Job 5:7 (NSRV)
Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NRSV)
Psalm 90 (looking back on Psalm 146) A Psalm for the Aging (NSRV)
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust,
and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!
We are invited this Lenten season to meditate on the psalms, which give us very different glimpses of life. Denise Hopkins in her book Journey Through the Psalms speaks of them as reflecting orientation, when we are sure that God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world, disorientation, when the reality of evil hits us, and reorientation when we find a way to reconcile God’s justice and goodness with the personal and communal horrors that sometimes confront us.
In Psalm 146 we are exhorted to praise the Lord who executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoners free, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over strangers, upholds the orphan and the widow but brings the wicked to ruin. What a wonderful vision. How can we be anything but happy? And then we confront the world. We see the Holocaust, childhood leukemia, COVID-19, the untimely deaths of those with whom we hoped to grow old, hate dominating public discourse, and our own alienation from God. How can we accept Psalm 148 in the face of such a world? Ought we not embrace Job’s cry that we “are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward?” Or the Preacher’s observation “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…but time and chance happen to them all?”
Psalm 90 restores balance. It reminds that we have 70 or 80 years at most. It speaks profoundly to those already in our 80s and approaching death. The psalmist acknowledges affliction and sorrow and that we are sinners, but also that there is joy and happiness and asks only that the Lord make us glad for as many days as we were afflicted and as many years as we have seen evil. Here is something we can ask for with confidence. Already we know that while grief never dies, our God strengthens the memory of happiness and lessens the pain of grief as we age. We can therefore follow with confidence the advice to count our days so that we may gain a wise heart.
Oh Lord, have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us with your steadfast love so that we may rejoice and be glad all our remaining days. Amen.