Thursday, September 08, 2016

Star Dust: Being True to our Clay-like Calling

Human beings are made of dust.

This is both scientific fact and theological proposition. 

Our physical bodies are 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen and about 4% "other" - as illustrated by the pie charts below, courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Sand or soil, meanwhile, are composed of many of these similar substances, albeit rearranged in radically different proportions and states. 

The bible affirms our dust-likeness in numerous ways:

  • Adam is made by God from the dust of the earth - his name being derived from the Hebrew word for ground, earth or clay. 
  • Following his fall, Adam is told that death awaits him in the future -  "for dust you are and to dust you will return."
  • King David celebrates God's mercy towards mankind - "For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust."
  • The apostle Paul, meanwhile, portrays the relationship of the believer towards God as that of clay in the hands of a potter - dependent on the creation and shaping of the skilled craft-worker.
  • The glory of the new covenant is expressed by Paul as "treasure in jars of clay" - contrasting the magnificence of God's salvation with the mundane nature of its recipients.

Professor Brian Cox explains the science of our dust-like qualities in this classic clip from the BBC's 2011 series Wonders of the Universe

Our dust-like existence has some important consequences: 

1. We have a profound connection with the physical soil 

Our original calling as human beings was to "work and take care of the garden"; every seed-bearing plant and every fruit tree are our staple diet. As Satish Kumar puts it, we are to be about agriculture not agri-business. 

Such an eco-theology may seem hopelessly naive in the digital age of globalisation and genetic science. However, the original calling of men and women to work the garden has not been removed; we remain stewards of the soil from which we were made and to which we will return.

2. We have confidence before God because of his grace

Our frailty, our humanity and our vulnerability do not disqualify us from God's plans and purposes. On the contrary, God remembers that we are dust. He knows our frame. Therefore, we can learn to live with our limitations - and indeed to see them as the context and setting for God's glory to be displayed and revealed. 

We are not crushed by the magnitude of God's glory and power, compared with our own physical, spiritual and psychological weaknesses. Rather, we are honoured and included in his great plan and purpose.   

3, We are to be submissive to God's shaping of us

Shall the clay tell the potter what to do? There is an inner peace that can be experienced by submitting to the hand of God in our lives. Whether he chooses to make us for "noble or ignoble purposes", we can find dignity in our relationship with him.

Furthermore, we can celebrate that whatever the differences in our day-to-day circumstances and existence, our clay-likeness is shared by all human beings. There are no real super stars - just a glorious God who is at work in all of his creation, shaping and working towards the fulfilment of his eternal purpose - bringing all things in  heaven and earth together under Christ. 

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