What lasts? Not individuals, or generations. Anger? Faithfulness? Compassion? Each morning. Each year. A whole life long. Psalm 90 is credited to Moses. Not what I expected. Does that change my imagining of the writer, the experiences and situations that shape perspective? Perhaps.
The man of God contemplates the everlastingness of God. Before the mountains were born. From forever in the past to forever in the future. Our world in the middle.
you birthed the earth and the inhabited world Psalm 90:2(CEB)
I notice the birthing image for the first time. God as a mother gives birth to the earth. I wonder if maybe the Common English Bible went liberal on me, so I check the ASV and NASB for the literal Hebrew wording. Yup. Gave birth. Am I surprised that most English translations substitute “brought forth” (NIV) or “formed” (NRSV, KJV) for the maternal image of a birthing God?
I am a bit disappointed to be sidetracked. The movement in this Psalm is about permanence and slipping away. The desire to last and the fleeting life we have been given. The push and pull between notions of an angry God and a compassionate God of faithful love.
I am reminded that images matter. And that scrubbing translations of maternal language for God does us all a disservice. How do we imagine God? How do we see our own lives in relationship to our creator?
The psalmist wrestles with these issues- that we return to dust, wither like grass in a desert, our days of hard work and trouble going by so quickly. So we want to make our days count, to be happy for at least the same number of years we were troubled. And so I too pray:
Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long. Ps. 90:14(CEB)
In a meditation on permanence and the fleeting nature of our lives, I should not have been surprised by the emphatic request of the final lines:
Make the work of our hands last.
Make the work of our hands last!
Is that what we want from our brief time on earth? That our work should be of lasting value? Perhaps that is the wisdom of numbering our days. Something to contemplate as I help my firstborn choose college courses and my parents celebrate their 50th anniversary. As I rely on the pillars of the congregation, strong in their 70s. As I think about the lasting value of their work, and wonder about the work we do now.
Sometimes it is good to meditate on these mysteries. To pause for perspective. And so I pray along with the psalmist:
Let your acts be seen by your servants;
let your glory be seen by their [our] children.
Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us. Ps. 90:16-17a (CEB)