God as our home, through it all
[Published in Mennonite Weekly Review, 11/1/10]
Psalm 90 contains an interesting and challenging progression of thought. It begins with a powerful affirmation of human at-homeness with God, then shows how humanity continually threatens that at-homeness.
True wisdom, though, recognizes that God’s faithfulness prevails over human intransigence. In light of this wisdom, of course it’s appropriate to press God to bring transformation in tune with God’s steadfast love.
Our dwelling place at risk
The psalmist starts with a basic statement of faith: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (90:1). We start with God as our home.
How often to we tend to start with a sense that we are not at home, that our condition from start to finish means pain, anxiety, and flux? We seem to feel all too often that we may long for home, but such a home is simply not our condition. This sense of homelessness contradicts the psalmists’ faith. We are created and sustained in this world by the everlasting one (90:2).
And yet, this core at-homeness in God’s universe stands as the backdrop for recognizing that nonetheless we human beings have made a mess of things. The problem is twofold: we are finite and mortal, passing the scene all too quickly (90:3). And we are full of “iniquities” (90:8).
In light of these failings, no wonder the God who made us for better things responds with distress and judgment. The psalmist is clear that the most basic expression of this distress and judgment is that humanity sleeps in the bed we have made for ourselves.
This psalm does not detail the iniquities. However, we may assume that most of all they are relational violations. Human beings do not walk humbly with their God nor treat their brothers and sisters with compassion and justice (see Micah 6:8). We turn from life; and our existence becomes dust-like.
The wise perceive God’s faithfulness
We are challenged by this psalm, amidst our self-perception as finite and broken creatures, to recognize nonetheless the more fundamental truth that God remains our home. That is, we are at home in the universe, even as we find ourselves in a struggle.
Hence the call in 90:12 for genuine wisdom. This wisdom certainly involves understanding that our lives are transitory and that we are flawed creatures. We violate the ways of God and as such are subject to God’s wrath. But this wrath, our flaws, the dust-like aspect of our existence—none of these are the deepest and most truthful parts of who we are.
In the end, true wisdom is not about resignation, not about living with a “realism” that sees human life as in its essence “nasty, brutish, and short” (Thomas Hobbes). True wisdom is much more affirmative.
If we live with “wise hearts” and “count our days” (90:12), we will recognize that these days are each one an opportunity for joy and healing.
Underscoring the meaning of wisdom, here leading to our turning from hopeless resignation to an embrace of life to be lived to the full as creatures who are at home in the God of the universe, the psalm concludes with some fascinating demands.
Maybe God expresses wrath (90:7), but the wise person knows more so God shows compassion (90:13). Maybe God’s anger is consuming (90:7), but the wise person knows that even more God shows “steadfast love” (90:14). Maybe human beings commit untold “secret sins” (90:8), but the wise person knows to beseech God for empowerment that God’s work may be manifest in God’s human servants (90:16).