You, Me, and the Ground (2)

In the previous post we looked at how man is taken from the ground and made for the ground. We also focused on the ground as a generous gift of God to his creatures. In this post, we continue looking the theme of ground. As you will see, there are some more interesting references to ground in Scripture.

Ground as Witness


At times, Scripture personifies inanimate objects. The ground  is said to feel things and do things.  One interesting activity attributed to the ground is that of a witness.  In these two examples, the ground gives an account to God about our activity. Apparently when no one else is looking, the ground we walk on is.

“And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground ‘”(Gen 4:10).

“If my land has cried out against me and its furrows have wept together, if I have eaten its yield without payment and made its owners breathe their last, let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley” (Job 31:38-40).

Ground and Judgment


When sin makes entrance into the world our relationship with the ground changes. The context of blessing and gift becomes the place of curse and judgment. The ground we were called to cultivate and keep turns against us and makes life hard. Death drives us back to the ground from which we were made. In Cain’s case, his judgment is to be driven away and cursed from the ground. He experienced a double curse in relation to the ground. In Israel’s case, the ground responds to their rebellion by opening its mouth and swallowing an entire tribe in judgment.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

“You are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand…Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground” (Gen 4:11, 14).

“And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num 16:31-33).

Ground and Grief


There are two strands of biblical data in the vein of grief and ground. The first relates to the grief of the ground. Paul utilizes the language of groaning and pain when discussing the current state of the earth. In the text that follows we see that the ground grieves and hopes along with mankind. The second relates to the grief of men and their use of the ground to express their sorrow. There are a multitude of examples in Scripture when humans crumple into the dust and cover their heads with it to express a traumatic loss of heartfelt repentance. 
This act of grieving and repentance signifies humility and recognition of one’s status before God. To lower oneself to the ground and pull the earth over your head communicates that you know where you came from and you know where you are going. This body language communicates to God what the psalmist voices in Psalm 103:13-14. “The Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22, cf. Jer 14:4, Joel 1:10).
“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head” (1 Samuel 4:12, cf. 2 Sam 15:32).
 “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
 
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You, Me, and the Ground (1)

You may recall a post from a couple weeks back on the dust. In that post, I highlighted the significance of being created out of the dust. This post is an extension of that line of thinking. I am intrigued about our relationship with the ground. Even writing that sentence feels weird. Relationship with the ground? Seems strange. You may be surprised to find that  Scripture actually has a bit to say on the topic. So here we go. You, me, and the ground. I will explore this theme over the next three posts.

Made From The Ground


Scripture indicates that mankind, plants, beasts, and bird were made from the ground. None of these creatures were created from nothing. They were all formed out of the ground. This creation out of something motif implies that we are all vitally connected to the substance from which we came. We are “from” the ground!

“The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground” (Gen 2:7).

“And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight” (Gen 2:9).

“Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens” (Gen 2:19).

Terrence Fretheim in his book on Creation Theology spells out the importance of texts like this in our theology.

“Even more the ground (adamah play on adam) proves to be a crucial ingredient for the creation of the human. Human beings are not created ‘out of nothing,’ but out of an already existent nonhuman creature, a creature that has creative capacities (Gen 1:11-13, 24). The ground proves to be an indispensable medium for the creative work of God the potter (of nonhumans as well as humans, 2:19). In other words, human beings are keenly dependent upon the ground not only for their sustenance and livelihood but also for their very being. Without the ground they would neither exist nor survive. At the same time, as we have noted, the ground depends on the human for its proper development. Issues of dependence and interdependence  in a highly interrelated world are her brought to the forefront.” [1]

On a side note, this truth may be the most significant and foundational for building a biblical ecology.

Made For the Ground


The ground preceded us. It was foundational for our existence. We are dependent upon it for our life and sustenance. Ground exists for our good. And yet, there is a sense in which we were created for the ground as well. As Fretheim put it, we dwell in a “highly interrelated world.” The ground is dependent upon us to cultivate and keep it. That seems to be the thrust of these two texts. Note especially the language of the second passage.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

“The Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken” (Gen 3:23).

Ground as Gift


Our existence is a generous gift of the Creator. The context of our existence is no less a gift. He forms us from the ground and then allows us to live, move, and have our being on the same thing from which we were made. This ground that we make our home on is considered a gift, whether it be Eden, the Promised Land, or the New Earth.

 “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen 2:8).

“Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 26:15).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5).


[1] Terrence E. Fretheim, God and the World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), p. 54.
 

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.