In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1).
Is there a more controversial chapter in the Bible? But I have no desire to talk about that – don’t let the stupid debates about the creation narratives in Genesis stop you from seeing the deep truths it tells us. One of which I’d like to think about. It comes from Genesis 2:7:
“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.”
Do you know that you are made up of about 7 billion, billion, billion atoms and that every atoms that makes up you is at least 1 billion years old? Atoms are small! In fact there are more atoms in a glass of water than there are glasses of water in all the oceans on the planet – Atoms are small!
The word atom, comes from the Greek word ‘atomos’, which means ‘indivisible’, literally ‘That which can not be cut any smaller.’ However, about 100 years ago sciences were able to work out how to split an atom even smaller. And then they split the particles they found even smaller. In fact they have now discovered over 150 subatomic particles.
When you get this small things get really, really weird! Some of these particles simply pop into existence, from nowhere! One particle can be in 2 places at the same time. One particle can be at point A, then disappear and arrive at point B, without travelling the distance in-between! But more than all of that they have discovered that these particles are, in essence, relationships of energy. So an atom, which is made up of these particles, is 99.9% empty space! So much so that if you were to take all the empty space out of all the atoms in the observable universe, then the observable universe would only be the size of a sugar cube! They call this area of science ‘quantum mechanics’.
If you’re mind isn’t blown by all this, then you haven’t understood it! The Nobel Prize winning Physicist Niels Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it.” Another time he said, “If you can fathom quantum mechanics without getting dizzy, you don’t get it!”
Another amazing thing to get your head round is this. The atoms that are part of you, right now, have not always been you! Before being you, these same atoms used to be other things and even other people. In fact, it is almost a Mathematical certainty that some of that atoms that currently make up you, used to be part of William Shakespeare! (or Genghis Khan, or pick your own historical figure). In fact, assuming you’re still alive in 10 years, then some of the atoms that currently make up me, now, while I type this, will in 10 years time be part of you!
In fact, every single atom in your body is replaced approximately every 7 years. Physically speaking there is not a single atom of you, that was you 7 years ago. You are, physically, a completely different person. Every minute roughly 300 million cells (which are made of atoms!) in your body die and are replaced by new cells. And yet you are still you!
In fact, at a physical level the atoms that make up you are the same as the atoms that make up everything else. Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Calcium, Sodium, Nitrogen, etc, etc. At the smallest level you are made of the same building blocks at everything else. We talk about looking after the environment as though it was something outside of ourselves, but we’re all made up of the same stuff.
We are formed from the dust of the ground!
We are made from dust, and to dust we will return (See Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20 etc)
And yet, you have just read that sentence, and now your thinking about it and reflecting on it. You are considering your own existence. You maybe made of atoms, and particles and skin and bones and toe nails and yet you have the ability to reflect upon your own existence.
You feel. You have moments of despair. And moments of joy. You analyse, and rationalise thing. You have a meal and wine with friends and say it was transcendent. You listen to a song and it makes your soul soar.
There are some things about you I can measure. Your height, your weight, your tax revenue, how much your insurance company charges you, your job etc. There are things about you I can put into a test tube and things I can put on a spreadsheet. For these things you need a scientist.
But you also have love, loss, longing, heartache, triumph, despair and betrayal. When you fall in love, you can’t put that in your pocket. When your heart has been broken, you can’t put that in a suit case. When you feel on top of the world, you can’t store that in the glove compartment of your car.
I could take you apart bit, by bit, atom by atom, electric impulse by electric impulse, but I would never find your thoughts on why you’re here. I would never find your joy. For the measurable things you need a scientist, for these things you need a poet.
Humans are made of dust, but they have also had the spirit of life breathed into them. You are made of dust and spirit. Soul and dirt.
Science does a fantastic job of telling me about atoms and subatomic particles, but it can’t tell me why I find it all so fascinating!
I’ve had people tell me “I’m not really a spiritual person!” Are you human? Well then, sorry, but too late! You can turn your back on the church, on religion, on ritual or whatever other word you want to call it. But you will still hunger for wonder and transcendence. You will still desire to understand your place in the world. You will still long to find meaning. Because, you are made of dust AND spirit.
Now isn’t that more interesting that arguing about whether the story means 6 literal periods of 24 hours!