Whether “This is the Air I Breathe”?

Objection 1: It would seem that God is, in fact, the air I breathe. The Psalmist writes, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” Therefore, God is the air I breathe for God is everywhere.

Objection 2: Further, the philosopher teaches us that “air is infinite.” (Physics, Book III, Part V) Likewise, the Apocalypse says that “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Therefore, God is the air I breathe for both the air and God are infinite.

Objection 3: The Scriptures tell us that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life. Therefore God is the breath of life and is, therefore the air I breathe.

Objection 4: Finally, in Acts 2:2 it states: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” Thus, it would seem that the Holy Spirit, being likened to a wind, would be the air I breathe.

On the contrary, God is the creator of all things, which he made ex nihilo—from nothing. The Scriptures tell us that “the world was formless and void” prior to God’s act of creation. Therefore air is a created property. Because God is pure being and was not created, God is not the air I breathe.

I answer that, it is impossible that breath should exist in God. God does not have a body and breath is a property associated with bodies. But God cannot have a body because God is pure being and bodies possess potentiality. But God has no potential, for God is complete in himself. Therefore God cannot be the air we breathe, for God himself does not have breath.

Reply to Obj. 1: When the Psalmist writes that God is everywhere, he does not mean that God can be tangibly found in all places in the way that air can be found in all places. Rather, he means that God’s knowledge is perfect because all things are made and sustained by God and, as their creator, God possesses perfect knowledge of them.

Reply to Obj. 2: The Philosopher also says that “Any part of the infinite must remain at rest.” This is because motion cannot be properly ascribed to anything that is infinite—for motion implies that a thing is moving from one place where it was to another where it had not been. In this sense, air cannot be infinite because air is constantly in motion. Therefore, the air is not infinite. Because the air is not infinite, God cannot be identified with the air because God is infinite and the air is not.

Reply to Obj. 3: God is self-subsisting being. Therefore, it is impossible that any other form of being would have its source in anything other than God himself. It is in this sense that the Scriptures speak of God as breathing into man the breath of life. It cannot be the case that the breath God breathed into man is air because air is a property of matter and God does not have matter.

Reply to Obj. 4: A thing can be likened unto something without entirely describing that thing; e.g. Psalm 18:2 “God is my rock”, God is not literally a rock. Thus, the Holy Spirit may be likened unto a mighty rushing wind without being called a wind.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and author of "In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World." He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell and Austin. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • Greg Herr

    [Expletive] hilarious.

    I argue that a whisper (Book 11, Part 19, §12) and human hearing are correlational, therefore God is, in fact, the air ‘he heard.’

  • Br. Titus Mary Sanchez, OP

    While this article likely would have been argued differently by Thomas, its satire still forces you to chuckle! As a brother of St. Thomas, I thank you.