Dust & Stars

The Star Trek television and movie series is one of the most optimistic portrayals of human existence. The depictions of planet Earth are one where war, poverty, and hunger have been eliminated. Advanced science, deep space exploration, and free, easy-access knowledge are everyday norms for the people of Star Trek’s fictional Earth. The key to this optimism for humanity’s future is in the fundamental assumption that humanity is inherently good and can live meaningful lives.

Here is a clip from the Star Trek: The Next Generation that illustrates this point:

There’s a Serbian proverb that says, “Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.” This seemingly paradoxical reality has haunted us for all of human history – and it’s reflected in the two accounts of the creation of humans that we find in Genesis. First, there is Genesis 1:26:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (NIV)

Here, God is doing an incredible thing. He is setting humans in the highest position in the world, establishing them as created beings who are somehow pictures of the supreme, uncreated Being who transcends space and time. In the next chapter, however, the creation of humans is more humbling – more tactile. In Genesis 2:7, it 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.” (NIV)

God gets down on his hands and knees. He wets the dirt and molds it into the shape of a human body. And then he breathes life into it. In one sense, this scene is incredibly beautiful and intimate: the Creator creates his children physically, and imbues them with his own life force.

With the Fall, however, comes sickness, death, and decay. Those created in the image of God turn against him. And when, a couple chapters later, Cain kills his brother Abel, Abel is buried in the dust and decomposes.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We will do anything to forget that we are captives of our biology, destined to the same end that has met every living thing on this planet.

The reality of human decay is something that people have been battling for thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians famously mummified their dead and placed them in elaborate tombs filled with treasure, furniture, and murals depicting their lives. When Alexander the Great died, he was preserved and painted and placed in a glass coffin so that years later, people could still visit him. Today, we embalm the dead and paint their faces with makeup, then seal them in expensive coffins to keep them safe from the dirt we bury them beneath.

Even before we die, we are obsessed with warding off decay. Pharmacies and cosmetics stores are full of creams, serums, lotions, and gels promising to erase fine lines, rejuvenate skin, and make us look younger. Forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty, on and on and on. We will do anything to forget that we are captives of our biology, destined to the same end that has met every living thing on this planet.

How then, should we see humans – the beings that were created by God and then crucified by him? The species responsible for Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler, for wars and the Olympics, the Atomic bomb and the orchestra. How can we reconcile Isaiah 14:12-15 – which warns about Lucifer’s pride and resulting fall from heaven – with the verses in the Bible that speak of the wonderful beauty and goodness of God’s highest creation, humanity:

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” –Psalms 139:14 (NIV)

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” –Psalms 8:4-5 (NIV)

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” –Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We are God’s handiwork: shaped by him from dust, invigorated by him in life, resurrected by him after death. If we live our lives with that knowledge that we are created in the Image of God, how will that change the way that we see ourselves? Each other?

Questions for Reflection:

  • If all people are created in the Image of God – including people who don’t believe the same thing that you do – how should that affect how you treat them?

  • Do all people carry the image of God equally? What about people who are born with birth defects or chronic illnesses? Are they in the image of God? Did God mean for them to be this way?

  • Do all people carry the image of God equally? What about people who are born with birth defects or chronic illnesses? Are they in the image of God? Did God mean for them to be this way?

  • Lucifer’s primary sin was pride and selfishness, so we often emphasize humility and selflessness in contrast. How is this a good thing? Can it be dangerous?

  • Reflect on the following passage. What is the difference between self-esteem and pride? Between pride and vanity?

    • “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson

    • Is it wrong to be proud of something/someone? For example, a parent being proud of their child’s accomplishments. Is this wrong? Could there be a positive and negative side to this?

  • Would you say that people are essentially good or bad? Are we more good or evil?

  • Some people through history have believed that humanity is made out of two separate parts - spirit, and physical matter - and that one of these is inherently better than the other. Some people believe that anything that produces a physical reaction in the human body - music, certain kinds of food, dance - is wrong, and that we should only stimulate the “spiritual” part of our nature.

    • We have talked about “dust” and “stars” - the humble, earthy nature of humanity, and also our exalted, glorious nature that reflects God. Are these two separate things, or do they describe the entirety of our existence as a whole?

    • Genesis describes humanity as being made “in the image of God”, or being “like God”, and also describes us as being made “from the dust of the earth”. Is one of these better than the other? Or are they both good things?

  • What is the “Image of God”? Does God have arms, legs, and a nose like a human? Is God the Father more or less like a human man? Or is the Image of God something abstract, like creativity, intelligence, or individuality?

  • The Bible here describes humanity as being “wonderfully made” and “crowned with glory and honor”. If this is true, explain how you might understand negative statements about humanity like in the passages below:

    • “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24 (NKJV) “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 (NIV) “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)
    • What place does sin have in our understanding of human goodness and badness?

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