God’s Image Stamped in Dust

The words of Genesis 1 express a profound paradox: Though we’re as insignificant as dust, we reflect the glory of God himself.

Adam’s name reflected the fact that God had formed him from the adamah (ah-dah-MAH, “ground” in Hebrew). His task was to work the adamah, and when he died he would return to the adamah. Adam was the consummate “earthling.”

And yet God blew his very own breath into Adam, setting humankind apart in a unique way.

One eighteenth-century rabbi put it this way: “A person should always carry two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one it should be written ‘The world was created for my sake,’ and on the other it should say ‘I am but dust and ashes.’”[i] On days when we feel discouraged and worthless, we should read the first one. On days when we’re consumed with pride and our own self-importance, we should read the other.

In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis points out how knowing the eternal significance of every person we meet should change how we treat others:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.[ii]

Sculptee - Image of GodOften we struggle with knowing our worth, and try to prove it through competition, pride, and tearing others down. Conversely, we might think that humility is about seeing ourselves as useless, untalented, and insignificant.

God’s idea of humility, however, is to realize that each one of us is precious in his sight, and yet everyone else is too. Perhaps we should write ourselves a third slip of paper: “All of humanity is precious to God, not just me.”

Indeed, Abraham Heschel writes that seeing that each human being bears God’s image leads to the love of one’s neighbors, and even one’s enemies:

“We must never be oblivious of the equality of the divine dignity of all men. The image of God is in the criminal as well as in the saint…The basic dignity of man is not made up of his achievements, virtues, or special talents. It is inherent in his very being.

The commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) calls upon us to love not only the virtuous and the wise but also the vicious and the stupid man… The image-love is a love of what God loves, an act of sympathy, of participation in God’s love. It is unconditional and regardless of man’s merits or distinctions.”[iii]

 


[i] Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Peshischa, contrasting Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5 and Genesis 18:27.

[ii] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 45-46.

[iii] Abraham Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1963), 153.

(Excerpt from Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, 2012)

(Image by Abhisek Sarda)

Comments

14 Responses to “God’s Image Stamped in Dust”

  1. 1
    Jonathan Maas|March 23, 2012

    I thought that this article was really cool. I didn’t know that is what Adam’s name meant. But I thought it was unique that he was made from the ground to work the ground. I agree with you that sometimes it is hard to find that balance and even harder to try and teach it to people about being humble. We might think that means we need to put ourselves down, but then when we start to do that alot then pride follows because we think we are dong it so well. Its har to try and teach people that all the time.
    I thought the piece of paper was a great idea though. So that we can always have reminders about how the world is God’s and we need to take care of it and also that we are nothing more than dust and ashes. That way we can see it and be reminded all the time to better follow God’s word and in his footsteps.

  2. 2
    Josh Vander Ploeg|March 23, 2012

    This is a great article. Talking about how we should love everyone no matter what they have done because everyone we meet was made in Gods image. We need to realize that every person is precious to God.

  3. 3
    Kelsey Brouwer|March 23, 2012

    I love the idea of putting the two paper in our pocket. It is amazing to think that even though we were made from dust, God still sees us as bearers of his image. Also I really agree with what is written about humility. A lot of the time I feel like rejecting our gifts and talents is humbling ourselves so people don’t think we are being boastful or proud, but humility really is when we give thanks and credit to God for the gifts and talents he has given us.

  4. 4
    Jamie Bulthuis|March 23, 2012

    I really like the idea of the two slips of paper, one in each pocket. So many times I find myself in those situations and I need reminders every once in a while. Also, the third piece of paper is amazing as well. The little constant reminders keep us on track and keep us following God every day. It’s so cool that God sees us as dust, but at the same time he sees us in his image.

  5. 5
    Mitchell Clark|March 23, 2012

    Joshua 1 “Be strong and very courageous. Do not let this book of Torah depart form your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

    We can be strong and courageous in him with our sheets of paper as reminder that it is through him that we can even be strong and courageous in the first place. Strong and courageous in Hebrew is Hazak be strong and courageous, but with the context of community in mind. It is through others that we can be uplifted and encouraged to be strong and courageous so community is huge. We don’t need to tear down others to find self worth, but infact live in community with them that we might both benefit in Hazak.

  6. 6
    Mackenzie|March 23, 2012

    I love the quotes you used to illustrate the point that all humans are made in God’s image. Everything flowed logically and made a clear, concise, and valid point. Thanks for your work!

  7. 7
    Steve Steggerda|March 23, 2012

    I strongly agree with the paragraph about proving our worth through competition and putting others down.

  8. 8
    Trevor|March 23, 2012

    I love the rabbi’s advice with the two pieces of paper in our pockets. Those two things, being joyful in yourself but also remaining humble, is really how God wants to think of ourselves. Lewis also made points about rejoicing in your own success as well as other people’s and by doing this there is never any problem with pride.

  9. 9
    Joshua VandeBunte|March 23, 2012

    I really like the note idea about putting some notes in our pockets. These would be great reminders to keep us humble and remember that we all have a purpose. The third note also is a great idea because it will remind us that everyone is created in God’s image and we should treat our neighbor as Jesus would have treated them.

  10. 10
    Mikaela Brinks|March 24, 2012

    I think that this article is a really good reminded for all of us How we are supposed to treat others and ourselves. I love that quote about the two pieces of paper we should always carry with us. I think that there is a great power in knowing that we were made by God and made with his very own breath. On any day when we feel alone or worthless because of the world we live in to remember that God loves and values us so much is something that can change a day and a life. On the other hand our world also elevates individuals and make us feel like we are the only ones that matter; so remembering that we are made from dust and that is how we shall return should also change a day and life.

  11. 11
    Mikaela Brinks|March 24, 2012

    I think that this article is a really good reminder for all of us How we are supposed to treat others and ourselves. I love that quote about the two pieces of paper we should always carry with us. I think that there is a great power in knowing that we were made by God and made with his very own breath. On any day when we feel alone or worthless because of the world we live in to remember that God loves and values us so much is something that can change a day and a life. On the other hand our world also elevates individuals and make us feel like we are the only ones that matter; so remembering that we are made from dust and that is how we shall return should also change a day and life.

  12. 12
    Mike VanWyngarden|March 25, 2012

    I thought that the two slips of paper was awesome. Because there are days that this kind of encouragement is just what you need. It’s something that reminds you that God has created you in his image, and that you are a reflection of his nature. But there are also days where you might feel very confident in yourself, and that’s why I like the idea of the second piece of paper that reminds us that from dust we are created, and to dust we will return.

  13. 13
    Maegan|March 25, 2012

    I never knew the meaning of Adam’s name until now. I think that it is cool that his name means ground and he was meant to work the ground. I really like your thoughts on humility. I think you have a good grasp of what humility means and made me see it in a different way. I really like what you say, “God’s idea of humility, however, is to realize that each one of us is precious in his sight, and yet everyone else is too.” It is a good reminder that we are special to God, but also to remind us that everyone is special to God too. The subject of humbleness is a tough subject, and a difficult one to be able to grasp completely and really live it out. You shed some great light on the subject and I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

  14. 14
    Heidi|January 26, 2013

    I really enjoyed reading this and being reminded of the importance of true humility. As humans, we are so blessed to have the very breath of God in us. Created out of simple dust, we are the creatures who can love, who have the Spirit of God in us. We’re extraordinary beings, but with each other we forget how to encourage the uniqueness of everyone. We get so caught up in trying to be the best we forget how to act humbly. Or there’s the polar opposite, like you said, about not thinking we’re good at anything. Its hard to know what exactly humility looks like, but I love how you said that true humility is when you realize the truth in loving your neighbor as yourself, when you love yourself and want to see the best of them as much as out of you.

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