If we could know how long we have to live, would it change the waywe live? I’m fifty-four. If I could be guaranteed to live to eighty or ninety, would I make different plans for my life than if I thought that I was checking out at sixty-two? Well, this surmising is not new. In Psalm 39, David shared his thoughts on life and our lack of control about its length. He starts this conversation with God with a prayer.
“LORD, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days-that I may know how frail I am.” (39:4) David had been contemplating life in silence, but with this verse, he says what he’s really thinking. He wants God to reveal how long he has left to live. His purpose was to accurately assess how frail or how transient and fleeting his life was. I’m not sure what he would have done with this information. Would he have changed his ways or altered his plans if he knew?
He then acknowledges his own shortness of life. A lifetime was hardly longer than a hand is wide. And the best that man has to live is vanity or emptiness. He even went a step further by saying that man lives life like an empty illusion, just phantoms, so flimsy that he blows with the wind and is almost transparent. With all this gloom, David offers himself little hope until He remembers his relationship with God. God was his hope! The hope of humanity in its empty wanderings.
So, would knowing how long we have left to live really change us? Would we behave differently? Would I? This question reminds me of one of my favorite short stories, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In it the good doctor invites four elderly friends to his home for an experiment in turning back time, or at least reversing aging. He has water from the Fountain of Youth. Before his small audience, he tests the water on a withered rose, which returns to freshness within moments. The four friends are eager to see themselves young and fresh too and agree to imbibing the water. Within minutes, the four become young again. But sadly, their lifetime of living did not make them wise. The three men began fighting over the now beautiful widow. In the fight, the vase is smashed and the four return to their ancient selves. Their vanity and empty thoughts ruined their opportunity to live life a second time with more wisdom and less regrets.
King David certainly understood the heart of man with his description of its empty illusions. But the hope for man lies in God Himself. David reminds himself of this: “And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.” (39:7) Hope here is more than just a wishful thought. It means to wait with confident expectation. Although life and humanity are disappointing, God is NOT. In a psalm of woe, the one hope is found in the center by focusing on God and the hope that He offers. God’s greatest hope became clear with His greatest gift, eternal life. Through the finished work of the death and resurrection of Jesus, man no longer needs to measure only his lifetime, but he can also count on an eternity with God; endless time tacked onto the end of fleeting and vain lives.
The value of our lives as well as the length and quality of life are a gift from God. If my life is centered on God, then I can hope and wait with eager expectation for my eternity and allow that to influence my current life. “LORD, my hope is in You.”