October 20, 2008

“Everlasting Dustâ€?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

When we’re kids, life seems to have no limits.  Even if the death of a pet makes us feel bad, and the death of a grandparent makes us feel even worse, we don’t apply the lesson of mortality to ourselves.  We think we personally, will never die.

Sometime during middle age our thinking changes.  We realize there will come a moment when death will become a personal challenge to us.  By the time we reach retirement age, we begin to read the Obituary section of the newspaper to make sure our name is not there.

Psalm 90 expresses the sense of helplessness  we have when we face these truths.
“For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
Or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
They are soon gone, and we fly away�
(Psalm 90:9-10)

A few verses earlier our dilemma is graphically expressed in this way:
“You turn us back to dust, And say, “Turn back, you Mortals.’â€? (Psalm 90:3)

Think about this.  We look into our future, past our remaining days of physical struggle with disease and weakness, past our experience of death, past our funeral.  And what do we see?  Dust!  We look backward over our years of working and family building, to our childhood, even to our earliest infant memories.  Beyond that, we can look through our genealogy into the shadows of the beginnings of the human race (Gen. 2:7).  And what do we see?  Dust!  So, our lives are bracketed by dust.  As the Scripture puts it,
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.â€? (Genesis 3:19)

But let’s read the part of Psalm 90 just before the depressing dust-to-dust words:
“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.�
(Psalm 90:1-2)

A strong contrast is established.  We are dust-to-dust; God is everlasting-to-everlasting!

This phrase, “from everlasting to everlasting,â€? is found in several  psalms: 41:3, 103:17, 106:48.  It is a powerful statement of the radical superiority of the God who revealed himself to the biblical people over the shabby temporary gods represented by idols.

The word translated “everlastingâ€? has a root meaning of “concealedâ€? or “hidden.â€?  Scholars believe that in biblical times it indicated that reality which lay beyond the reach of human sight, learning, and understanding, the “vanishing pointâ€? a human mind would experience in thinking about the past or future.

As awesome as this idea was to the psalm-writer, it is even more profound to us today.  Modern science has demonstrated the immensity of the universe and the mind-bending relationship between time and space.  So “everlastingâ€? means much more to us than to a person who lived just a few generations ago.  And as challenging as it is to conceive of everlasting-future, it’s even more difficult to think about everlasting-past, before the Big Bang, before Creation, to the “In-the-Beginningâ€? where God alone existed.  But this lofty phrase proclaims the idea that at any point, from everlasting-past to everlasting-future, God is the central fact  of reality.

Dust seems even smaller now — just a speck.  How can our lives find any significance at all, when the contrast between God and us is so radical?  Actually the answer is obvious: by getting closer to the One Who is “from everlasting to everlasting.â€?  And this psalm reassures us that faith makes this possible.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.â€? (Psalm 90:1)

When dust finds a dwelling place in the everlasting, dust itself can have everlasting significance.

So this psalm ends with a faith-affirmation of dust that has found refuge in the everlasting:
“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!�
Psalm 90: 16-17)