What is your first thought when you think of the word dust? Maybe you groan about the tiny, irritating particles that invade your home every day causing you to have to clean. Maybe you recall windy days when you have experienced grit piercing your skin. Have you ever gotten dirt in your mouth, or worse, your eye? It’s not pleasant. For most of us, I believe I can safely assume that dust is rather insignificant. Nothing can be built from just dust, not without adding some other substance to make it more cohesive. Even the meaning of the word dust emphasizes its intrinsic, trivial value: “the fine particles of matter; the particles into which something disintegrates; something worthless; a state of humiliation; the earth especially as a place of burial,” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary).
Throughout scripture, the words dust and ashes are closely related and are associated with destruction, death, mourning, disgrace, lowliness, and rubbish. When God pronounced the curse upon mankind for our disobedience against Him, He reminded us, “For you are dust, and to dust, you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19). The prophet, Isaiah, echoed God’s curse when he wrote, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades,” (Isaiah 40:6-7).
This idea of being formed from mere dust goes against our very nature. There is a deep human desire in each and every one of us to leave our mark on the world in some way. We want to know we have lived a life of meaning and significance. None of us wants to feel worthless. None of us wants to come to the end of our days and look back with the feeling we accomplished nothing, especially in our day and age when we live in a culture that so highly prizes success, achievement, fame, and a stellar self-image. If “all we are is dust in the wind,” as the Kansas song so famously serenades, then why does this life even matter?
Here is something you need to hear, something we all need to embrace: You will never be more significant than dust, and that is a beautiful truth.
Before you protest, let’s take a closer look at dust and its biblical significance to see what it can teach us about who we are and why we exist.
God chose dust to be the material used to make people in His image.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth…And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good,” (Genesis 1:27-28, 31).
“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…Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him,’…So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God has taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man,” (Genesis 2:7, 18, 21-22).
Out of all the animals, celestial objects, geographical formations, lush vegetation, and various other glorious parts of the universe God made by speaking them into existence, God chose man and woman to be the most important of His creations. In fact, rather than speak humankind into being, He stooped down into the dirt, formed them with His hands, and breathed the breath of life into them, blessed them, and gave them the charge to rule over everything. It wasn’t until God made man and woman that He said of all He had made, ” It is very good,” (Genesis 1:31). No one can read that, believe it, and walk away feeling insignificant. God chose the most basic material to make His most prized possession. Wow!
We will never truly appreciate our value as dust until we let go of our autonomy.
In our culture we are so wrapped up in our individuality that we can’t even appreciate what it means to be part of a collective whole. We think in order to be valued, we must achieve something that causes us to stand out from the rest of the crowd, so we build a persona on social media in an effort to convince ourselves and others that we are someone to like, share, and follow. We long to be admired. We want so badly in and of ourselves to stand on our own two feet and be able to say, “Look at all I have accomplished!” Do you know what happened to a man in the Bible who said that?
“Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven years shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” (Daniel 4:28-32).
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful ruler of the most powerful empire on earth at the time. If anyone had reason to revel in his or her success, it was this guy. However, it was not because of Nebuchadnezzar’s might and greatness that he had achieved such an esteemed position in the world. He was an emperor because God in His providence had allowed him to succeed, and it wasn’t so Nebuchadnezzar could boast about his significance. God had caused the king’s empire to grow into a strong tree, so it might provide shade, shelter, and nourishment to all. Babylon was an abundant food source and offered protection to all who dwelt within its borders. Nebuchadnezzar might have been the ultimate human ruler of Babylon, but he still had to answer to the God of the universe who promptly humiliated him as soon as he began to take the credit for his accomplishments.
We must remember, we are the created, not the Creator. No matter how self-reliant we think we are, our very existence is dependent upon Christ. “If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust,” (Job 34:14-15). “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together,” (Colossians 1:16-17). We owe all that we are and all that we have to God. Without Him we are nothing but dust. We have no shape, no form, no life. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).
We are not only dependent on God for our existence, but God made us to be dependent upon one another, to live in community, and for those who believe in Him, to become the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ,” (1 Corinthians 12:12). No matter how independent we try to be, we need other people. When I am sick, I need a doctor. When my house catches fire, I need the fire department. The fire department would not exist without the collective community paying taxes. The myriad of examples that could be provided here to demonstrate just how interdependent we all are on one another could fill a whole book and then some! We need each other. As the body of Christ, we cannot survive without one another. We have to let go of the idea that this life is all about us because God created us for a purpose so much greater than ourselves. God formed us intimately with His hands and gave us the breath of life so we might know Him, love Him, and as a result of His great love for us, love others and live for the good of others.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:3-4). What are you trying to do in your own strength apart from God? How can you learn to depend on Him in everything you do? How can you begin today to look beyond yourself and your own agenda and serve the people God has placed within your sphere of influence? How can you live today for a purpose greater than you, greater than anything you could ever imagine?
A single speck of dust can’t do much by itself. However, in the hands of the Master Artist, it can be joined with other specks of dust, pressed and molded together in unity by the Spirit of God, the same Spirit who brings peace, love, hope, joy, abundant life, and it can become the most beautiful work of art the world has ever seen. In the hands of God, his people, humble and submitted to Him, can become a masterpiece so magnificent, the world can’t help but recognize Jesus as the only true King worthy of all honor and glory and praise.