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Psalms Series One

On Reality

Psalm 90

A story is told by G.K. Chesterton about the genesis of his Father Brown mystery stories. It seems that one day he was at his club, overhearing two gentlemen speak about some particular priest. The comment was made (approximately) that "what would he know about real life? He's a priest; they're sheltered from reality." Chesterton was so struck by the absurdity of the comment - and its common use - that it gave him the idea for Father Brown.

Indeed, any priest or minister of the Gospel can tell you all about "reality." Discretion may prevent it - one must be able to trust the confidences given - but all that is dismal in human life is taken to the clergy, to be appealed to God. Fiction we may have in life, but in the church we must face reality. No wonder the church seems "other-worldly"; the world is so busy whitewashing reality to make it look pleasant and harmless that it can't imagine why the church would not want to do likewise.

Moses knew the seamy side of life too. He was Israel's lawgiver for forty years, and he must have seen it all. Towards the end of his life he wrote today's Psalm. We take it piece by piece.

God and Man: the reality of death

{90:1} A prayer of Moses the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. {2} Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. {3} You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men." {4} For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. {5} You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning‑‑ {6} though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. ‑‑ Psalms 90:1‑6 (NIV)

In this section, Moses shows us three aspects of God and their corresponding realities in man.

God as shelter - and man in need of it. One of the enduring myths of American civilization is the ideal of the "self-reliant" man. The rugged individualist, dependent upon no one, is much admired. Of course, we see him in the movies (the product of a massive organization); on television (which depends upon mass marketing) and ever so rarely in life. The truth is not in him. The truth is that we are all dependent. God has so constructed us that even the hermit relies on others for sustenance. For each and every one of us there comes a time in life when we need help; we cry out for it. Moses here tells us where to cry.

God is eternal - man is mortal. If there is one characteristic of modern man which is most telling, it is his attitude towards death. We ignore it; we pass it off as irrelevant; we trot out reincarnation, mysticism and spiritualism - everything but face it. God, who is eternal, is not amused by our presumption.

Face it. You're going to die. So am I. The issue is not whether or not it's going to happen, or even when it's going to happen. The issue is what are we going to do about it.

God is Creator - man is the creating creature. Modern man likes to imagine that God is the creation of man, not the other way around. So we put God into a box and say that God will do thus and such "when" - and the word doesn't apply. "When" doesn't apply to God - he is the only I AM. Time is God's creation, along with space.

Perhaps an analogy would help. Consider a play and a playwright. In modern theater, the playwright may give the actors freedom to improvise on the dialog - but the play still must contain the essence of his thought, or it fails. We may be able to ad lib, but the plot is still in God's hands. He started it, and He will bring it to a close.

Moses knows all this. He also knows that man is a sinner; and thus he encounters the second aspect of reality.

The Wrath of God

{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} The length of our days is seventy years‑‑ or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. {11} Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. {12} Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. ‑‑ Psalms 90:7‑12 (NIV)

It is fashionable in Christian circles to ignore the wrath of God. This is foolish. We say that God "would never condemn a good man to hell." But who is good? Indeed, as my Bible dictionary has it, the wrath of God is "the permanent attitude of the holy and just God when confronted by sin and evil." God, in essence, has an attitude problem.

Look, He doesn't change. He reacts to sin now as then. We are the one whose attitude has changed. We now believe that either a) God can't see our sins, or (more commonly) b) that He ignores them.

God's universe hasn't changed; the consequences of sin are still the same. Indeed, it amazes me that people think their sins will never come out. The thoughts of our hearts are revealed in our actions to others; how much more is it likely that God sees and knows? When I was a child, my mother would give me cookies - when I was good. Being a prudent lad, I would lard one away in my toy box against those afternoons when mother was not so generous. The trail of ants soon led her to the "cookies in the toys bok." The ants of our actions lead to the toy box of our sin.

Sin has consequences. One of those consequences is the shortness of our days. As Thomas a Kempis had it, "Of what use is a long life, if we amend so little? Alas, a long life often adds to our sins rather than to our virtue!" And that life is full of trouble (any questions on that one?)

Recall that Moses is at the very beginning of the revelation to man in an organized fashion. He ponders this, and comes to the conclusion that man has only one thing to do: repent. Jewish tradition holds this story:

Rabbi Eleazar said: Repent one day before your death. His disciples asked him, "Who knows when he will die?" Rabbi Eleazar answered, "All the more then should a man repent today, for he might die tomorrow."

There is wisdom in that answer!


Moses sees the futility of it, and now asks for reconciliation with God:

{13} Relent, O 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 upon us; establish the work of our hands for us‑‑ yes, establish the work of our hands. ‑‑ Psalms 90:13‑17 (NIV)

Moses specifically asks for four things, each of which finds its answer in Christ:

1) He asks for compassion - that God might be merciful, and deal with us in love, so that we might be joyful. God's answer is Christ:

{3} Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, ‑‑ 1 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

2) He asks that we be given gladness in proportion to the suffering we have had on this earth. Christ gives this answer:

{28} Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. {29} And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. ‑‑ Matthew 19:28‑29 (NIV)

3) Moses then asks for a sign of God's works. Can you imagine this? This is Moses, who saw God part the sea at his command, who met him on the mountain top for the Ten Commandments, who wrought the plagues on Pharaoh - and he wants to see more. Isn't that like us? We constantly seek "blessed assurance."

{18} Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" {19} Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." {20} The Jews replied, "It has taken forty‑six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" {21} But the temple he had spoken of was his body. ‑‑ John 2:18‑21 (NIV)

The sign he gives us is the Resurrection of Christ.

4) Finally, he asks for permanence. Permanence for what we do and who we are. Again, the New Testament carries the answer:

{51} I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." ‑‑ John 6:51 (NIV)


{16} For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. {17} After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

‑‑ 1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17 (NIV)

Here we have the answer to Moses' prayer: the Christ. In Him all these desires of our heart are fulfilled. This is the ultimate reality.

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