And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”
My friend Tim is a manager of a small company. Because he often hires people for their first full-time job, he gets to tell new employees about their benefits. One time, Tim was trying to explain to a man how life insurance works, but the man seemed unhappy. It was almost as if he didn’t want this benefit. Tim was persistent, nevertheless. “If you die,” he said, “then your family will get a lot of money.” The new employee finally was able to verbalize his concern, “But Tim,” he responded somberly, “I don’t want to die!”
I expect most of us feel like this, even if we don’t say it. We embrace life and don’t want to consider death. Many things in our culture keep us from facing the reality of death. We work hard to remain youthful in appearance and healthy in body so as to delay the inevitable. We’d rather not think about the fact that we will die.
Thus, we may be less than happy with Genesis 3:19. Though originally addressed by God to the first man, this verse speaks to all of us, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” You are dust, and to dust you shall return. This is the bad news we’d rather avoid, the bad news of our mortality, our inevitable death. And it is bad news, news that God had not intended for us in the beginning. Death, with physical and spiritual dimensions, is a result of sin. As we read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” So, even as we were created from dust, we will return to the dust, the dust of death.
Yet, thanks be to God, the bad news of death is not the last word on the subject. Romans 6:23 continues, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life, according to Scripture, is not just heavenly post-mortem existence. Rather, it is the life of the future that we can begin to experience now. Thus, in Ephesians 2, even though we were effectively dead when we were separated from God, God has made us alive with Christ (Eph 2:1-5). We are alive both now and in the future. Because of God’s grace, the bad news of death is eclipsed by the good news of new life in Christ.
When we recognize that we are dust and will return to dust, when we accept our mortality, when we acknowledge the bad news that we will die because of sin, then we are prepared to hear and receive the good news of the gospel. Then we are ready to put off our old, deathly way of living and put on new life in Christ. When we face our mortality, we are ready to embrace our immorality.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you ever think about your own death? If so, what do you think about? If not, why not?
How do you feel about the inevitability of your death?
How do you respond to the good news of eternal life in Christ?
Gracious God, though we might try to avoid it, the bad news seeks us out. We have sinned. We will die. We have come from dust and to dust we will return. We don’t like it, but we can’t hide forever from this truth.
Yet, thanks be to you, the bad news is a prelude to the good news. The bad news of our death prepares us to receive the good news of life in Christ. How we thank you for this good news, for the life of the future that we begin to experience even now.
Dear Lord, may we be willing to face the bad news of our mortality so that we might be able to embrace joyfully the good news of eternal life, life with you now and forever. Amen.