By Jim Tune
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
—Edwin Hatch, from the hymn “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”
Job reaches the limits of his ability to endure. He plunks himself down, ruined, infected, septic. He has lost everything: his children, livestock, livelihood, house, and now his health. He is abandoned on the ash heap, scraping his wounds with the sharp-edged fragments of clay pots.
Job is dying: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In the valley of the shadow of death, but drawing upon the Spirit of God, Job avows: “As long as my breath is in me, and the Spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit” (Job 27:3, 4, English Standard Version). This is a stripped-down, bare-boned expression of faith: the Spirit of God inspires us even—especially—when we are at the doorstep of death.
Job would not have understood the message of today’s prosperity preachers and motivational talkers. The Spirit in Job is not the power of victorious living—at least not glorious living in the sense of escape from pain, poverty, and grief. The Spirit in Job is not, at this moment, the source of abundant life—at least not abundant life with a permanent smile full of perfect, bright, white teeth and all the trappings of security and success. The Spirit in Job does not manufacture astonishing miracles and spectacles—at least not for this exhausted human being.
That’s not to say the Spirit in Job is powerless, not at all. This Spirit is simply breath, and not very much of it at all. But it is enough.
Job is exhausted. He’s had the wind battered and knocked right out of him. We might say he’s short of breath, that is, God’s Spirit. But he has just enough Spirit-breath to form a string of words with his dry, cracked, dying lips: As long as my breath is in me, I will cling to faith. I will not forsake or curse my God.
Job lives along the hard edge between life and death. But there, on the ash heap, as long as he still lives, as long as God’s breath is in him, Job will speak the truth.
Earlier this summer, I spent a few weeks on the ash heap of depression and discouragement. I’m sure readers can relate to such seasons. A loss or betrayal can knock the wind out of you, leaving a vacuum in the heart. Victorious declarations simply will not save you, but neither will cursing God. Just breathe.