What can we learn from the passing of time?
At the beginning of September was my dad’s 75th birthday and at the end of August was my 37th. It just so happened, that right as these birthdays were happening, and summer was winding down, I read Psalm 90. I don’t have the space to copy it all here, but I would encourage you to go and read it on the internet so you can get a sense of it. In Psalm 90, the Psalmist, in this case Moses, draws a stark contrast between God and man, specifically in the nature of time.
God is from everlasting to everlasting. It is hard to wrap our brains around exactly what this means. Everything that we know of and think about has a beginning and an end, but not God. God always has been and always will be, and at some point time (?) he created time. Long before he ever formed the luminaries or pulled mountains from the earth, God simply “was.” He is other, set apart, and different. The Bible has a word to describe this uniqueness: holy.
Time marches on, and God is unphased. Time is the great equalizer - for humans, at least. From the moment your feet hit the ground, your timer is clicking away. The dust, from whence we came, is calling out to us, “Return, O children of man!”
God, however, has no timeline chasing him down. He isn’t concerned with whether or not something takes a year or fifty. To him, a thousand years are but as a a day or a redeye flight. Once they are done, the Psalmist pens, “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are but a dream.”
There is a sense in which we understand exactly what the Psalmist means by that. I was thinking about this as I reflected on my dad’s life, on my life, on the waning summer days, on my time living overseas a decade ago (!!!), on my 14 years of marriage, our 6 years church planting, and on and on. It all feels like a dream, doesn’t it? My childhood? Like a distant dream. Living in Madrid? A dream. The hot days of summer, splashing in the waves or laughing with friends and family by the Bay? A dream.
If we, as finite humans can acknowledge the fleeting nature of time, wow - what must it be like from God’s vantage point? All of our days are like grass that perks up with the morning dew, yet by the evening is scorched and dry, fading away.
One day, all us finite ones will stand before an infinite God. As God is transcendentally above time, yet intimately involved in the most minute details of creation and our lives, he is not unaware. God is transcendent, yes, but he is not aloof. Our secret thoughts, actions, words are not hidden from his sight. He sees our days, not as some kind of creepy Santa Claus in the sky, but as a loving Father watching his children grow up.
But when our days have passed away, “we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” A sigh of relief? A sigh of sadness? Perhaps the Psalmist is purposefully ambiguous. We live our lives, some 80 years, but they are soon gone, are they not? Yes, they pass like a dream.
So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. This is the Psalmist’s conclusion. Looking back upon the brevity of it, we can easily get depressed. It’s so short. We all end our days with a list of regrets, and the joys of life feel like a fleeting memory that we try hard to hold on to.
We can be afraid of time, or we can learn from it, but it does not need to depress us. The Psalmist explains what we need in light of our fleeting lives:
First, we need God to satisfy us with his steadfast, immovable love. Nothing else will actually satisfy because only his love is from everlasting to everlasting. The key to a joy-filled life is not more toys, but satisfaction in his love “that we may rejoice and be glad all of our days.”
Second, we need stand with wonder and amazement before God’s glorious work and power. We need to have the awe of a child rekindled in our lives - to stand in amazement before the power of the sea, the beauty of a sunset, and the brilliant canvas of creation.
Third, we need God’s favor to rest upon us, his grace. What can fleeting, weak, finite people actually accomplish? We cannot make our hearts pump blood. We have no real power. We need God’s grace, every day.
So let us learn from the Psalmist and from our own lives. Let us learn as we look at our fleeting days, knowing that they are but a dream. Let us learn, and not grow depressed as we look inward for answers. Let us learn and rejoice as we look to our Creator who is beyond time.