Dirt is used in our lives and throughout the scriptures to illustrate a number of important concepts. It represents mortality and our dependency upon the earth to which we will someday return. It reminds us of the humility required of us as children of God. It is used as a metaphor for sin and defilement. Dirt, with its multiple meanings, teaches us a powerful lesson about the Savior’s role in our redemption.
We first read of dirt in the account of the creation, which records that Adam was created from the dust of the ground and “became of dust a living soul.” (Moses 6:59) He was told “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19) Adam was mortal, and so needed the sustenance that he would derive from the sweat of his brow, from tilling the ground. He was tied to the dirt, for it provided his food. We, his children, derive our nourishment from the earth, plants that grow therein, and animals that feed thereon. Yet even this earth, which we now so recklessly exploit, belongs to the Lord who created it, and is a symbol of our indebtedness to Him. (Psalms 24:1)
In light of this, multiple prophets have used dirt to demonstrate man’s standing in relationship to God. The Prophet Helaman and King Benjamin both reminded their people that man is not even as much as the dust of the earth from which he is created. (Hel. 12:7; Mosiah 2:25) Amulek exhorted the Zoramites to “humble yourselves even to the dust.” (Alma 34:38) He knew that in order for our worship to be complete, we must be humbly aware of the contrast between our mortal power and that of the divine. Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) The dirt below the heavens here represents our righteous humility before the Lord.
Yet we often associate dirt with uncleanliness, defilement, and sin. We speak of finding gossip and malicious stories about a person as “digging up dirt.” Very few mothers rejoice at the sight of their child covered in dirt, and most would rather that they didn’t eat it. Dirt conjures up images of filthiness, iniquity, pollution, and defilement. We often speak of the negative influence of the world as “dirty,” referring to things that will dull our spiritual sensitivity. How is it that the earth from which we derive our sustenance and through which we show our humility is also the source of our uncleanness? How can dirt stand for both good and evil?
We find the answer in the life of Jesus Christ, the only perfect man to ever walk the earth. He, the Creator of worlds without end, the very Lord of the hosts of heaven, condescended to come to this earth unheralded by the world, to dwell in a tabernacle of clay in the humblest of circumstances, a child of a captive people. He “descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in and through all things, the light of truth.” (D&C 88:6) He walked among outcasts and lepers. He ate with sinners. He went among those considered “dirty.” He loved them all.
The Savior humbled himself as a servant, for He truly was and is the greatest among us. (Matt. 23:11) And in humbling himself below all things, even to the dust, He wrought the great atonement and provided the means whereby we may each be saved if we would but follow him. He washed our garments clean in His blood. And by denying ourselves of the dirt of this world and humbling ourselves even to the dirt, we too can rise above both the defiling dirt of this world and the dirt of mortality that makes up our bodies. Through His infinite and everlasting atonement we can be free from both sin and death, and can obtain both immortality and eternal life. How grateful I am to know of the reality of the redemption of Jesus Christ, through which God enables us, if we humble ourselves before Him, to “shake off the chains with which [we] are bound, and…arise from the dust.” (2 Ne. 1:23)