When you hide your face, they are dismayed;The basic point is simple but profound: all created things are sustained by the Holy Spirit. As I've chewed this over, I've had a few other thoughts...
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
1. The Spirit's sustaining work goes beyond the provision of the necessary means for life. That is there in the immediate context, but these verses add something else. God doesn't just provide the necessary secondary causes of continued existence; he actually provides, by sending his Spirit, existence itself.
2. The Spirit's sustaining work extends to both individual creatures, and the whole system of creation. The renewal of creation is of course driven by the ordinary processes of procreation, but underlying those processes is the sending of the Spirit. Life and the systems which sustain and renew life are equally upheld by the Breath of God.
3. This is not pantheism or even panentheism. Creation is not God, nor does it subsist within God - rather, the creature is distinct from God, and is distinctly maintained and sustained by him. Note the dynamic and interactive language used - you take away, you send forth... The Spirit is not some sort of impersonal substrate of creation, nor is he tied to creation, but he comes and goes at the will of God, sustaining the whole.
4. God's Spirit can be, and is, withdrawn at God's will. The ongoing existence of creation as a whole is dependent on God's faithfulness and nothing more. The ongoing existence of any particular creature within the whole is also dependent on God, and can be withdrawn at any point in his sovereignty. We, and all the things we see and experience, are dramatically contingent.
5. Creation is real. It is not a phantom, or a dream in God's mind. It's very fragility and dependence on God's Spirit testifies to its reality as a thing which exists but which is not God.
6. The same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation in the beginning sustains creation now. And he is the same Spirit who comes in the waters of baptism, creating and thereafter sustaining new life in Christ. His work in old creation and new are linked through the creation of the human nature of Christ - hovering over the waters of the womb?