big picture account of creation – the grand canvas – Genesis 2 is more personal and intimate: the tender portrait of a loving God making and relating to human beings, the glory of His creation. In Genesis 1 we learn that God makes humans in his image, both male and female. God blesses them and gives them authority. But what we don’t learn is how God makes us. How is it that we can claim to bear God’s image? In Genesis 2, we get the answer: ‘The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life.’
No other animal receives this particular intimate blessing: the very breath of God. And much as we can explain some of our human behaviour in evolutionary terms, necessary adaptations for our survival, or we can observe certain abilities which exist in certain species in the natural world, there remains much that is unique to humanity, or that we possess to an unparalleled degree. Our love of beauty, our capacity to organise, to create, to care for the vulnerable, to think objectively, to ask why…. This is what it means to be human; but even more, it is what it means to bear the image of God.
The principal word for Spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’. It means breath or wind, and is the word used most often throughout the Old Testament. But there is a second, more intimate word for breath, more rarely used: ‘neshama’. And it is this word ‘neshama’ which the writer of Genesis uses here. God breathes his neshama, his divine breath into us, and gives us life. Though the Fall shatters the perfection of our original nature – and scars the image of God in all of us – that divine breath, that neshama is still there. We are spiritual beings, trying to find our way home.
And the story of scripture from a human perspective is the story of how God, in Christ, is able to restore that true divine breath in all of us. Christ’s death and resurrection points the way to the renewal of all things, and since Pentecost his followers now receive that divine breath, that Spirit, in a new way. Through Christ, God can dwell in us again by the Holy Spirit, and his breath of life transforms us from the inside out. It’s a gift we don’t deserve, but God in his great love and mercy joyfully bestows it on us, and points us towards home.
Take a moment today to just stop and breathe. Imagine the breath of God filling your lungs. Become aware of His presence. Receive His peace. And give thanks.