“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:20 NIV, canonical
This passage (as well as others from Genesis and the Book of Job) is often paraphrased in the Book of Common Prayer as “ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” and used often during funeral and memorial proceedings.
Its use during these end of life moments emphasizes yet another way that our perspective is truly egocentric and focused just on us, as I talk about at length in this post.
If you view the Bible as the inspired word of God, then the dust to which we return is not the dirt in which we are buried and our return to that state is not, in fact, marked by our earthly lives or the inevitable end of our time in this life.
God doesn’t work on that time horizon and the finality of the the Ecclesiastes passage implies an end point, to some degree — a place we return to and stay. I don’t believe that place to be the time we spend on Earth nor the time after this life ends.
If you click on the FAITH menu at the top of this site, you’ll see my developing opinion on the nature of faith, the connection to science, the big bang, mathematics and the synergy created between all of these things when we consider the nature of infinity (in this blog regarding perspective, this one regarding physics and the big bang, this one about science and physics, and several others).
The implications of this are massive, and my point here is not to explain all the ways this might have profound impact on the nature of science moving forward. But for a second just imagine this: prior to this discovery, our understanding of time has been that it cannot bend or change and roughly mirrors the speed of light.
Today, we have heard time and space and shown via measurable data from an event billions of years old that they are a fabric like Einstein described…both time and space can expand and contract in a proportional relationship. Like sweat pants you wear that can respond to your belly growing…as a crude example.
This creates the potential to be able to bend both if we understand their relationship, but that’s a long way off.
It is the start of the explanation which will rationalize Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe description of string theory with Einstein’s general relativity and broader principles of quantum mechanics. All of these things make our existence what it is. We take for granted that this is all understood — it’s not.
The broader point is this, though.
Whether you are a creationist or believe in the Big Bang and evolution, both theories describe the entirety of all that is known to have originated from, essentially, a single photon of light. A singularity. An infinity. The intersection of matter and anti-matter.
This singularity can only ever exist for a moment because it houses all the energy and matter in to an extremely small space and so proportional to that, the time it can exist is very small.
As the space expands to the size of our galaxy, time becomes longer, the length of which we are able to view as our lives.
But inevitably, all that expands must then contract (conservation of energy) meaning black holes must collide and consume each other.
And on a massive time scale the likes of which is very hard to understand given our myopic view centered on our life times, all those black holes must consume each other, until such time as all matter and energy again coalesce in to a single point of light.
Some call this annihilation, but in fact, it is the infinitesimally small moment when all that is good, evil, living, dead, etc. connects with what I believe God to be — an infinity the maintains the balance of the existence.
So the way I read the Ecclesiastes verse or interpret “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is :
- We all came from the infinity that is God;
- We all will return there, both sinner and saint.
When you start living in this context, where the grander scale is what matters, it makes vulnerability and authenticity imperative ways of operating versus risks you undertake in exposing yourself. You start playing a long game versus a short term gains hustle.
You don’t live jealous of what others have because you know it all returns to the same place.
And it gives great comfort because you start to live in a way that demonstrates an acceptance of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies:
And all of this takes faith…which is accepting the very concept that you just can’t know whether you are right are wrong or prove that out but can live with a heartfelt belief that it will all be alright in the end.