Your greatest problem is not American’s decline, or your financial woes, or a bad marriage, or the presidential election, or even your health. Too many people have made these diversions the issues of first importance in their lives while this dreadful reality looms over them. We give ourselves to trivialities, wasting away our time in things that, in the big picture, have little value.
The other day I walked out of my home and I heard children chanting throughout the neighborhood: “2020 sucks.” I initially chuckled but then began to think about the ominous way everyone has come to view 2020. To be sure, this year has been one, for our generation, like no other of confusion and death. Almost universally we look with hope that 2021 will be better. But I fear we have not yet taken to heart what 2020 is saying to us. Have we taken to heart what is evidently a wake up call sent to us from heaven?
With this in mind, Psalm 90 stands out as quite possibly the most helpful song for us to think through the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2020. I will evaluate these categories in reverse to leave the reader with a good word of hope in the end.
Psalm 90 is the only psalm authored by Moses in the psalter and was written for the tribes of Israel in the wilderness who faced many sorrows on their way to the promise land. It’s a psalm that draws you into the pain that Moses experienced during wilderness life. Moses had come to see firsthand the sorrows of humanity, and the transiency life under the sun.
This psalm was most likely written against the background of Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness, as recorded in the book of Numbers. The Lord rendered a great judgment on Israel: “They shall surely die in the wilderness. We read in Numbers 32, “And the LORD’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give (Num. 32:10).”
How devastating it must have been for Moses to watch an entire generation of Israel fall to death in the wilderness, unable to enter the land. Adding grief to more grief, Numbers 20 tells us that Moses’ siblings, Aaron and Miriam, died in the wilderness. All Moses knew was a world of death coming out of Egypt. Those around him whom he loved, the closest of his family and friends, died before his face. Can you imagine his pain? Do you know this sorrow as the sentence of death is executed everywhere before our eyes, even upon those closest to us? The closer it hits to home, the more we know Moses’ pain.
With this context, we can appreciate the grief of Moses in the following words: “You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are brought to an end by your anger (Ps 90:3-6).”
Moses is thinking of the curse pronounced at creation: “From dust you were taken, and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).” This is the ugly reality of life. We are all dying. The wages of sin is death. Death knows no favorites, it comes for us and our children; it calls in a moment, and completely redirects out lives into a new path of grief. As the lives of those closest to us expire before our eyes, our hearts are often crushed. There is no pain greater than to lose by death those closest to us, along with all of the painful forms death brings. Moses bemoans this: “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, you carry us away like a flood.”
The imminency of death is one of the many things 2020 says to us. Death is the ugly of our ever-present moment under the sun living in a broken world.