Songs of Greatness is a sermon series on the greatness of God from the Psalms. From Everlasting to Everlasting — There are two painful truths of life in this world: Life is short, and life can be incredibly hard. How do we respond to the brevity and difficulty of life without falling into hopelessness or despair? We can trust in God who is both eternal and gracious. Recorded on Aug 15, 2021, on Psalm 90, by Pastor David Parks.
For the next year, in our preaching ministry, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. After all the turmoil of 2020, it was obvious to me that way too many Christians have way too small of a view of who God is. So we started this annual theme with a sermon series from the Psalms in the Bible called, Songs of Greatness. And the Psalms are a collection of songs/poems that the people of God have used in the worship of God for 1000’s of years. They cover the whole range of human experience, but a number of the psalms are all about the greatness of God. Today, we’ll consider Psalm 90, which, out of 150 psalms, is the only psalm written by Moses, the great leader of the people of God during the time of the exodus from Egypt. And Psalm 90 touches on some deep themes that many people spend much of their lives (frankly) avoiding: the brevity/shortness of life, and the pain/difficulty of life. Life is short, and life can be incredibly hard. And for some of us who are younger, but for all of us who have lived a little longer in life, we know this to be true. But what do we do with this information? How do we respond to the reality that life is short and life can be incredibly hard? Well, over the millennia, human beings have found several ways to deal with this truth — but many of these philosophies or coping mechanisms are ultimately unhelpful/unhealthy. What are we to do? I believe Psalm 90 offers us a fascinating case study for dealing with the brevity and the difficulty of life in this broken world without falling into hopelessness or despair or delusion. Please open your Bible/app to Psalm 90. Now, because this is a longer psalm, we’re going to unpack it in three parts, 1. we’ll consider the brevity of life, 2. the difficulty of life, and finally, 3. the response, how we might live in light of this reality. So first, the brevity of life:
Psalm 90:1-6, “1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” 4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning: 6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.”
Let’s pause here. So first, we’re considering the brevity or the shortness of life. Time is such a weird thing. Our perception of time shifts and changes, doesn’t it? Sometimes time seems to move very slowly, when we’re watching the clock, when we’re waiting for something to happen, and especially when we’re young. Minutes can seem like days, days can seem like a lifetime. But then, when you look back over time, years can seem like they came and went very quickly, in the blink of an eye. Decades are filled with memories and experiences, but even decades seem to shorten as we age. According to the Bible, as creatures of this world, we are bound within time. But our experience of time is one of the ways we are fundamentally different than God, our Creator. You see, time is part of God’s creation, therefore, he is not bound by it or surprised by it. God’s perception of time is different than ours. He is standing on the riverbank while we are in the stream. He is the Lord over it while we have no say in the matter. In v. 2, Moses writes, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” One of the difficult things for us to imagine, as finite, temporal creatures, is that God has always existed. God is eternal; he doesn’t have a beginning. There was never a time when God didn’t exist. Even God’s name is connected to this truth. Yahweh, the personal name of God given to Moses and his covenant people in Ex 3 is related to the phrase, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). Yahweh means I am, I will be, I am existence itself. The eternality of God is fundamental to who God is. Therefore, Moses can write in v. 4, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” What is a thousand years to one who is eternal?
But by comparison, we are like little nothings when you consider our time. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say the circumference of the world, that is, the distance all the way around the world, let’s say that measured all of observable time, from the moment of creation at the big bang onward. And let’s say you live a long time, let’s say all the way to 100 years old. How far do you think the span of your life would go around the world? After a hundred years, the span of your life would measure a little less than one foot compared to the almost 25,000 miles of the distance around the earth. Life is short. The analogy that Moses uses to illustrate this in vv. 5-6 is grass. “they [human beings] are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” Human beings, male and female, are made in the image and likeness of God. This means that we are like God is many ways. But again, our experience of time is one of the big ways we’re different. God is eternal. We are very brief. God is not bound by time. We will have a birthday every year whether we want one or not. And there’s something within us that mourns this reality. We want our lives to last. We want what we do in life to last. We don’t like to think about the brevity of life. Some of us are living in denial of how old we are. But Moses is right. Life is short. So first, we see the brevity of life. But it gets worse, actually. Second, thing we encounter in this psalm is the difficulty of life. v. 7.
Psalm 90:7-11, “7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. 10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.”
Moses, as with many ancient peoples, saw everything in life, good/bad, wonderful/sorrowful, as coming from the hand of the Lord. Not that God does evil to us or is the source of evil in the world, but God does allow us to walk through certain hardships and trials and pain. According to the gospel, for a time, God has allowed the brokenness of the world to continue while he works out his plan of redemption/renewal in Christ. But for now, this world is broken/corrupt and things don’t always work how they’re supposed to work. Sometimes the cells within our bodies experience breakdown and illness. Sometimes our technology fails us or people make mistakes or just the general physics of two bodies in motion unfortunately aimed at one another causes accidents or injury or even death. Cancer and car accidents: these are common tragedies of our age and are evidence that this world isn’t working how it’s supposed to work. And we feel it. Deep within, something cries out, this is not how life is supposed to be!
But even worse, sometimes we contribute to the pain and hardship of this world through our own iniquities or sin. v. 8 says, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” To sin means to miss the mark of how we’re supposed to act toward God or toward other people. We are called to fully/perfectly love God and love other people. But the reality is that we fail to perfectly love God. We fail to worship/serve God and obey his word all the time. In fact, many, if not most people disregard God and simply do what they want to do most of the time. But also, the reality is that we fail to perfectly love other people — even the people we have the most natural reasons to love, such as our parents or our spouse or our kids or our neighbors. Apathy toward the needs of others is unfortunately as common as abuse. And this failure to love contributes much to the brokenness/corruption of this world. According to the Bible, the problem is both “out there” and “in here.” The world is a kingdom of darkness, but also, we contribute to the dark.
Now, when I look at the sin in my life over the years, I’ve realized that the human heart is very complex. We’re complicated creatures. Sometimes we do good, but sometimes we do great evil. Sometimes we seem unable to do the good we want to and other times it seems we are unable to avoid the evil we hate. But we have mixed desires and motives and we do not easily discern what is right or what is wrong at any given moment. This is why some of our sin is known, but some of it is hidden to us. These are the secret sins Moses mentions as well as sin that no other person knows about. But none of this is hidden from God. He is not only outside of time, but he knows the thoughts and motives of our hearts. He perfectly discerns what is right and wrong without difficulty and his wrath is against the sin that is so harmful and destructive of his good and perfect creation, and of us, his creatures. I don’t think Moses is wrong in his conclusion about the matter in v. 10. “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” So first, we saw the brevity of life. Second, we saw the difficulty of life. That life is painful and full of suffering, some of which is part of this world and some of which we contribute as well through our own sin and selfishness. Let me ask you this: Is Moses wrong? Is he being too pessimistic in his assessment here? I don’t think so. In fact, if you look back through history, you find many different philosophers from many different times and places who have come to the same conclusion. Life is short and life is hard. But what’s different for Moses, and what is different in the whole of the Bible, and especially the way of Jesus, compared to every other philosophy, is what to do about it — our response to it. And what is Moses’ response? This is the rest of Psalm 90. Look at v. 12.
Psalm 90:12-17, “12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”
Moses responds to the brevity and the difficulty of life with faith in an eternal God who has “been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” In light of the reality that we face in this world, Moses goes to God and asks for what? For wisdom. v. 12. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” First, let’s think about what it means to number our days. What does that mean? It means to be aware of our time and not to put our heads in the sand, not to deny the reality of the brevity of life. Not to keep turning 29 every year after a certain age. That’s not living in light of the truth of who we are or the nature that God has given us. To number our days means to embrace your age and embrace the fact that one day you too will fly away. Second, Moses asks that the eternal God, our Creator and our Father, teach us to number our days so that what? So that we may gain a heart of wisdom. To be wise in how we think about ourselves and our lives. Godly wisdom will help us face this life. But doesn’t embracing this thinking lead to hopelessness or despair? It’s a pretty hard truth to swallow. Honestly, I’ve been feeling the weight of this all week as I’ve prepared to preach on Psalm 90. Now, without God, I can definitely understand why people would want to either deny this reality or escape from it. To simply live it up in response to the brevity and difficulty of life. Sure, many people think, life is short and sometimes life is hard, so what more can we do but just get out there and try and have as much fun as we can?? Let’s eat drink and be merry. Let’s go on vacation. Let’s make some fun memories while we can. Why? Because this is all we get. There is not other source of hope or salvation. But this isn’t godly wisdom, is it? It’s understandable, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t work. This way of life is just a distraction from reality, not a real way of dealing with it. What might we do instead?
What does Moses do? He turns to God, trusting that our eternal and everlasting God is a God who is also compassionate and unfailing in his love for us. In v. 16 he says, “May your deeds be shown to your servants,” that is, deeds of redemption and renewal. He says, may “your splendor [or beauty be revealed] to their children.” In v. 17 he says, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us.” And what is the unearned, undeserved favor of God other than the very grace of God found in Jesus Christ? What is different in Christianity compared to every other philosophy and religion, every other way of dealing with the brevity and difficulty of life, is the grace of God. What is truly unbelievable is what God accomplishes for us, little temporary creatures, in the cross of Christ and the resurrection and faith and life in his name, is far bigger and far better than anything we could’ve ever imagined. In v. 15, Moses only asks for as many good days and bad days from God. But in the gospel, we find that God not only gives us enough good days/years to equal our time of trouble and sorrow in this life. But after our death in this world, he gives us life without end in his kingdom — an eternal life of love, joy, and peace. In 10,000 years from now, how do you think you’ll feel about 70-80 years of trouble and sorrow? I think we’ll remember what happened, and we might even bear the scars like Jesus. But how much more joy will we have in that day?? When the eternal and everlasting God, draws us up in Christ into his world of light and his life without end. This is who God is, friends. And this is what is offered to all who come to faith in Jesus. These are the beautiful and splendid deeds that we have been shown in the gospel. Life is short and sometimes life is very hard. But we trust in him.