“Dust in the wind/all they are is dust in the wind/Same old song/just a drop of water in an endless sea/All we do/crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see…”
When Kerry Livgren, guitarist for the group Kansas, wrote those lyrics in 1977, he was searching for spiritual meaning in the midst of a transitory existence. Surprisingly, the song, “Dust in the Wind,” became a hit, despite its bleak lyrics. Or was it because those lyrics found a nerve that is often buried deep beneath layers of glitter and desperate diversion?
Job wasn’t a rock star or a songwriter, but his philosophical pleadings and theological questions also resonate. Having suffered loss of land, wealth and family, the righteous Job tried to make sense of the fall from comfort to chaos. It had long been common Jewish teaching that the righteous will enjoy a good life on earth, while the evil and foolish will suffer and come to ruin. Job’s friends still clung to this basic understanding, and so surmised that Job must have offended God in some way.
“Happy the one whom God reproves! The Almighty’s discipline do not reject,” urged Job’s friend, Eliphaz, who later uttered words that surely cut more deeply: “From the scourge of the tongue you shall be hidden, and you shall not fear approaching ruin. At ruin and want you shall laugh” (Jb 5:17, 21-22). Yet Job was not laughing, for no one laughs in the face of ruin, destruction and death. Is Job correct when he flatly stated, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again”? Are we simply slaves to an unreasonable and doomed existence?
St. Paul saw himself as a slave, but not as a slave of ruin and despair, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told the Corinthians that while an obligation had been imposed upon him by God, he freely accepted it and he freely offered it to others. His point was both practical and theological. First, he did not request or require a fee for his proclamation of God’s grace, but he offered it without expecting any financial support. Second, he did so because he understood the big picture of salvation, and he recognized the stewardship entrusted to him was not a burden, but a participation in the Gospel. This meant he would constantly be dying to himself.
In short, St. Paul knew that without Christ, his life was indeed meaningless, like dust in the wind. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Let us put it very simply: Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope” (Spe Salvi, No. 23). The Christian life, the pope states, “is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death” (No. 46).
This is a key part of the message of today’s Gospel. Both physical and spiritual death were confronted by Jesus, who healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and then later delivered others from illness and demonic possession. Having retired to a quiet place to pray, Jesus is found by the disciples, who say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Everyone who wondered about the meaning of life and the mystery of death is looking for Jesus. He alone has answers, for he alone is the Answer.
“Before each man’s a choice: Reject it or rejoice,” wrote Livgren in his post-conversion song, “To Live For the King”: “Something greater than you and I, it’s the King.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.