Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dust of the Ground

Bible commentators have contributed several interpretations of the term dust in Genesis 2:7, Genesis 3:19, Psalm 103:14, and Ecclesiastes 3:20. These passages speak of man being created of the dust of the ground, our bodies returning to the dust when we die, and the Lord remembering that we are dust. The term is translated from the Hebrew afar. In English, the translation is fine grained particles in some renderings. The term also connotes many other common, lowly substances.

No matter how the Hebrew term afar is used, it is certain that the material referred to is an ordinary, earthy substance. When we consider the substances of which the human body is composed, it is clear they are mostly ordinary chemical elements--oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen. In the sense that these four elements compose the vast majority of the chemical elements in the crust of the earth, we may say man is made of the dust of the ground, interpretational nuances aside.

Many people complain that the Bible contains scientific errors. Instead, what is exceedingly remarkable is the absence of scientific errors, given that the Bible was written long before the so-called Scientific Revolution beginning about four centuries ago. The dust of the ground concept provides evidence for the uniqueness of ordinary matter. But it does not provide formal proof of anything, in an age when many people demand proof. Proof is reserved for a different category of persuasion, such as mathematics.

These four elements are indeed ordinary, in the sense that they have been around for countless centuries. Oxygen, nitrogen, and the basis for life, carbon, were formed long after hydrogen, according to the credible scenario of the history of our universe provided by scientists. In the biblical proposal that our bodies are made of the dust of the earth, and that our physical bodies will return to dust, who could object?

The atoms of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen are simple almost beyond comprehension. Hydrogen nuclei possess one proton, surrounded by one electron. Carbon nuclei have six protons, six neutrons, and six electrons; nitrogen nuclei have seven protons, seven neutrons, and seven electrons; oxygen nuclei have eight protons, eight neutrons, and eight electrons. But the physical characteristics of each of these elements differ greatly from one another. We may wonder, “Why is this so?” And why does each of these elements command attention for its own vital cycle in the natural world?

The Creator is also able to make a code for assembling living things out of the simple elements in the DNA molecule. In that double-helix molecule incredibly simple sequences of elements and compounds, mostly the big four elements, are able to provide the code of instructions for synthesizing thousands of different proteins and assembling them to produce specimens of each unique species on Planet Earth. Each human DNA molecule has three billion bits of information for assembling a living human. There are millions of different species of living things on Earth. Therefore, there are millions of sets of instructions for assembling each living species on our planet. Codes such as the DNA code are always produced by a mind.

What capabilities lie within the “dust of the ground?” Our answer depends on the capabilities assigned by our Creator to the matter within that dust. God endowed ordinary matter with unique capabilities. “Dust of the ground” takes on new and unique meaning.