Don’t Forget Where You Came From

I can’t say that I think all that much on my origin. When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, “wow, I came from the dust.” I encourage you to take a moment and think, really think about this text.

“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).

This is quite staggering. We came from the soil. We were literally fashioned from dirt. Walter Brueggemann wrote a helpful article titled Remember You Are Dust. In the article he does an excellent job articulating the implications of this text.

This formula affirms four matters: first, the human person is fundamentally and elementally material in origin and composition, genuinely an “earth-creature,” subject to all the realities and limitations of materiality. Second, because the human person is an “earth-creature,” it belongs with, to, and for the earth, and all other creatures share the same qual- ities of life. Third, this mass of earth (“dust”) is no self-starter. In and of itself, it remains inanimate and lifeless. “Dust from the ground” by itself is no human person. Fourth, the vitality of the human person depends on God’s gift of breath which is freely and graciously given without cause, but which never becomes the property or possession of the human person.

Thus human persons are dependent, vulnerable, and precarious, relying in each moment on the gracious gift of breath which makes human life possible. Moreover, this precarious condition is definitional for human existence, marking the human person from the very first moment of existence. That is, human vulnerability is not late, not chosen, not punishment, not an aberration, not related to sin. It belongs to the healthy, original characterization of human personhood in relation to God. This is what it means to be human.

Just as Adam was a man of the dust, so we are considered to be people of the dust (1 Cor 15:47-49). The Bible states that we will all return to the place of our beginning (Gen 3:19, Job 10:9, 34:15, Ecc 3:20, 12:7, Dan 12:2 ). The Psalmist expresses this truth as he engages the Creator. “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’” (Ps 90:3).

An awareness of our origin will inevitably provoke humility as we engage our Creator. It did for Abraham. When speaking with God he stated, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27). We see this same posture in Job. At the end of the book, he lowers himself into the “dust and ashes” and repents (Job 42:6). Job gets down to to the place where he comes from. God always hears a man who remembers his humble beginnings.

Our status as people of the ground issues in the compassion of our Creator. The Psalmist teaches us this. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps 103:13-14). The ground of his compassion is our frame, our origin. In the same article Brueggemann says this regarding Psalm 103.

God remembers the way we have been formed in the beginning. Perhaps God, in this Psalm, remembers the narrative of Gen. 2-3, recalling the entire tale of our odd and awesome point of origin in the powerful generosity of God. The reality of our “dust” does not evoke in God rejection or judgment, but fidelity. When God remembers our dusty creatureliness, it evokes in God fidelity and compassion. God’s loyal covenant love is the counterpoint to our dust.

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