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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, October 3, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Psalm 90:1–6, 13–17

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.

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! (NRSV)

At first glance, this is a pretty dark Psalm. “God is eternal, and God turns us mortals back to dust.” It’s reminiscent of Ecclesiastes’ “Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Everything is meaningless!” or Isaiah’s “All people are grass . . . the grass withers, the flower fades.” In my mind’s ear, I hear Brahms’ ponderously foreboding setting of the Isaiah text from his German Requiem, pounding drums and loud bass voices reminding me of my inextricable demise and humanity’s eventual, unavoidable downfall. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. God is all-powerful and I am but a worm. We’re all gonna die. Thanks for the reminder. Not like I needed one.”

In fact, by the time I reached verse 13’s call for God to “turn” in compassion, I thought, what’s the use? The God described in this particular Psalm is eternal, rock-like, and seems to really like sweeping humanity away like a dream. Why would I turn to that God expecting any kind of help?

But then it hit me: that eternal nature of God is exactly why that call to turn is so important, so powerful, and so essential. God’s everlasting nature is one of steadfastness, and of steadfast love (verse 14). In a world where humans are fickle and frail, situations are ever-changing and life never feels steady, God is. And God has remained so from generation to generation. We—even we—can call out to that God, and expect to be heard. Perhaps even move that eternal Rock.

And that’s the bright light in this dark-Psalmed world, both then and now.

Everlasting God, You are eternal and I am not. The problems I face seem like immovable mountains to me, but are only sand piles to you. Move, Alpha and Omega God. And sweep away the dust ravaging your enduring plan of love. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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