By divine coincidence this morning my scripture reading included Psalm 90 and the first half of Ecclesiastes. Both are caught up with time, and it seems to me, reading them together, that Solomon was familiar with Moses’ Psalm.
“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away,” Moses observes (Ps. 90:10). And Solomon asks, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation . . .” (Ecc. 2:22, 23).
“You return man to dust,” Moses remarks, “and say, ‘Return, O children of man!'” (Ps. 90:3). And Solomon echoes:”All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecc. 3:20).
Time is brief for humans, both seem to sigh, and death comes soon to all of us.
But both notice a contrast, too: “Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the world, from everlasting to everlasting,” Moses says, “you are God” (Ps. 90:2). “Whatever God does,” Solomon perceives, “endures forever” (Ecc. 3:14).
God isn’t like people. His relationship to time is not like ours.
Prophet and Preacher agree that it is important to understand this.
Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart a heart of wisdom”(Ps. 90:12). And Solomon admonishes us, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come . . . and the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:1, 7).
Life comes to an end; be wise with your few days.
But how? Solomon says “Remember your Creator,” and in the Psalm we see Moses talking to his Creator, asking God to remember him: “Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:13, 14).
The other answer both seem to give to the conundrum of our little time is to work: your days are few; use them.
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil,” Solomon says. “This also is from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24). Yet Solomon seems to undercut this at other points, pointing to the vanity of toil: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (5:15). What good, the working, then?
In his final entreaty, Moses helps to illumine the question: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
The working must be established by God, because, as Solomon says, “Whatever God does endures forever.”
Remember that the time is short and be wise. Remember your Creator; work at works established by God. Be working for the eternal things and not the dust that returns to dust.
“Fear God,” Solomon says, “and keep his commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This is our answer to the problem of time.
Last week Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday prompt was “time.” I didn’t write, but I’ve been mulling over it and poetry ever since. I’ve been thinking of T. S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock and his assurance that “there will be time, there will be time,” and contrasting it to Andrew Marvell‘s urgency at hearing “time’s wingèd chariot” always at his back. I’ve been thinking of the relationship between our awareness of time and the actions we choose. Prufrock, with seemingly all the time in the world, allowed fear to rob him of “the strength to force the moment to its crises,” while Marvell’s sense of urgency drove him to immediate action. If Prufrock had also heard “time’s wingèd chariot,” might he have found the strength to ask his “overwhelming question”? All of it coalesced, in a way, with this morning’s Bible reading, which is why this post, and not one about poetry, is the one I wrote. It took more than five minutes, but I credit Kate’s prompt for planting the seed.
©2016 by Stacy Crouch