Friday, July 22, 2005

Dust We Are

When Abraham dared to argue with the Lord over the fate of Sodom, he used this humble introduction: “I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Dust he was, and to dust he would return, as the Psalmist also knew: “What profit would there be in my going to the grave? …can dust sing your praise or proclaim your truth?” (Psalm 29/30:9). It has been said that, materially seen, we can be reduced to a few dollars worth of chemicals, and we know what a small pile of ashes one can become if he passes through the crematorium. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Are we ultimately nothing more than a mound of dirt?

Before I get spiritual on you, let’s remember that there is, even in the Old Testament, a good side to being dust. The fact that we are dust actually spares us from punishments that would be due to nobler substances. God has compassion on us, we learn from Psalm 102(103), because “He remembers that we are dust.” If we were angels we’d only have one chance to get it right, but being dust makes us eligible for repentance and forgiveness. God knows our humble origins and the limitations of people made of dust, and so He makes allowances for our lack of wisdom and fortitude. He knows that we struggle with “grievous weakness and painful passions” (as one of our liturgical texts laments), and that we have much difficulty finding our way clear of all kinds of besetting (or besotting) plagues. Being dust ought thus to make us humble, and grateful for God’s forbearance. Yet we can’t seem to learn the simplest of lessons. “Why are dust and ashes proud?” (Sirach 10:9).

Though our bodies shall return to the dust from which they came, there is more to humanity than the assembling and disassembling of bodies of dust. How do we know? Pull your old dusty Bible off the shelf and read Genesis 2:7. You will see that once God formed man from the earth, He breathed the breath of life into him. This dust is sustained by the very breath of God! We’re on to something here. We also learn that we are created in God’s image, which immeasurably ennobles this humble dust. But the greatest thing (and this—for better or worse, depending on your perspective—is the destroyer of all our excuses) is that God Himself has taken our dust upon Himself by becoming man in our Lord Jesus Christ. He has united our dusty human nature to Himself and—descending farther into hell—He has also taken on the filth of our sins and nailed them to the Cross. Through faith in Him and obedience to Him, come what may, we will discover that we are more than mere dust, and are destined for the glory God has prepared for those who love Him.

So dust yourself off and get busy with the work of your transformation! God does the lion’s share, but He still requires our free co-operation. Can dust sing his praise? Yes, when it is animated with an immortal soul and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Being dust we shall return to dust, but being united to God we shall rise again and forever sparkle like gold dust in the Sun of Righteousness!