Take a moment to reflect with me on two quotations, side by side: one from Scripture and the other from theologian John Webster.
Psalm 103 Of David.
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
“But the creator . . . is benevolent and gives being: to be from nothing is not to be nothing but to be, instituted as an integral order of reality and given the capacity for operation.”
This quote from Webster could be a sort of thesis statement for Psalm 103. Psalm 103 describes a God who forgives, heals, satisfies, works righteousness and justice, makes himself known, and is compassionate, abounding in love, and slow to anger. His love is present with us. Yet at the center of the psalm David writes that we are dust. Dust. That our life is like the grasses that flourish and then are blown away. We might read this description and think that humans are, therefore, merely dirt. Merely “stuff.” We might think that David takes a negative outlook on what the human being is.
On the contrary, I have found this psalm—particularly the “dust” part—to be incredibly life-giving. Yes, we are dust. But we are dust formed and breathed to life by God (Genesis 2:7–8). Yes, our life is short. But it is also beautiful.
I want to encourage everyone the same way that I’ve been encouraged by this psalm in the midst of hardship during the pandemic, the election, injustice, social tensions, and relational difficulties. I encourage you to remember two thoughts from Psalm 103:
- We are dust. On our own, we are weak and incapable. I do not mean this in a demeaning way. I mean this as a simple and joyful fact because of my next point.
- We have a good and loving Father who is our “principal mover.” His movement—creation—does not overwhelm, exclude, or absorb us. Because of our Creator God’s love and goodness, we are, as Webster has written, “moved movers.” We live, breathe, and sing his glory!
I hope that this helps you to rest even in your inability to do all of your work, call all of your friends, do every task, love every neighbor, and see to all of your obligations most thoroughly. Rest in the fact that your identity is in Christ, not in what you do or do not do. Rest in his love and in the strength our Father gives for each moment of the day. Though you are from nothing and though you are dust, you are formed, breathed out, and instituted by God with the capacity to live, to create beautiful things, and to do your Father-created, Son-redeemed, Spirit-sustained, still-on-this-side-of-heaven life.
Devotional written and given as a part of theology class. (John Webster, God and the Works of God, 113)