7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The days of our years are seventy or eighty if we are strong.
But they are filled with trouble and sorrow;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
In our new, up-to-date mental institutions, people amuse themselves at the expense of the impaired in all kinds of ways. They do this particularly in the way they portray them comically. If possible, it should be pushed to the point that the impaired actually forget that they are mentally challenged. Yes, so far that it must seem to them that all their dreams, imagining, and fantasies accurately depict reality!
Well, we’ll just leave that for what it is! As long as the church of Jesus Christ unlovingly thinks that it is completely free to leave dealing with the impaired in police hands, we will maintain our shameful silence about the atrocities that are part of life in mental institutions. When oh when will our diaconates wake up and promote a higher and nobler attitude about these things?
But where we won’t leave matters is this: that our entire life here on earth betrays the same unholy attitude. It massages all our miseries. It characterizes our most intense pressure, tension, indifference, and insensitivity as a vacuous, make-believe display.
What the inebriated person does at their worst, we all do indirectly, step for step, and each in our own way. The drink that numbs the senses drags the inebriate out of the wretchedness of reality and magically transports them to a world of enjoyment and release. And what do the vast majority of people do besides close their eyes to the realities with which they live? They babble to each other about a life based on mere appearance, lies, and wishful thinking.
You could even take this to a deeper level. Suicide is the intoxicated person’s escape at the ultimate level. A drinker sobers up eventually. The imaginary world they enter through their drinking soon disappears, and sober reality returns with double intensity. But, if there were some way to recapture that escape and to stay there forever, how could they do it? That’s the way people get to the point of committing the shameful act and awful sin of suicide. The big difference is this, of course. The drink at least provides a momentary escape and release, while a person who commits suicide immediately stands in the presence of the terrifying God of whom the Scripture says, “Our God is a consuming fire!” Our souls recoil at this. Yet … that which is sacrilegious and that which is terrifying increase in direct and sobering proportion to one another! So where oh where can we go?
How does this all happen?
Very simply, it comes from the fact that suicide and drunken stupor are nothing other than the most sharply defined manifestations of that same misguided desire for escape and for whatever promises more than it delivers. That’s definitely a misguided desire, but it increasingly characterizes our entire lives, even among Christians.
God is exalted. He is long-suffering. His mercies are boundless. Merciful is even his name.
The Lord provides everything for us!
He knows eternity. He understands how endless the eternity of eternities is. And that’s why he measures according to the full blessedness of his own divine being. That’s the standard he uses for the indescribable and unspeakable glory that awaits the bride of Christ in his perfect heaven.
That’s why God the All-Merciful makes every effort to draw us into his blessedness.
The Lord God finds it terrible that a person in the mere sixty or seventy years of their earthly existence would gamble away and discard eternity. In so doing, they lose the everlasting glory and the blessedness beyond description that will endure for a thousand times a thousand, and then times another thousand ages.
He, the Holy One, says: “My dear man, my dear woman, don’t devote your existence to an empty life that is only so-so. But dedicate your entire existence to reaching my totally blessed and delightful eternity.”
To be able to do that, rid yourself of all lies. Do away with false appearances. Represent things as they are. Challenge yourselves. Challenge others to face who and what they really are. You are miserable sinners. So are those around you. That’s why misery clings to you all the days of your earthly existence. Your God is merciful. He is also the source of enjoyment in your life, and sometimes he even provides pure pleasure—that is, provided that you don’t discount suffering and the serious side of life. For you, wisdom is completely summarized in this one command: “Walk before my face. Pay attention to yourself in the same way that I, seated in my blessed heaven, see you as you really are. Recognize all the dark and unmentionable aspects of your life. Walk before my face with integrity!”
But people pay no attention to this. “You may not live that way,” they exclaim! They wave a magic wand over their lives, as it were. It casts a deceptive glow about what is best and most beautiful for them. Life magically seems like heaven on earth. Enjoyment is everything. Life is about reveling in pleasure and staying excited without any memory of misery.
No time for prayer anymore. It’s much too quiet at home. Get out into the streets! Go to the taverns! Take a walk in the park. Get tickets for the theater. Everything has to be seen in an aesthetic and light, even seductive clothing. Even hair on the head has to be stylized so that it no longer looks drab and ordinary.
And what about Christians? Oh, at first they struggle against these trends. They live separately. But do they go along with that deadened and deadening world? Sad to say, now they do. We know that there is a cross we must bear. But today we drape it with flowers, and it has become the cross covered with roses. Deep-seated seriousness has been wiped away by a love for lightheartedness. Even those who are presently preoccupied spiritually will soon succumb to the same thing. While for them this will be slightly different, essentially it will serve the same purpose.
Keep quiet and stop preaching about the law. Don’t talk about hell. I don’t want to hear about my nakedness. Quit warning us about eternal damnation! People just don’t want to hear any more about what they mock as “splashing around in mud puddles”! No, everything has to be about love, laughter, and enjoying luxuries. One person characterizes another as “a lovable guy,” who in turn describes the first the same way. Pretty soon you have a whole circle of “really lovable fellows”! Naturally, in such a circle of angels on earth you find a lot of hearty laughing, even if it’s about the real miseries and problems of life. Now we’re dealing with something different stirring in the soul!
This is going to go on until the Lord intervenes.
He said in his Word: “The days of our years are seventy or eighty if we are strong. But they are filled with trouble and sorrow.” And those of us who read this or even laugh about it succeed in making it come true. We do until we feel our own heavyheartedness and burst out: “God was certainly right about that. Trouble, trouble and sorrow, is the very best I’ve been able to find.”
It’s quite exceptional when God makes this happen.
Sometimes he allows people to go on living for years before they hear about a friend who passed away or about an acquaintance who had been unhappy and took their own life. But this person always simply thought: “Those are exceptions.” Those reports were not enough to shake them out of their own fantasies.
They were told: “That’s just how it is!” They had seen blow after blow fall on other people and simply thought: “Sometimes it happens like that!” But they never applied those situations to themselves.
Then one day the Lord God finally knocked on their doors. Then they had to pick up the heavy crosses laid at their feet. Then they were brokenhearted. Then God put the terribly serious question to them: “Did I, your God, have it right, or did the world?”
Not that this is what happens to everyone. Not at all. On a battlefield where thousands lie wounded, no one amputates an arm or leg of those who are already gone. And at most they will spend only an hour helping those who are still alive but in serious shock.
There are also people, on the other hand, who live in a dreamland from the cradle to the grave. They enter life numb to its realities and die the same way. That’s terrible. It’s also terrible if God never visits them. It’s terrible when he walks past our doors and doesn’t amputate our maimed limbs. For then we are bastards!
There’s something else that people don’t quite understand, namely, that there has never been a single soul that God has not at some time struck on the outside before he has also totally broken them on the inside. As a rule, however, for us, that is a blessed sign that God has begun an important work in us that will have eternal significance. At least that’s true if he takes along his bag of instruments and begins his work of amputating an arm or leg.
How terribly, terribly hard our hearts begin pounding in fear when he does!
Sometimes a person cannot contain themself. They simply have to scream!
But God keeps on working. He does so with a steady hand. He works until the limb has been removed. He doesn’t let up until his purpose has been achieved. He doesn’t proceed by trial and error, and that’s why he never makes a mistake. Once he puts his hand to it, he does a beautiful job. He also works through the fear of dying. Our God is the Great Physician. He heals.
This is what happens if the Holy Spirit is involved in this work.
There are also frightening operations that the Lord God performs simply to reveal his anger. God administers blows that only weaken people. They become hardened to them.
Who has not known such people? Look at Pharaoh and his circle. Consider the flood!
But let’s leave this kind aside. Suppose that the Holy Spirit mixes suffering with faith. That bears fruit. Here? On earth?
But I thought that all of that was reserved for what’s above! Then what happens when the fruit is presented to God there, in eternity?
Look, that’s when everything gets turned around. That’s when we see things in retrospect and when we realize that for our entire lives we have really lived with an illusion. We saw value in things that had none.
That’s when we’ll realize that what we regarded as most important was filled with sorrow and trouble: our gold, our status, our influence, our physical health and strength, right down to our flesh-and-blood children and the “children” of our heart’s desire. Everything on which we had pinned our hopes, we will then realize, gave us trouble externally and sorrow internally!
The only thing that will then be able to remove our trouble and quiet our sorrow is the Lord our God, whom we had forgotten so often and served so half-heartedly.
Then God, that God, will be most important of all!
The most important of all! That is exactly what he always wanted to be in our lives. But the root reality—the sinful root—has been that we have lived, sadly misled, in a spiritual fantasyland that could never be real!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms