You Are What You Sweep

Why being made of dust is both terrifying and encouraging.

Dust goes unnoticed, for the most part. It surrounds us, but unless we work in construction, we hardly ever see it. When we do, it is usually because we are trying to Hoover it up or sweep it away. Although we are continually touching and inhaling a cocktail of hairs, pollens, fibers, mites, and skin cells, we try not to think about it.

Dust speaks of decay. It comes about through the decomposition of other things, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. Dust in a home means our cells have died recently. At a building site, it means something has been knocked down or destroyed. Ghost towns and postapocalyptic movies are covered in it, highlighting the loss not just of creatures or structures but of civilization itself.

And God says: You are made of that.

It doesn’t sound very encouraging. Being dust-people means that one day we will be dead people. When humanity fell in the Garden, the resulting curse—“for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19)—clearly referred to mortality. In a world where people pursue the elixir of life as enthusiastically as ever, the Bible makes the certainty of dying unmistakably clear: “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We came from the soil, and one day we will again be part of it.

People sometimes talk as if Christians believe in immortality and secular materialists don’t. The reality is almost the opposite. The certainty of death (something inescapably on our minds amid current coronavirus fears) is integral to Christianity. Our future does not depend on immortality but on resurrection, while those most eager to postpone or even escape death typically have no resurrection hope whatsoever. Early …

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