According to Scripture, humans are composed of two essential elements – carbon and spirit. Carbon appears on the Elemental Table. Spirit doesn’t.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “breath” translate as Spirit.
Carbon is earthly. Dust is composed of carbon. Ash is composed of carbon. All living things on earth, when reduced to their essential elements, are basically carbon.
But, human life is generated by the Spirit of God breathed into us. With the Spirit of God in us, we are fully alive, created to flourish in every way. Without the animating Spirit of God breathed into us, we are just human forms, human-shaped containers composed of ash.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
One of my favorite teachings of Jesus is John 15:1-17. I’ve read it, taught it, and preached it so many times, I can nearly recite it from memory. In John 15, Jesus describes himself as a grapevine, and his followers as the branches. He teaches that if we “abide” in him, our lives will be abundantly fruitful. We were created for fruitfulness!
But, then comes a stark warning, “Apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:5-6
For years, I wrestled with this verse. It can sound so harsh, threatening. “Abide in me – or, else!” But, over time, the threat has faded, gradually giving way to a more compassionate tone of voice. Now, I can hear heartbreak in Jesus’ voice.
“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:5
Jesus is simply telling us the truth. Connected to our life-source, as intended, we flourish. Apart from it, we sadly wither and die. Eventually, we return to only one of our essential elements – carbon, dust, ash.
We were made for more than ash. We were made to abide, flourish and bear abundant fruit.
The unfortunate truth is that I’m often somewhere in between. Thankfully, I’m not quite ready to be tossed on the fire – yet. But, if I’m honest (and, Lent is a good time for honesty!), I regularly, habitually, carelessly neglect the most essential element for abundant living – the breath of God in me. If I’m entirely honest, more of my days lean more toward ash than Spirit. I function, nearly daily, as though I can handle life’s opportunities and challenges on my own. I strive and strain, as though carbon is the only fuel I need.
Carbon, on fire, is a undeniably powerful force. Think of a steam locomotive, or a forest fire! Yet, at some point, the fire dies out, and the carbon turns to useless ash. “Apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:5-6
One day, each year, to begin the season of Lent, Christians gather to have ashes smeared on their foreheads, as a pastor says, “Remember that from ashes you have come, to ashes you shall return.” The forty-day season of Lent, leading to the Good Friday remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial death, is a reminder that, apart from God, we are ash. Lent is an opportunity to re-listen for the compassionate voice of Jesus, saying, “Return to me… apart from me you can do nothing… I am your life… remain in me… and, I will remain in you… and, you will floruish.”
Today, remember you are ash. But, you are more than ash. You were made for more than ash. Your life is not ash. Your life is the breath of God within you.