- Eldon Peterson
Numbering Our Days
Today our youngest child leaves his teenage years behind with his 20th birthday; my wife and I have our 60th looming ahead of us. On reaching such milestones we commonly reflect on the past and consider our hopes for the future. While the particulars of our future are unknown, we know that with each year the finish line is coming closer.
Psalm 90 speaks about life, aging and the questions of death. It offers us insight into how we can realize the hope that God offers those who cry out for His favor to rest upon them. The Psalm opens with a side by side comparison of God’s eternal nature and our finite existence. This helps us put into perspective the matters of this life. While most would like to avoid the subject of aging, it is only in realizing the temporariness of this life that we will be able to live our lives fully.
Considering the end of life that all will face the Psalm declares, “You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals!” For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered.” (Psalm 90:3-6)
While some seek to avoid acknowledging their birthdays as if this will cause time to stand still, the Psalm reminds us that it is only when we embrace the brevity of life that we are able to live life fully. This is not to suggest that we should adopt a fatalistic attitude of “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die.” It is to say that the realization of the shortness of life will cause us to humbly assess our standing before God.
In humility we can agree with the psalmist’s observation of how we stand naked before God, “We wither beneath your anger; we are overwhelmed by your fury. You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all. We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.” (7-9) We may be able to fool ourselves and others concerning our righteousness but we cannot fool God. He knows everything about us. “Lord, you have examined me and know all about me. You know when I sit down and when I get up. You know my thoughts before I think them. You know where I go and where I lie down. You know everything I do.” (Psalm 139:1-3)
So, what will we do? Hide our sin or acknowledge our need for the Lord’s compassion. If we choose to continue in our denial we’re warned, “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away. Who can comprehend the power of your anger? Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.” (Psalm 90:10-11)
Unless we realize our desperate need to be made right with God, we will refuse to humble ourselves and receive the forgiveness we need. When we are young, we celebrate birthdays anticipating a glorious future. However, as we grow older, birthdays can become sour as they remind us of how our own death and judgment is drawing nearer. Are you anticipating death as a glorious future or do you avoid it with fear?
The Psalm testifies of how we can walk in hope by leaning into the promises of God. It reminds us that our hope is found by asking the Lord to reveal His wisdom to us, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (12) Longing for the Lord’s presence to find the joy and peace we cry out, “O LORD, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. (13-15)
This offers a wonderful image of what it means to rest in the Lord; resting from our works of righteousness to rest in His unfailing love. Jesus came and died on the cross so we may not only know about him but to be known by Him and find forgiveness needed to inherit eternal life.