Friday, November 26

Formed From the Dust

According to the creation narrative found in Genesis 2, God formed man from the dust of the earth. This is an interesting notion. Is this passage figurative, or literal? Are there other passages in the Scriptural corpus that speak to this? Is there any science behind this? The relevant passage, Genesis 2:7 says, "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." Within the narrative, we may infer that man is made of a handful of dust. Why? When a body is cremated, depending on the size of the hands holding it, the amount of dust left is about a hadndful. Following the narrative in the third chapter of Genesis, God tells Adam, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19; emphasis mine). This passage is often quoted on Ash Wednesday, to remind us that we are all in need of reconciliation, and that regardless of what "status" we have in life, our fate is all the same. Thus, it is meant to be a sobering yet humbling thought. In the Wisdom literature, Job says to God, "Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?"(Job 10:9; Photo Credit to: Michelangelo, "The Creation of Adam," 1511)

On a biological level, we see that the human body is made up of minerals - and materials - found in the earth. 63% of the human body is made up of hydrogen, 18% carbon, 25.5% oxygen, and 7% other. There are 59 elements in our bodies, and all 59 of them are from the earth. (Percentages estimated, some research shows that the body is 65% oxygen and 10% hydrogen, others show the reverse.) Aside from the aforementioned elements, it is necessary for our bodies to have tin, silicon, fluorine, and vanadium. Now, the human body is not only made up of "dust" of the earth, but water. The average human body is made up of 75% water - if water was combined with dust, it is only logical that it would produce clay. It is also true that the human body is not only comprised of dust and water. We have bones, muscles, the like. 

Job 10:11-12 says, "[You] clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews[.] You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit." Centuries later, St. Paul said in Romans 9:20-21, "But who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,' 'Why did you make me like this?' [from Isaiah 29:16; 45:9] Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for disposal of refuse?" 

We see that the motif of dust and water - clay - is concurrent throughout scripture. When St. Paul is discussing our resurrection body, he tells us in 2nd Corinthians 15:47, "The first man [our current body] was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven." Even Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, "and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." Psalm 139:13-14 says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

On another level, modern science has determined that we are not merely dust, but stardust. The aforementioned elements that make up the human body were formed within a star, long ago. This beautiful insight actually has very intriguing theological implications. Christian theologian Elizabeth Johnson notes, "Understanding the human species as an intrinsic part of planetary and cosmic matter has far-reaching implications for the meaning of incarnation. In this perspective, the human flesh that the Word became is part of the vast body of the cosmos. Theologians have started to use the phrase "deep incarnation," coined by Danish theologian Niels Gregersen, to express this radical divine reach into the very tissue of biological existence and the wider system of nature. Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself what Jesuit Father David Toolan has called 'the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.' The genetic structure of his cells made him part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas. The flesh that the Word became thus reaches beyond Jesus and other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which we are composed... By becoming flesh the Word of God confers blessing on the whole of earthly reality in its material dimension, and beyond that, on the cosmos in which the Earth exists. Rather than being a barrier that distances us from the divine, this material world becomes a sacrament that can reveal divine presence. In place of spiritual contempt for the world, we ally ourselves with the living God by loving the whole natural world, part of the flesh that the Word became."


Troy Hillman


Sources Consulted
Soriano, Eliseo. "From Dust To Man: A Scientific Proof." esoriano. Wordpress, 05-25-2007. Web. 26 Nov 2010. 

"Only Human?." American Bible Society Presents: Inside the Mysteries of The Bible. 2010: 16-17. Print.

Johnson, Elizabeth. "For God so Loved the Cosmos." Environment. U.S. Catholic, 2013. Web. .

1 comment:

  1. Good work nice site I have also discovered that when sharing the truth it does cut and many will sling darts, but we have a shield of faith to stand on the truth..only the fools curse on earth as in hell one day.keep up the good work God speed

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