“For the life of every creature is the blood of it” (Leviticus 17:14)
The Bible certainly holds blood as being sacred. It imagines that the very life of every creature is its blood. What this means exactly or how this relates to other ideas of life presented in the Scriptures is not exactly defined. For example, in Genesis 2:7 we read:
then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Here we have life being in the breath. The Bible does not offer any explanations reconciling these two ideas. But then the Scriptures are not giving us anything close to scientific ideas about how the human body works. The Bible does not mention cells, platelets, or the circulatory system; nor give us much insight into the physical nature of blood. Nor does it tell us anything about the relationship of the heart to blood. We have to look to science for all these things – science has helped us understand the human body through discoveries not even remotely mentioned in the Scriptures.
What the Scriptures do offer us is not science but a spiritual view of the physical world. In saying there is life in the breath or life in the blood, Scripture is simply pointing out what believers accept as normative – namely, that there is something beyond the merely physical. Humans are more than just chemistry or biology or physics. There is something about our existence which is not completely explained by or limited to the physical world.
In going through chemotherapy, I’ve experienced a way in which “life is in our blood”. For chemo does many things to the blood – to the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets which threaten the very life of the person receiving the chemo. This week is my “off” week from chemotherapy. Yet as has happened in past weeks, I end up needing treatment to booster my white blood cell count. With the white blood cell count being very low, my immune system is compromised and I am at increased risk for infections of all kinds. My ability to stay alive is found in my blood. Science has discovered the importance of blood for being life giving to each of us. Science can show us medically and biologically how blood is related to life. But it is spiritually that we come to fully understand what life is. Science is thus helping us understand the spiritual nature of physical things. It helps us be pro-life by showing us how it is possible to save lives. Science helps us deal with the impermanence, the transience of the physical world, with threats to our own mortality. However, science cannot solve for us the mystery of what life is or what life means or the value of life – these answers we find in God.
Chemotherapy can only deal with my biological life. The life which is in my blood or in my breath, this is life which comes from God. It is life not limited by or to time or the physical world nor is life curtailed by physical death. Chemotherapy reminds me that my life has a physical existence and I can be affected by what happens to my body. But chemotherapy helps me understand that life is something not completely encompassed by the physical. On the contrary, my physical existence is encompassed in the mystery of life.
“Life is short, the age to come is long, and little the length of our present existence. Man, this great but petty being, to whom the scant present has been allotted, is weak. Time is scant, man weak, but the contest set before him, with its prize, is great, even if it is full of thorns and puts our trivial life at risk.” (Nikitas Stithatos, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 37498-37506)