Tuesday, May 7, 2013


As I have said in earlier blogs, I enjoy reading through the archives of Chemical Engineering News, which is the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.  It is like going back in time and listening in on real time conversations between people discussing current events and their take on what it all means.  Much could be written about those exchanges; suffice it for the present to say that not much has changed for Americans in the last 60 plus years; the names have changed, governments have changed around them, but the rancor, politics, and ills haven't.

One thing I enjoy doing while perusing these time capsules is to read the column that in the fifties and before was entitled, necrology.  This is just a fancy word for obituary.  I read the obituaries because I'm interested in seeing if there has been a significant shift in mortality age in the last sixty plus years--there has.  I'm also fascinated by the tributes written for the luminaries of science who had finally succumbed--names such as Fleming, Einstein, and Alder (who?).  But the main reason I read them is to honor those who have gone before me.

The vast majority of the names appearing in those memorials are names long since forgotten--forgotten because "out of sight, out of mind" and because those who remembered them are also long gone.  Some names I find in necrology, even though they left behind long lists of accomplishments, have been "buried with her name"--to quote the old Beatles' lyric. This makes me sad, so I resurrect them--if only for a brief moment--to celebrate their lives.  And after I'm done, I, with the majority of humanity, promptly forget their names.

The Bible speaks frequently about the transience of humankind: man is like a flower that grows up, blooms, withers and dries, to be blown away by the wind, and become no more; or, humankind is nothing more than a vapor; or, people are but ghosts who appear for a time, and are gone.  Yet at the same time, the Bible teaches the eternal value and worth God reckons humankind.  In Psalm 8 we read,

"Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind,that you should pay attention to them,
and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?
You grant mankind honor and majesty;
you appoint them to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything under their authority...."

Is this a contradiction?  If not, then why does the Bible assert such diametrically opposing ideas?  The Psalmist considers this later in Psalm 39 as he is being pressured to account for God's seemingly misplaced justice--that is, the interviewer who is basking in the wealth of this world, challenges the Psalmist's God for not so blessing the Psalmist who is obviously devoted to God.  Here is the Psalmist's reply,

"I was stone silent; I held back the urge to speak. My frustration grew; my anxiety intensified. As I thought about it, I became impatient. Finally I spoke these words: “O Lord, help me understand my mortality and the brevity of life! Let me realize how quickly my life will pass! Look, you make my days short-lived, and my life span is nothing from your perspective. Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor. Surely people go through life as mere ghosts. Surely they accumulate worthless wealth without knowing who will eventually haul it away.”

Before we say anything about his answer to our question, it is notable how carefully the Psalmist avoids blaspheming God; the Psalmist waits through his temptation to give a careless response borne out of anger or intellectualism, and then finally speaks without speaking for God, who must speak for Himself because only God understands God.  We would all do well to heed the Psalmist's wisdom in this, especially in an age that wants quick answers--not even Google has access to enough information to allow us to speak for God.  Instead, the Psalmist answers our question by addressing the problem:  humankind has misplaced its trust.

The Bible calls us to consider our transience precisely because we have such great worth to our Creator.  When we stop and consider our insignificance, only then do we have a chance to turn back to God in humility, and seek Him as the only one who can provide us with the purpose, meaning, and abundant life--yes, eternal life--which, as the loving and personal God He is, He is ready to do.  When we ignore or pass-off our mortality, we so easily put our trust in all the things ultimately the least secure.  So the Psalmist says,

"But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying? You are my only hope! Deliver me from all my sins of rebellion!"

God wants us to enjoy creation with him forever, which is an abundant eternal life beyond words to describe.  But to get us to that place with Him, He must move us to loath our rebellion gushing from our hearts of selfish-ambition and conceit.  We must understand the joy and fulfilled existence God has created us for with Him is perfect and complete in itself, so there are no alternatives that will ever satisfy us.  Because God loves us so much, He is relentless in His effort to drive us back to Him, even if the prods He employs are painful and humiliating.

So consider the transience of your life in the present, and seek to invest the time you have in God's kingdom instead of attempting to build your own.  Join with the Psalmist who cries out to God:

"Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cry for help! Do not ignore my sobbing! For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land; I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were. Turn your angry gaze away from me, so I can be happy before I pass away."


Harry Shields said...

The transience of life was a common theme in the life of our Lord. It seems to me that part of our spiritual formation is exactly what you are calling for in this blog, namely to live with the end in view. HES