Job 42:6, “Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
What brought Job to say such a thing? Job had just been confronted with the awesome majesty of God. Though he did not lose his integrity or faith in God, Job realised his foolishness in questioning God after his confrontation with Him. Thus, he hated himself for it, and there was nothing he could do but “repent in dust and ashes.” What does it mean that Job repented in “dust and ashes”?
God created mankind from dust, and all humans will return to dust when they die (Genesis 3:19). Thus, dust became a symbol of lowliness and humility. After being confronted with God’s awesome majesty, Job realised the true nature of being a human: Who is he, a mere creature made from dust, to question God the Creator? Humans were created from dust, not gold or silver or anything else fanciful. We were created from the lowliest of things. Thus, who are we to question God? Realising his sin against God, Job hates himself for it and goes from pride to humility, the state of which one repents of their sins.
I’m sure we all can relate to Job here. I have hated myself many times for the sins I’ve committed against God. There was even a time when I hated myself so much for my sins that I despaired of life and even doubted my salvation, no matter how many times I repented. I won’t retell the story here for the sake of brevity, but long story short, God showed me His grace.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which is the season of repentance. Some of us may be fasting or giving up particular things for these next 40 days. Today, we remember we came from dust and we shall return to dust, repenting of our sins. Some of you might even despise yourselves for the sins you’ve committed against God, and that is okay, insofar as you remember what Lent is all about. Christians who are anti-lent say there is no Gospel in Lent, that Lent is legalistic. They could not be more wrong.
There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is not Gospel without Law. Today, we repent of our sins over the past year, but do not forget what marks the end of the Ash Wednesday service: the sign of the cross upon your forehead. The ashy cross on your forehead is not only a reminder that you shall return to dust, but it is an even higher reminder that you are not marked by your sins but marked by the Christ-event on the cross. In other words, yes, you shall return to dust for your sins, but Christ died for you with all your sins placed upon Him on the cross. Your slate is wiped clean, and it remains clean. It is this ashy cross that is the basis for the entire season of Lent.