Were humans created mortal or immortal?

Two recent events pressed this question upon me. First, I booked out some time to focus on the writing of a book, part of which considered the Genesis creation texts. The second event was unplanned…

… then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Gen 2:7

What is the significance of man being formed from the dust? Some commentators want to draw attention to the intimate process of creation by comparing the formation of man to a potter molding clay. There is indeed an intimacy present in this account but it has more to do with the image of breath, than the the image of a potter and clay. The problem is that dust is not clay. It does not have the same properties and cannot be formed the way clay can be. So what is the significance of the earthling being formed from dust? It has been argued, convincingly I think, that dust refers to human mortality as can be seen in Genesis 3:19.

The earthling is created mortal, finite, earthy, yet God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life which transcends the purely mortal aspect of human existence. The finite creature is given the capacity to participate in the infinite being of God. Yes, there is part of us that is earthy and temporal, but there is also a part of us that comes from beyond ourselves and opens us up to the transcendent – the breath of God. This capacity to continually transcend our own limits, to be part of creation, yet capable of transforming it and reaching beyond its appearance to its underlying source, is unique to humanity. 

A week after writing the above paragraphs, I was present as my dad breathed his last breath. Although we were prepared… I was not ready. And I don’t think we ever can be. Such events remain surprising, overwhelming and unbearable.

Mary-Anne, my mom and I were present at the hospital for his last breath. The most heart wrenching yet precious sight. Shortly before I said: “Dad, it’s your choice, do you want to come home and spend a few days or weeks with us … or do you want to go and be with the Lord now? It’s your choice.” Then my mom sat down and asked: “Do you want to come home with me?” He shook his head – No! We thought he was joking as usual. “Do you want to go be with Jesus and your son Eugene?” He nodded his head – yes! As was their custom, my mom softly prayed in tongues with him. Mary-Anne stroked his head and sang Yahweh. He opened his eyes to look at me and make sure I was holding his hands. His breath slowed down. Within a couple of minutes he breathed his last.

The night before his burial I woke up at 3am thinking of John 17:20-24

I ask … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Jesus, knowing that he would soon die, speaks about a transformation of relationship. His presence would no longer be bodily, but neither would he be completely absent. He remains one with the Father, and this union is something we can partake of even now. The love that is the very reason things exist, is a love that receives every human breath back into its embrace. (Eccl 12:7) And even while we remain, we may partake of this same embrace.

The frailty and temporality of human life was deeply impressed on me during this time. However, it was not the futility of the temporal that impressed itself on me, but the opposite. It is exactly the temporality of life that makes it so precious. If anything is available in limitless abundance, it somehow loses its value. There is a way in which limitation increases value. The fact that we only have so much time to say what we want to say, to do what we want to do, to love as we desire to love, to be and become … it is exactly the finite space we have in which to live that gives every moment value.

In many early philosophies, these human complexities developed into a dualism that split the human into distinct and opposite parts. In Gnosticism, the earthly part is seen as evil and despised, and the spiritual part is seen as good and can be liberated through knowledge. No such hard dualistic border is drawn in the Biblical text. God is the Author of both the earthy aspect of the human and the divine breath. The earthling is a union, albeit with paradoxical qualities. 

So were we created mortal or immortal? In short, the answer is yes … we were created both mortal and immortal. Our bodies have always been mortal. Yet the relationships that happen within these bodies, form us and shape us and as such its effect continues far beyond the body. Love continues.

29 Responses to “The Value of Dust.”

  1. Joy on

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been with both my parents, and my first husband when they passed away and they were all incredibly precious monents. My mom, a missionary from India, had vision after vision and would share them with us. We started writing them down. Although not much is said in the scripture of the future life I believe we are in the love of God so I trust in a safe place in Him. In one if her visions some martyred missionaries met her at the river and she said she always assumed it would be her mother who met her,, but with her life, I understood why it was them. It’s amazing to sit with people who are not afraid to pass from this body. There is a sacred sense betond what Ive ever experienced in other situations in life!

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Thank you Joy. Yes, this sense of the sacred suddenly overflows in every moment … how precious every unique encounter as we acknowledge it as an encounter with God-made-flesh.

      Reply
  2. Linda McFarland on

    Why did Jesus rise from the dead in his physical body…bone and flesh…and seen in a physical body and touched in that body…

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Hi Linda. I’m not sure I understand your question in context to what was in the article. What I can say is that death was a prerequisite for the resurrection. There would be no resurrection if there was no death. Of the many things the resurrection means, victory over the fear of death and the hope for a transformed bodily existence is part of it.

      Reply
      • Carolyn Graham on

        Andre, I appreciate this statement so much…
        “God is the Author of both the earthy aspect of the human and the divine breath.”
        Quite thought-provoking!

        Reply
    • Carolyn Graham on

      Excellent question, Linda! Surely, we would miss something here, if we did not consider the importance of having a bone and flesh Representative (Jesus) Who destroyed the fear of death for us.

      Reply
  3. Mark on

    Amazing, incredible concepts here! I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing, but grateful for the insight and words you’ve offered. Peace.

    Reply
  4. wayne rogers on

    Dear Andre, I share with you and your family in the grief and sorrow of Dad’s passing. His light will be missed but also continue to be seen in the reflections of those he loved. A thought on dust; it too has a divine origin. It is a part of the creation and was used to make ever increasingly complex forms of creation. Scriptural interpretation suggests that humankind being made of this dust sinned and therefore was “punished” by being returned to its original “lowly” state. What if ,for a moment in time, a formation of dust is infused with the breathe of “life” to shine like a star; to be seen, appreciated, valued, loved for what it is. A divine thought and expression. a gift. Art work seen and then no longer visible, music once heard but no longer played still effect us. Temporal experiences do not necessarily disappear but add to the totality of creation. Dust has become the means through which love can be expressed and experienced. How do you put a value on that?

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Beautiful! “Dust has become the means through which love can be expressed and experienced.” And in so doing the dust gives opportunity for love it would otherwise not have had … and similarly the dust gains a significance it would not have had it the breath of life did not animate it.

      Reply
  5. Angelo on

    Sorry about your sad news Andre. I haven’t read a lot of theological writing/this topic in a long time. Once again though your writing is encouraging and beautifully creative. Thank you

    Reply
  6. Truda on

    Precious insight … Breath and Dust … Father and Son … All is One …

    What a privilege to release them into safe hands … When the time comes!

    Reply
  7. Frank Shaia on

    Perhaps one of my most favorite verses, while remaining one that is wrapped in mystery is Ephesians 3:21 ‘Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.’ Yes we are mortal. Yes we are immortal. Yes the value of life here on earth is incalculable. Yes life in the ages to come is even more. The encore to this life will last for eternity and as it says in Hebrews, the cloud of witnesses is great!
    I just want you to know that I love you two very much.

    Reply
  8. Mary Ann Hay on

    Thank you. For many years I have questioned our existence–wondering who we actually are. You profoundly explained that which eludes so many of us. We are multidimensional and multifaceted beings in the Breath of God manifesting the eternal, supernatural capacities of Elohim Chayim. Yet in our flesh we struggle with the natural limitations. Your article was brilliant. Thank you so much. I am so sorry for your Father

    Reply
  9. Britt Hanson on

    Andre,

    Andre my heart goes out to you.
    Thank you so much for sharing your tender moments with your father and helping all of us to see, to love and to give meaning. I don’t know what part of heaven you pull words out of, but they always find their way to the deepest place in my heart to rest. That this existence is all precious and rich and full of love. Do we have eyes to see? Do we have the ears to hear?
    So grateful.
    So grateful.
    So grateful

    Reply

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