Ikuro Teshima

Religion teaches us how to live while facing the profound question of death. One might feel it is pessimistic and unpleasant to ponder death, as many would rather avoid thinking about human frailty and pain. Yet to live without confronting death is to deceive oneself and is not in the true sense "living."

Today let us learn about this subject through a passage from Psalm 90.

God Exists beyond Time and Space

A Prayer of Moses the man 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,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
You turn man to destruction,
And say, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it is past,
And like a watch in the night.
You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
(Psalm 90:1-5)

As the title of Psalm 90 indicates, Moses was indeed a man of God. He lived over 3,000 years ago and desperately struggled to deliver the Israelites from slavery. He led them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan, but God did not allow Moses to enter Canaan. He saw the land only from the top of Mount Pisgah. Destined to die, he cried over life's loneliness.

Moses at the top of Mount Pisgah

If we assume this psalm is Moses' work, perhaps it reflects his deep emotion late in his life. The psalm teaches us not simply about the loneliness and transience of life but also about living dynamically, weathering life's storms. The psalmist can testify to this because he had overcome the impermanence of life with his strong, resilient Hebrew spirit. Thus, he sang that one understands life only when he has truly solved the question of death.

From verse 1 the phrase "all generations" means "not only in this world, but also in the next." When the psalmist first calls out to God, "Lord, You have been"—speaking to the infinite and everlasting One—the psalm becomes a prayer more than a poem.

When a frail human being calls out, "O God, who exists in all generations, in this world and the next," his groaning prayer becomes the birth cry of a soul, like a newborn causing God labor pains. That is the moment a soul is newly awakened, as the apostle Paul said in Acts 17:28: "In Him [God] we live and move and have our being."

Psalm 139:16 says, "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them." As proclaimed in this verse, we were known and formed by God before we were born; even after we die, we cannot escape His domain. Humans live in the everlasting bosom of God.

The World before Time

Psalm 90:2 begins, "Before the mountains were brought forth …" Why are mountains mentioned first? Compared with the inhabited plains, mountains are regarded as the more solid and steadfast landforms. Even before the formation of enduring mountains, "You are God."

"Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting"—yes, before the universe existed, He was and is God! This notion is certainly compelling.

Psalm 89:52 says, "Blessed be the Lord forevermore! Amen and Amen." Indeed, religion deals with eternity rather than time. Only if we gain insight into eternity will we comprehend the question of time.

Eternity in the original Hebrew text is olam, also translated as "forevermore," "everlasting," and "ages." Translations for the Greek word αιων (aion) include "an age" and "a cycle of time." However, these translations do not appropriately reflect the meaning of olam. The expression of verse 2, "Even from everlasting to everlasting"—from olam to olam—does not simply repeat an infinite length of time.

Olam, derived from the Hebrew alam, means "hidden" or "to conceal" In other words, eternity, which means "unending" is hidden and invisible. The eternal God really exists but is concealed.

We gain a sense of time after we are born into this world, but the times before birth and after death are beyond our comprehension—hidden mysteries.

Genesis opens with this: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (1:1). With the creation of the heavens and the earth, time was born; that is, the notion of time came into existence. It is the realm before creation, before time, that we call the hidden world, eternity (olam).

God exists from everlasting to everlasting. A concealed eternity exists before birth, and so does the hidden, everlasting world of mystery after death; this is a wonder and an awe to humans. We attempt to grasp eternity only when we are fearfully awestruck by the solemnness of what preceded creation! Psalm 139:15 proclaims, "My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." We were created as human beings in the hidden realm of eternity and sent to Earth. However, when death calls us, we in turn return to this hidden, everlasting world.

(1956)
(To be continued)