By Martin Carey
“For 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.” Psalm 103:13-14
When you pick up a clod of dirt and hold it in your hand, look closely. Notice what it contains: sand, rocks, clay, twigs and roots, and a few bugs’ legs. When you squeeze it, it crumbles into tiny fragments that fall to earth. Some of it sticks to your hand, and you want to wash it all away.
This dirt, however, is important to us. In His word, our Father reminds us exactly what we are: we are made from dirt, and because of that fact, He feels compassion towards us. In fact, the first man’s body was made from the dust, not angel or spirit stuff, and He knows our dusty frame.1
Just what was the “dust” of Genesis? The word aphar in Hebrew suggests the fine, particulate matter of the earth that is scattered everywhere.2 It is the stuff which the wind picks it up and blows away. Moreover, Adam’s name comes from adamah, a Hebrew word designating the ground from which things grow. Adam is named for the earth from which he was taken, and Eve was taken from his body.
Our bodies share elements with dirt and rocks, water and air, the planets, and all the stars and galaxies. Many spiral galaxies have great dark clumps of dust, thousands of light years wide, in their arms. Closer to home, the planet Mars shines brilliant orange from its wide deserts of iron-rich sand. Iron and oxygen, the same elements that make our blood red, blend to make Martian soil reddish. In fact, astronomers are fond of saying we are made of stardust, and so we are. The fact that our sun has certain specific heavy elements—metals—has made our planet well-suited for life, and earth’s rich dirt is the most life-friendly of all the planets we know.
Our Creator gave us an organic connection with everything else in creation. Our human dust cannot be washed off; it is what we are made of. As humans, we’re not designed to crawl on the ground like snakes, although we share much of our DNA with the reptiles. To the contrary, our human dust is elevated, specially created to equip us to rule the world, yet giving us a beautiful connectedness with all creation. In fact, dust both reminds us of and expresses our profound dependency on the God who made us “very good” in the beginning.
Throughout Scripture people are compared to clay pots fashioned and destroyed by God alone (Is. 29:16; 45:9-10; Jer. 19). Even the cleverest pots cannot create themselves or undo His designs, for there is only one Potter. Yet we often resent our fragility and want to question God’s wisdom in making us objects of dust. In Isaiah, for example, God asks Israel why a clay pot would dispute with its Potter, “Why did you make me thus?”
God’s people, like clay pots, need to recognize His wisdom in fashioning their humble beginnings. We have to recognize that we are not made to be objects of worship but of compassion. As Tony Reinke said,
“God’s pity toward us is not that we have become dust through fault of our own, but that he intentionally designed us as dust from the very beginning. And God remembers that we are dust — he never forgets it. To be made of dust is to be weak and transient and needy and fragile.”3
The Man From Earth
Although we are weak and fragile, however, we are more than dust. Unlike the animals, Adam became a living soul when God breathed into him His own life. In fact, God’s life and Spirit made us distinctly human, able to know Him and commune with Him. Best of all, God gave mankind a living human spirit, an immaterial core of our being that transcends the dirt and can hear God’s voice and live in His presence. Adam and Eve, therefore, could see and rejoice in God’s majesty in everything on the ground and in the sky. That kind of life does not come from dust; it is specially created by God.
Adam, however, was neither angel nor superman, even before the fall. In fact, being made of dust, he was weak, needy, and vulnerable. Whenever Scripture reminds us we are made of dust, we are told of our weak and temporary natures. Adam was clay in the Potter’s hands and had to depend on God’s care and provision, along with the rest of creation. Nowhere in Scripture are we told Adam had intrinsic immortality, that his life didn’t depend on God’s providence.
Many Christians believe that Adam’s physical and mental abilities were vastly greater than our own. As Adventists, we believed Adam was a magnificent superhuman specimen, 14 feet tall, dazzling with light, like a Greek god. There is nothing in Scripture to support this popular myth, but of course, it is a very attractive story. In contrast, Genesis tells us that Adam needed the many protections of the Garden of Eden and the sustaining Tree of Life. Needs and limitations are daily realities for creatures made of dust. However, Adam fell when he became dissatisfied with his God-given lot and, along with Eve, wanted god-like self-sufficiency. The clay pots rebelled, suspecting that God was suppressing their true potential.
As the children of our rebellious first parents, we are born with profound discontent. For many of us in Adventism, our “Back to Eden” lifestyle kept us preoccupied with trying to regain our lost paradise. Nowadays, many Christians, not just Adventists, put themselves under severe discipline, trying to struggle their way back to Eden’s forbidden gate.
It is good to maintain the bodies God gave us, but in vain do we seek the lost world of Eden! In fact, if we do everything right for our bodies and avoid the whole gauntlet of potential accidents and illnesses, we might add 12% to our lifespan. We will have earned the right to boast on our deathbeds that we beat the odds and outlived everyone we knew. We won! And yet, the extra years won’t make us more godlike, and our treasured bodies still return to the dirt.
When we look backward to Eden, to Adam and Eve as our idealized examples of manhood and womanhood, we miss the lesson of Eden. The real glory of creation was to be revealed by Someone else, in a place of terror and pain where we could never go.
The Man from Heaven
Adam’s body was part of God’s “very good” creation, but even in his blessed, unfallen state, he was not like the One who was to come. In 1 Cor. 15 we read that Adam was “earthy” with his weak, unspiritual body. Adam’s dusty weakness was God’s original design, for Adam was never to be the pinnacle of God’s creation. He was never meant to be our example or ideal. For that supreme position, the Creator had Someone else in mind. Before Adam’s creation and fall, before time began, He was preparing for His own arrival. While men were striving to be gods, the man from Heaven, the one who created the cosmos, came here to take on a body of weakness. Back in eternity, He purposed to fulfill the meaning of His creation: to reveal the glory of God in the Suffering Servant.
He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). People looked at Him and saw nothing magnificent to desire or emulate, nothing to stimulate their pride. He wasn’t 14 feet tall and didn’t glow in the dark, and if we saw Him, we just might want to turn away. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2).
He knew weakness and could gasp out in desperation, “I thirst.”
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).
As His body hung dying, He said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” With His body at its weakest, the One who knew no sin, became sin for us. He conquered sin and then shattered death once and for all, that we might have life. Because of Him, we receive the greatest privilege in the universe—not to become like gods—but to become objects of His mercy.
Living in the glow of eternal compassion brings sweet benefits. When Christ rose from the dead, He was given a powerful body that is both physical and spiritual, a body “from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47). We are promised a body like His, designed to enjoy God with new and growing capacities, a body that will never die.
Meanwhile, living in our dusty bodies on this earth, we groan, resenting our weakness and dependency. In fact, dust is the gritty reality of our constant dependency on God. We may eat the purest foods, build strong bodies, and live in a Blue Zone, but in the end the dust will claim the bodies we have so carefully prepared. How much more blessed it is to trust in our Father who remembers our frame and who has compassion on us. If we trust in Him, our lives are safely hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).
So find yourself a place out in nature where you can enjoy God’s glorious earth and marvel at scaly lizards and tiny chirping birds. They are gifts from Him, yet His gifts to us go far beyond the creatures that share our dust. To us He gives rest, contentment, and hope. We can say with David, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup, you hold my lot.”
To be sure, we are dust—but thanks be to God, we are promised so much more!