Reformed Church Box Hill

Scripture Alone

Faith Alone

Grace Alone

Christ Alone

Glory to God Alone

26 June 2022

Meditation – Eternal comfort in the midst of change (The Eternity of God – Part 9).

by Isaac Overton

I sometimes get this feeling, although it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what to call it. I wonder if you can relate? It’s a feeling that comes with sadness when I catch up with people who I haven’t seen for a while, only to find that their life has been heading in a bad direction. It’s a feeling that comes with regret when I realise that my son is now ten years old, and I sense the weight of the many ways in which I have failed him. It’s a feeling that comes with anticipation, and perhaps even excitement, when some daunting change looms on the horizon of life. It’s a feeling that sometimes comes just from watching the wind roar through the tops of gum trees as they bend and move in its dance. I’m still not really getting at what I’m talking about here, but I guess the key thing here is: change. Change comes, bittersweet, sometimes sad, sometimes electric with excitement, and often with a sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Change.

At the age of 36, and soon to be 37, I’m beginning to seriously ask myself: am I going to be able to achieve in life the things that I want to achieve? Do I have time left to do them? Am I using the time I have now to make sure that I achieve them? Will I fall down and fail to watch it all fall apart? There’s a sense that time is passing away, and perhaps even that much time has already been lost. All these kinds of things can really leave us with a sense of unease, or low-level anxiety. But in the face of all this, the doctrine of God’s eternity is a balm for the soul.

In Psalm 90, I believe Moses sensed and captured the kind of feeling that I’m trying to express. Moses starts his meditation with a wonderful, devotional expression of the eternity of God: “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” (Ps 90:1-2). Here is a rock that stands firm in the midst of all of life’s changing tides – the Lord our dwelling place. He is the one constant, faithful, and unchanging good in our lives. When change makes us feel insecure, he is our refuge and dwelling place. There is a wonderful, grounding gravity that comes as the Spirit beds these truths in our hearts through meditating upon the Word of God.

Moses goes on in melancholic lament: “You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” (90:3). And yet “a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” There is an intrinsic sadness that comes with change in this life. It’s the sadness of a goodbye, the sadness of a life that is fading away. For this reason, we need consolation and comfort. In the words of Henry F. Lyte:

“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see,
O Lord who changes not, abide with me”

The psalm continues: “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a 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; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. 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. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” (Ps 90:6-10).

There is glory and beauty in this life. Yet it is a tarnished, fragmented, broken glory – broken by the fall of our first parents and the sinful legacy that mankind has built upon it over the millenia. And so, as Lyte says, “Change and decay in all around I see”. This is what it means to taste and have a foretaste of God’s wrath for our sin. There is death in the world, and the lava-lines of hellish fire flow not far beneath the ground. We can feel the heat, we can sense the danger. And yet, for those who come to Christ for comfort, there is consolation. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Ps 91:1-2).

There are certain species of salmon that are spawned in rivers, and they go out from them to live a life at sea. There comes a point for these salmon, where they return to their birth place after roaming for a time, and they fight their way upstream to birth the next generation in their place. These salmon face a long and perilous journey, and their strength is spent fighting against the tide of the river, swimming and swimming upstream. Yet as they swim, their organs begin to shut down, and their bodies fall apart and die even as the fish themselves continue to endure. In the words of author N.D.Wilson, it is “death by living.” At last the fish arrive at their destination, they procreate, and they expire.

In our own lives, we are not unlike those salmon. God has made us to be life-bearers, raising the next generation and passing on the Christ-light which is the life of all men – by which God generates new spiritual life in the dead. This is our life’s work – to create new life, to share life, to be tools in the hands of our God even as our life is poured out (2 Tim 4:6) and spent. And so, yes, we live still under the common curse of humanity, our bodies fail and die as our life is spent and expires. And yet, as the husk of our bodies are planted in coffins and buried in dirt, they are seeds planted even in the act of death (1 Cor 15:36).

We do know the sadness of change in this life, the sadness of a goodbye, and the perils of decay and danger. But we have hope and consolation in this life and the next – for our God is eternal, and is not subject to this curse as we are. Moses concludes his psalm with a series of petitions which we may take as prayers for ourselves: “So teach is to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

Change in this life can be a disturbing and troubling thing. However, even though we still experience the common curse of God in this life, though we feel the weight of death and decay about us, for us death is no longer the determining factor. It does not have the final say for the next life, and nor can it hamper God’s good plans for us in this life. As we find refuge in the Lord, forsaking any ultimate consolation that we might take from the things of this life, we can take confidence that the Lord will establish and prosper the work of our hands in this life. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). He will return, he will give us wisdom, and the sorrow of change in this life will be only a temporary affair, not worthy to be compared with the glory that is ours in Christ (Rom 8:18). “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27). SDG