My friend once joked that if our robotic vacuum ever became sentient, it would come and attack us – for we are the cause of dust. Lent is a time to remember that we are the dust of the world. The band Kansas reminds us that we are but “Dust in the Wind.” Joni Mitchell, in her song “Woodstock,” tells us that:
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Her song encapsulates this season, which we mark off by reminding ourselves that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.
To the broader public, Lent appears to be the period when some groups of Christians give up dessert or social media or some other measure of luxury to remind themselves of the sacrifice Christ made while in the wilderness. I would like to posit that this year we think of Lent less of a period of sacrifice and more of a period of journey back to where we came from – the garden.
In the familiar passages, Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus encounters the devil and is tempted three times. These temptations mirror the temptation of man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-24). The devil, in the Gospel accounts, challenges Christ to take on roles only available to God. Christ rejects the temptations of Satan. He refuses the temptation, reiterating that certain powers belong to God and God alone. In the Genesis account, the serpent tempts Eve into eating the forbidden fruit so that her “eyes may be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). She gives into temptation and gains insight that was reserved for God only.
These parallel stories highlight the necessary difference between Christ, as human, and actual humanity. Whereas humanity fails in its temptation, Christ can withstand it. Christ, as human, fixes what humanity breaks, that is Christ rejects the promises of the serpent in the only way humanity can, by an incarnate God. He finds his way “back to the garden,” and this body of flesh and dust, left alone in the wilderness, starts to undo what humanity fell into, that is rejecting the temptation to be more than dust. Humans were never meant to be God, but they were meant to dwell alongside God in the garden.
Perhaps then, Lent should be a time for us to remind ourselves of our mortality – a mortality that arises from our failure to be more than “billion-year-old carbon,” which the sentient Roombas in the future will attack. We need to wrestle with this and not just use the Lenten season to give up a luxury. We have always been dust (Genesis 2:7) but we are dust reflecting the imago Dei. We are dust born of love and as caretakers of creation. We are dust that fails time and again, but Christ was also born of dust and lived among us to show us that even dust can do good things. We may be “stardust,” but we can be so much more. Lent asks us to take a hard look at that and embrace our fallenness by looking back toward the garden, and toward the future when we will trade off our brokenness and tabernacle with God again.
Dr. Claire Hein Blanton is an ordained Baptist minister in Houston, Texas. She received PhD in systematic theology and ethics from the University of Aberdeen. For more from The Christian Citizen, sign up for The Weekly or visit us online at christiancitizen.us.
Photo by Corina Ardeleanu on Unsplash