“Dust” gets modest attention on think-sites like Amazon, Google and Wikipedia. Most theological dictionaries never mention it at all. But the Bible assigns dust some significant walk-on moments in the God Drama. I count four (though there may be more). And all four of these cameos point the reader in the same direction: to God’s glory.
- Dust is the raw material God uses to create people: “[Then] the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7 ESV). Defer, for a moment, the Darwin debates. Just stick with what Genesis actually says about God making the first human being. We see him using a grand total of two ingredients: “the breath of life,” and dust. That’s it: Just God’s breath and plain old dust. The result? People. People who can catch fish (1:26), exercise dominion over the world (Gen 1:26), procreate (1:28), fill and subdue the earth (1:28), dig for gold (2:12), till and keep the garden (2:15), make up names for animals (2:19), speak in verse (2:23), join to one another in marriage (2:24), build cities (4:17), domesticate animals (4:20), play the guitar and the flute (4:21), and make tents and tractors (4:22). And penicillin. And computer chips. And write The Lord of the Rings. And send themselves to the moon. And some of them – by God’s sin-reversing grace – preach the gospel: “[We] have this treasure in jars of clay [that is, dust mixed with water, then baked], to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7 ESV).
Amen. And wow: Pretty impressive for creatures made of dust. The supreme ordinariness of dust points us to the supreme extraordinariness of the Creator God. In other words, to his glory.
- Dust is the end-game for people who die. Which is everyone. God tells post-tree of knowledge Adam: “[You] are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19 ESV). Death is creation in reverse: Dust, living creature, and then back to dust. God warns pre-tree Adam that if he eats from that tree, “dying, you will die” (Gen 2:17, lit.). And Adam eats. Dust is the end of Adam. And that end is part of that seldom in fashion feature of the God-Story – judgement. God judges sin. He does not cater to rebels. If the creation of man from dust says, “God is awesome,” then the back-to-dust judgement on sin says, “God is faithful to his warnings.” And that faithfulness is part of his glory.
There’s something bracing about knowing that God judges sin. It’s fresh wind off a cold sea. It shakes us awake, and warns us. And coming to grips with the dust judgement (let us think twice before we eat from the tree of knowledge!) is part of facing into that wind – and beholding the glory of God.
I said above that dust is the end of Adam. It is – and yet…dust is not the end of the Story. Stay tuned.
- Dust – in its limitless quantities – is the substance God chooses to show Abram the scale of his “many descendants” promise: “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted” (Gen 13:16 ESV). Dust appears on stage once again. But now, the sign of judgement is a sign of hope. Have a look on Google Images for “dust storms.” Choose a picture, and try to imagine the number of dust particles the image shows. Remember: you are looking at a picture of a local storm. Tens or maybe hundreds of square miles. But God’s words to Abram speak of all the dust in the entire earth. Such is the scale of the promise. As aged Abram and barren Sarai ponder God’s words, he sets before them an image of something supremely ordinary and supremely vast: dust. In God’s hand those uncountable particles become a mighty choir, singing and shouting like African Pentecostals into Abram and Sarai’s hearts, exalting the glory of God.
When I am down, it is usually because my thoughts lie and tell me I serve a small god. That dust-choir sings to set me straight.
- Dust, in the Drama’s final act, becomes the sign that God wins. God does not turn his back on his creation – ever. He rules it, he judges it, he changes it, but he does not abandon it. In the God Drama, not even dust gets written out of the script. Scripture teaches that at the end of the age God will change dust and usher it into his renewed world. Paul assures us of this in his great “resurrection chapter”, 1 Corinthians 15. He writes of God transforming his decay-ridden creation and winning over his great enemy, death. Speaking of our perishable, dust-based bodies, he writes: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (v53). The word he uses for “put on” was the everyday word for putting on clothing (Matthew 6:25). It speaks of adding something to our physical frame. We can put on garments, and still be “us.” Paul says that the dust we’re made of now will “put on” a new quality: immortality. In some way (Paul does not explain the mechanics – it’s a “mystery”!) the stuff we’re made of now will still be there, but changed: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1Cor 15:52 ESV). As Paul tells the Philippians, “[The] Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:21 ESV). When that trumpet sounds, our bodies will not be trashed. (And no, that is not what 2 Peter 3:10 is talking about. But more on that another day.) No: They will be raised. Imperishable. God will not turn away and let death have his dust. No. He will reclaim it and transform it and incorporate it into his renewed creation, imperishable. When we receive our new, glorified bodies, we will never get sick. We will never die. And we will still be us. God will get the last word over his ancient enemy, death: “I win, you lose.” Or, as Paul says (quoting Hosea 13:14), in words I can only describe as an exultant, cosmic taunt – “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (v55).
The difference all this makes
I write these words on a November evening at about 9:00 o’clock. In the weeks ahead I face numerous “swirls”: things that my emotional machinery does not deal with easily: scheduling decisions, financial stresses, log jams in my calendar of travel, lesson-prep, sermon-prep and assignment-marking. For me, it all means pressure. I will go to bed soon. But I will go to bed confident in God. How? Because in thinking about dust I have learned something I already knew. But now I know it more: God reigns. The One who effortlessly rules the uncountable particles of the dust of the earth can just as effortlessly guide the details of my life. I will sleep well.
Latest posts by Dave Perry (see all)
- Why God Made Dust: How a Bit-Player in the Big Story Reflects God’s Glory - 4th November 2015
- Out, and Out, and Out: The Expanding Kingdom of God - 3rd October 2015