Returning to Dust
One of the most genuinely fun moments of parenthood is playing hide n' seek with your children. Their ability to decipher your face and its location is a special development. It's not merely recognition though. Their cognizance of recognition is reflected throughout their facial expressions. The shock of them recognizing that they recognize you is special. In response, they begin all sorts of retaliatory behavior. The hiding of their head and/or covering of their eyes becomes a fun game that parents cherish.
Children, however, are also prone to perceive the lack of a parent in a dramatic way. Our latest child is particularly keen on crying when she is not capable of seeing or holding Alaina. Other children have experienced separation anxiety, but this little one is experiencing it at a deeper level. This only reflects in a small part the analogous response of God's people to Him hiding His face.
There is something more devastating when the God of all creation hides His face from His creature. The people He created were meant to be communed with directly and deeply. Adam and Eve experienced this rejection. For God to lift up His face and turn it away is penultimate to eternal death. And that is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. God warned of death, and it was experienced in Him casting them out of the Garden. Recognizing the symbolism, the Psalmist and other writers have noted the relation of God's face and death:
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground. — Psalm 104:29-30
Or as the author of Job states:
If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust. — Job 34:14-15
The hiding of God's face corresponds to the removal of His Divine-creational breath. This imagery reflects de-creation language. It is the reverse operation of the Holy Spirting breathing the breath of life into the dust to create Adam. When that breath is removed, the dust returns to dust. Men die. As the Psalmist says in another place:
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!” — Psalm 90:3
Since the Garden, the declaration of God upon man has been this return "to dust." For some, this return will me irreparable relations with God. For others, it will mean reconciliation of the highest (and final) degree. For the believer, Advent is the time of waiting for this Divine call.
While we wait for this divine call, we do not wait in vain or without hope. God, in Christ, breathes new life through the Spirit into the men of the ground. Far from merely "created," they are "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). Or as Christ said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." — John 5:25