The Benefits of Dust

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By Deborah Watson

Dust gets a bad rap. We chase it out of our homes, or we think we should. So why a meditation on the benefits of dust? Even in the Bible, of the 100 references to “dust,” almost all of them are negative.

But not all. The very first mention of dust in the Bible is mind-blowingly positive—in Genesis 2:7 we read that God formed the first person, Adam, from dust, and God blessed him.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

And again, in Psalm 103, we hear about dust, as we read that God remembers that we people are dust—were it not for God, who is kind and merciful, we would remain senseless, clinging, reality-obscuring specks of dirt, useless specks needing to be collected and discarded, so as not to mar the beauty of Creation—God’s handiwork. Listen to how the psalmist speaks of God and of us—the dust—in Psalm 103:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
   slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
   nor will he harbor his anger forever;
God does not treat us as our sins deserve
   or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is God’s love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has God removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,
   so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
   he remembers that we are dust.

The life of all people is like grass;
   we flourish like flowers of the field;
the wind blows over flowers and they are gone,
   and their place remembers them no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting
   the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
   and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
   and remember to obey his precepts.

We are dust. We are small and seemingly insignificant on the cosmic stage, and even on the earthly stage—it doesn’t take all that much to obliterate dust—but God has compassion for his dust, takes pity on his dust, on all who recognize that they are actually dust and not God. And so, we are dust with benefits.

We are dust created in the image of the Creator.

We are dust created in the image of the Creator, dust with the breath of life in us, dust with a pulse, and a mind, and a purpose beyond sitting on whatever surface we have been blown to by the fickle winds of life. We are dust that has been forgiven for acting like dust, as we obscure God’s beauty, God’s wisdom, God’s ways in this world. We are redeemed dust—saved from that life of obscuring—saved for a life that praises the Lord with every dusty fiber of our fragile being.

We are beloved dust. God loves this dust, and therefore makes us good dust—dust that blesses, rather than obscures; dust that points to our Creator—to the God who raises dust to a cosmic art form in the creation of beloved humans. You and I are dust, for sure, and we need to remember what God always remembers—that we are indeed dust—so that we will not forget God. But we will remember the God who holds our fragile lives in the palm of God’s almighty, loving grip, today and always, until we lay down our tired and dusty bodies in death, and God brings us home, where our dustiness will fall away in the new heavens and earth that we await beyond the grave.

Amen.

Deborah Watson is a Lecturer in New Testament Greek at Palmer Theological Seminary. She serves on the pastoral staff of Narberth Presbyterian Church, has taught French and English as a Second Language to high school students, and spent time studying and working in Paris, France and on a kibbutz in Israel. The theme of care for people in need captivates Deborah and informs her teaching and ministry.

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