By Joe LaGuardia
Psalm 90, penned by Moses according to the superscription, is a reflection on humanity’s fragility and God’s omniscience. It challenges us to meditate on God’s magnificence, providence, and gift of time.
The first verse affirms that God is our dwelling place–a safe refuge for all generations. But then the psalm quickly moves to a meditation about the frailty of humanity, the brief existence we all share, and the toil that consumes most of our days.
Whereas one day is as “a thousand years” in God’s sight, a person’s life may span seventy to eighty years and then “fades and withers.” Our days are but a dream.
Although Psalm 90 seems melancholy at best and depressing at worst, the poem is actually a reflection not to be taken as negative or morose, but as a re-focusing on God’s intimacy with us. Yes, our lives are but a breath, but God pays attention to us anyway. The hours of the day may pass by quickly, but God’s love still kisses us awake every morning with new life (v. 14).
The challenge is one not of resignation, but of focus.
Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not on our lack, but on God’s magnificence.
The creation theme that runs throughout the psalm reminds us of God’s majesty and power. God’s careful attention to us brings with it awe, as well as a sense of discipline and testing (v. 7).
This is an attribute of God’s magnificence, an acknowledgement that the same God who created the heavens and the earth cares about us, cares so much in fact, that God is willing to keep us accountable to being holy and a righteous people. What parent who cares for her child does not discipline that child and invest in the character and integrity with which that child approaches all of life?
God is so amazing, even God’s discipline inspires a sense of magnificence of who God is in our life, the world, and all of history and the cosmos.
Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not our limits, but on God’s providence.
According to vv. 5-6, God has the power to sweep away all our days. With a divine thought or a command, God can end everything right here and right now. What is to say that we don’t deserve it, with all of the messes we get ourselves into — from our inability to fight on behalf of justice for the oppressed, to form a comprehensive and intentional approach to ecological sustainability, to combating poverty and oppression that wreaks havoc on communities local and global, to our penchant for violence in the face of adversity or war?
Yet, God chooses (I think) to renew our days as grass is renewed in morning. God gives us new life in which to flourish, to experience steadfast love and have a second chance.
Satisfy us, O Lord, in the morning with your steadfast love…” (Ps. 90:14)
Although we may blow our opportunity at joining God at work in the world over and over again (“For we are consumed by your anger!”), we have the ability to learn what the Spirit will have us to learn about our world and our neighbors (v. 12). We have to be open to the lessons God has in store for us: “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”
Psalm 90 challenges us to focus not on our toil, but on God’s gift of time.
Sometimes we forget that work and toil are God’s punishment for Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Although many of us enjoy our jobs, we still complain that working means spinning our wheels, trying to make ends meet, belaboring day after day to provide for our families, our retirement accounts, even our churches.
Yet, the emphasis of this psalm–from God’s point of view, and ours–is that of time. Time is short, time is valuable. Time is a gift, and we are to make the most of our time by responding to God, living for Him (v. 16a), and living in the power of the Spirit that we might prosper in both our mission for God and our ministry in life.
Let your work be made manifest to your servants…Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper the work of our hands.”
In closing, there are three major movements in Psalm 90: One, of God’s power and majesty; two, of our fragility; and, three, of the fact that as a people of God, we still have work to do and can do it joyfully.
It is about focus and intentionality, about acknowledging that God still cares deeply for us. Let us, in the wake of Psalm 90, meditate on God’s magnificence, on God’s providence, and on God’s gift of time.