In advance I warn you that I will be trying to impress on you that life is short, fragile and soon gone through repeated returns to the same melody. Like a song that has a number of variations on a single theme. I don’t do it because I think you are thick or because I don’t have the sense to realise that I am basically repeating myself. If you are like I am; your head will comprehend first time round. Your heart will however revolt and push back, rejecting the truth of scripture. You ask, how do you know this? I know because when I see scripture repeated on the same subject it is telling me that God is talking to obstinacy and blindness. I know this because it is human nature. None of us wants to know.
Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Having just proclaimed the brevity of life the psalmist asks God on behalf of all humanity: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. What is he asking for since he obviously knows the answer? Psa 90:5, 6, 9, 10;
Dr Samuel Johnson said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” This is what the psalmist is asking for: LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
When we break through the young man’s delusion of invincibility and immortality realizing that we are frail, it comes as a shock but the wake-up is invaluable to us going on.
Fragility, frailty, the temporary nature of life gives us perspective. It seems as though we have the answer to the question we asked but somehow it is all too obvious. It does not satisfy me.
Any fool can tell you that he will die. Any idiot realises that nothing lives forever; everything that breathes has a lifespan; nothing is permanent.
We don’t need a psalmist to tell us that we are frail and fragile so what is being asked for?
Life is transitory.
The ephemeral nature of life became very obvious: they [were but] flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again. Scripture refers to the life of man as being effervescent, frail, transitory… mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes, a passing shadow, a passing wind. Something as transitory as a dream. You may well be asking ‘why is this guy quoting more scripture on the same subject’. Truth is you have not got it. You like me equate head knowledge with heart knowledge. The two are not the same and that is what the psalmist is asking God to teach us.
Life is separated from death by a single breath; a sigh and it is gone.
The transient and frail nature of man is both a blessing and a curse. Job 11:16;
Psa 78: 3, 39;
David, Solomon and Job look and see men occupied with work, worry, eating, drinking, comedy and laughter, social climbing and achievement, love, marriage, mourning, death and conclude; they are vanity, a breath, vapour, without substance, a vexation of spirit.
They look at life and come to the conclusion that it is a chasing after the wind. A vapid void devoid of meaning. A black hole drained of purpose that defies description when seen in the light of The Almighty. Realising that what you pour life and soul into for 70 or 80 years is pointless, an exercise in futility, is tribulation. It really upsets us to know the purposelessness this life. Is this all there is? Job 16:22;
For what do they care for their houses after them, when the number of their months is cut off? Men are allocated a certain time on earth and when that time is up they are cut off. Job 21:21;
You don’t have to be very bright to realise that nobody can live and not
see death; who can escape the power of the grave? So what are you working so hard for? What is so desperately important that you are pouring your life into? Psa 89:47, 48;
The consensus is that trees resprout when chopped down; men do not; finite, they rot, decay and are found no more. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
In the same way the universe as we know it will eventually cease to exist, be folded up and put away like a garment in a drawer. There is a limit to man and his universe. There is no limit to God either in time or in creativity. Something inside of you must be saying, ‘yes, I see life is short and eternity is long’. Perspective gives insight.
Psa 39 asks the same question.
David asks: “LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is! Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! Surely man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nought are they in turmoil;
Either David was a manic depressive obsessed with darkness or he was onto something far deeper. I think that the latter is true.
A constant thread runs through David’s psalms: Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity! Who can live and not see death, who can escape the power of the grave? Psa 89: 47, 48;
It comes as a surprise to some that there are only so many summers in a life and then… their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror… they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
Caught up in the froth of life it is easy to forget that we are nothing but a breath from eternity, a fart in the night, a burp in the meal of eternity. Psa 78:33, 39;
A breath, a breeze.
Life is described as breath, a gentle breeze, a breath from the mouth, effervescent, frail, transitory and thus vain and empty.
Men then, were so much more familiar with death; they realised that life and death are separated by an exhalation.
David was a brave man, prepared to confront himself , his frailty, his death and the darkness; that is uncommon in our day. As if by confronting the darkness within us we might wake the slumbering giant, we tiptoe with our hands pressed tight round our mouths. There is a saying in Afrikaans ‘moet nie spoke opjaag nie’ which is basically, don’t go looking for problems but carries an added dimension of the supernatural. Many of us today are too frightened to look at the darkness that surrounds us,the darkness within in case by looking, we stir to life and make manifest some force that otherwise would have slept.
I find this particularly among those who have been touched by darkness in the past. Instead of asking, teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom, we prefer to skip with the unicorns under rainbows singing la-la-la.
If you are not long for this world a mist, a vapour that is soon to pass away why are you pursuing empty things?
I am a bit heavy for polite society: my voice, walk and stature advertise my frailty. People sense, ‘here is a man who is not long with us’.
I was sitting with a young man and when he realised that I was not drunk or retarded, able to listen; he told me of his fear of death. On the day of the winter solstice he rejoiced in the birth of a new spring, the changing of the seasons, his vitality, his strength and virility with testosterone and good looks. He perceptively did a little sum in his head as he sat bathed in the sunlight of a new year. He calculated that he might live till the age of 80, if lucky. He subtracted his age and came up with a number of 56 which shocked him. 56 more summers, You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer. For soon I must go down that road from which I will never return.
“How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You have decided the length of our lives. Job 14:1, 2, 5; NLT
Their worm does not die.
Rereading Commando by Deneys Reitz it occurred to me: Synthetic materials that we take for granted nowadays were not available then. Men had their clothing and shoes literally rot away while they wore them, naked within months as worms and bugs ate clothing on them. If the weather was damp for weeks, their clothing, shoes and saddles would turn to slime and flow away.
The death of men and animals in war underlined their frailty. And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth eaten.
A maggot, a worm bred on rotting flesh and dead bodies has real life. Maggots, death and rotting within the heart of man, a worm that will never die eating from inside to out. The rapid breeding of maggots and their persistence in following dead flesh is inescapable.
There is no denying corruption of flesh when maggots are swarming and the stench is pervasive. We along with Job declare our fleshly nature corrupt: My flesh is clothed with worms … The worm of conscience and condemnation keeps eating till collapse follows, the soul hollowed out.
We on the other hand have the idea that we are eternal. We surround ourselves with things that last. Stainless steel and glass, synthetics and plastics.
Ancient men realised that all that surrounded them was temporary and the wiser ones realised that even the sun, moon and stars were a tableau: They will perish, … they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded… the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.
We regard the ancients as dim folk that knew less than we do and yet they had a better grasp on death and destruction than us. They knew that man is temporary, fragile and transient. This is another lesson taught to the psalmist. In the light of God, man and the earth he lives on is dust on the scales; soon wiped off. The heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.
I know that you are by now saying enough already: we got the message, we are fragile and frail and we are all going to pass away. Trouble is I know you. You, like me want a head lesson. It takes a while for the heart to catch up with the head. The word is speaking to your heart. Meditate on the word…
Weakness and strength.
Christ Jesus associates himself so closely with our sufferings and weakness that the weak, sick, poor, prisoner and lame are in fact him. I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. These outside of the light, those found in the darkness that God uses to bring frailty to our senses are Christ in the flesh.
Mat 25:43, 44;
Part of the good news of Christ is the healing of the sick and ministering to the weak.
Christ died to set us free, to heal us body, soul and mind. Jesus healed many as did the apostles. Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. Weakness and frailty of body and mind a vehicle that delivers Christ to man.
I don’t believe everything I write or think; I use the scriptures deceitfully twisting them to my will, fitting them to my circumstances, my fears and desires; so I sit and ask: is what I am saying logical, acceptable and truth. Am I just cherry-picking scripture to make a point or is there a rhythm and continuance to what is said. You see, I am like you, I use scripture to cope; the flesh is weak. I prop up my idols, my little creations using God’s word.
Once I came to the conclusion that what I had said was right I then sat and thought… this chimes with my life and sickness. What came next was the surprise.
I sat and said: so if that is the end of man; what a waste. Is this all there is? Is this the fate of every living creature? Everything destroyed, eaten by something else, returned to the dust. What a waste, surely there must be some purpose beyond living to die?
Man is frail and is subject to sickness of the body, morals and mind… because of the infirmity of your flesh: It is not just the frailty of the flesh material. It is the frailty of the soul, the rational, the logical, the decision making; the walls of thought that we put around us. There is purpose to the destruction of the protective fortifications we surround ourselves with.
Our Lord felt for the sick and empathized with the weakness of sickness. Out of this empathy he healed the sick and commanded the apostles to do the same. We find the apostles healing the sick and comforting them.
The apostles and early believers had the same compassion for the weak that Jesus demonstrated. They cared for the weak in body and in faith.
There were plenty of weak and sick apostles and few were healed miraculously. Where does this leave us who are frail? Where does it leave the faithful Christian who believes in divine healing and prays for it? Where does it leave the faith based churches who Sunday after Sunday slap their hands and command healing in Jesus name?
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
Paul realizes that there is more than meets the eye, my strength is made perfect in weakness. Rather than God gaining glory in our victories and strength, he manifests in our weakness and frailty. Therefor Paul can honestly say, I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
There is a precept that repeats itself right through scripture: weakness, frailty and submission, humbling before God results in him acting for man. Independence pride and self-sufficiency results in God having to put man in his place. It is the strength of Christ that resulted in him submitting to death on the cross and that in turn resulted in our salvation. His submission to weakness resulted in strength. 1Co 15:43;
Sickness, weakness and infirmity has purpose: Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. The apostles realize that there is a strange paradox that occurs when we are weak… Christ is strong. Our weakness allows space for Christ to demonstrate his power. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, It is almost as though our strength gets in the way of the Lord. So Paul can make the statement, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Paul starts the verse of with ‘Therefore’, making an argument, saying I know that this does not make sense in our world, I know that this is wonky thinking. In terms of the mind of this world, you must project strength, success and happiness. The argument goes like this: You are ‘Christ’s child’, Christ’s children are not losers, otherwise why would we follow him? It follows that your life is full of health, wealth and happiness. It is logical that you are rich and increased and have need of nothing. It is logical that you are blessed.
Paul had gained a heart of wisdom. So he says therefore. It is as if he sees himself in Christ’s mould, crucified in weakness, he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live.
For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong… strength out of weakness… blessing in suffering. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
Isa 40;30, 31;
I am repeating scripture, trying to rub it into the cracks of my life because like you I feel the rise of counter argument. Surely Christ was powerful on earth? …he walked in the miraculous, healing, speaking truth to authority bla-bla-bla. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Christ was subject to the same weakness while on earth, he himself also is compassed with infirmity. This God/man was just like you and me. yes I hear the whisperer say but this was just physical weakness in that he went to the cross and was physically weak; his will character and faith was left untouched… “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” Heb 4:15;
Realizing that we are weak and frail and fragile we can have compassion and empathy with the weak… comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. (all men includes you and me.) I can comfort that frustrated fragile individual living caged in my body. I can speak to him and tell him, not long now, be patient, wait. 1Th 5:14;
Legacy, what legacy?
The frailty of men; it is as if life itself forgets to cling to the body and goes wandering. Jesus was a hero one day, ‘the Savior’; next thing the people had forgotten him. This is frightening and upsetting as we all recognize this amnesia in ourselves. Life is a mist, a vapour and the memory of man, even the most famous, transitory; leaving a husk; twisted, misshapen, a dried out form of what was, the life having rejected the substance.
When my mother died I was given the task of clearing the family home. I threw out boxes full of family photos that nobody wanted. Now this may not sound a big deal until you realise that they documented 150 years of family life. With the photos went memories and lives. With the photos disappeared the only record of men’s lives. My point is, the younger generation did not even want to look at the curled up, dried out remains of the generation before them. They are too busy making their own husks to be blown away in turn.
What is frightening is that in our hands the eternal word of God is left dried out and distorted a malformed relic of our twisted minds. We in protection of our fragile idols; our lives, make God’s word subject to our will.
The eternal Son rejected of men… the realization that this is the fate of man stirs tribulation to life. The word, a tender sucker growing out of an eternal plant that will wither; a root out of dry ground.
Both the old and NT describe life and riches as being ephemeral as grass growing on a rooftop or as flowers of the field. Men understood, like grass, life pops up for a season and then dries up and is blown away… a vision of the night… a dream… not found
Job 20:7, 9;
Keeping with the theme of the husk; it seems that the best and brightest fare no better than the grandpa who pops his clogs in the rural village. The greats of history are reduced to single lines in history. ‘E=mc2’, ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Fur Elise’, ‘I think therefore I am’.
The notorious criminals are reduced to a shell too. Think of Hitler and the holocaust. Stalin and the gulags. Atalla the Hun or Genghis Kahn. I heard J.S. Bach referred to as ‘boring’.
If the likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare are reduced to relics of history that no one understands; where does this leave you and me?
Place your life’s legacy alongside those greats and imagine what will be quoted from your life’s work. If the great luminaries of the world disappear in the vastness of time’s darkness where does it leave us? Little ‘grey men’ our lives hidden in the darkness of forgetfulness… that never stood out in our age.
At this point I can hear you saying; so what is your point? If I am so much dust on the scales what is the purpose?
The futility of life must strike you.
You are not the first man to have this knowledge: Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
The wise … fool in darkness; … the same fate overtakes them both.
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also. … meaningless.”
wise, like the fool, … both … forgotten… fool, wise must die!
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. … meaningless, chasing after the wind. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. Meaningless.
What was Solomon so upset about, surely the wisest man in the entire world knew this? We are brought to the realisation along with David: a dead dog! a flea! – Why does the knowledge of our frailty and vulnerability disturb us?
We are offended because like Nebuchadnezzar our idol is disturbed. The idol is not bowed down to. This life that we worship is precious to us, more precious than the God what we claim is supreme in our lives.
We have supplanted God. We entertain the thought of immortality apart from Christ. We place ourselves on the throne along with Christ. We have life in Christ, if we are one in Christ. In Christ we have eternal life and not in ourselves severally or as a group.
The knowledge of your frailty and mortality is not to scare you but to give you opportunity. With knowledge comes opportunity and choice.
Fortunately if you are in Christ; your work in Christ has reward. If you are not ‘In Christ’ it is ash already.
1Sa 24:14; 1Sa 26:20;
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” … thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Men in biblical times seemed to be aware of the transitory nature of life. Perhaps it is something that comes with age, suffering, sickness or infirmity but it is not something we have inherently in us today… my life [is] wind: in an age where death was in your face, people died in the home and bodies had to be buried by family and friends. No hospitals, no undertakers and no way to avoid the inevitable.
We on the other hand have buffers that insulate us.
Washing my Father’s body with the dew of death fresh on his skin was a profound moment.
Nothing prepared me for that.
Life gone, what remained, wasted, flesh already returning to the earth. In that darkness I saw myself. thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again? No wonder that libations came to mean so much: waters [that] pass away.
Men spent a lot of time speaking to God about the brevity of life.
There is a curious phenomenon in scripture called ‘shades’: Gesenius refers to them as ‘manes’ or ‘shades’. They are languid, weak spirits devoid of blood and animal vitality but still retaining soul, volition and memory. I see shades as a symbolic type of men who have wandered from the way of understanding and ended up weak and insipid, chasing things, they have a form of life but lack spark.
Shades are not confined to the afterlife of Sheol because when we look at our present age we see their presence in men that surround us. The desperation of emptiness. following meaningless things: dancing in fancy-dress to the tune of the world… sport, success, hedonism. This empty top spins for a while; then meets with the wall of death and eternity, wobbles and spins out of control, dribbles to a stop revealing its true nature to all. The world acknowledges this form of life; the living dead, the zombie, the android, not recognising themselves.
We live in a temporary world filled with meaningless nonsense like 20/20 cricket. The result does not matter and will not be remembered beyond now. Foam on the ocean, blown across the surface with the undercurrent and great depth below never plumbed for fear of what lurks beneath in darkness. Terror of darkness unexplored grows. I experience this in my life.
My disease that I wrestle with feels beyond me, too big to comprehend or face head on, almost as though before starting I have been defeated.
“In his neck lodges strength, And dismay dances before him. One gets the impression leviathan is so terrible that it is almost as though dismay, disheartenment and melting of the mental capacity to resist goes dancing before him; an aura, into the heart of man. Wrestling with the physical is the easy part in dealing with weakness but when this fight moves into the soulical that the urge to flee dismay becomes overpowering. The urge to flee to the froth of life, all the time realising that the flood of reality churning beneath leaves one to wander among the shades.
Job 41:22 NASB;