Standing on the Eternal Shore between Life and Death

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.

An Island in the Eternal Sea

A movie titled This Island Earth was released years ago (1955). We can compare the earth with an island—a spot floating in the void of the universe in the vast expanse of the sea and suitable for nurturing human beings. Suppose we name this island “Life Island” instead of “Earth.” On this island, humans are born. Some live as long as one hundred years—long after coming out of the hidden, mysterious world; others die as infants or young adults.

The place where the everlasting world and Life Island merge is the eternal shore. (See diagram.) Outside the island is the hidden realm before birth and after death. Ultimately, people die and fall into this mysterious eternal realm. All living creatures are born somewhere on the earth, then perish and disappear to somewhere else.

“Before . . . You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:2). When humans are born on the earth, they become aware of time. However, the realm before birth, the everlasting world, is under God’s control; His world is hidden from human beings.

What It Means to Live in Eternity

Even if we think with our minds, we appear to know what it means to live in eternity, but really we cannot. Once we recognize the invisible realm, we will know what it means to pray. Hence, the prophet Isaiah said, “Truly You are God, who hide Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isaiah 45:15)! Therefore, the Lord Jesus admonished, “When you pray . . . pray to your Father who is in the secret place” (Matthew 6:6).

Discovering the hidden God is our greatest discovery in life.

When Moses was nearing death, he called to the hidden God from the summit of Pisgah and prayed for compassion from this eternal God: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1).

Not only in this world but also in the next, and even before this earth came into being in the great universe, we were already living inside God’s bosom. Once we understand in whom we are living, there is no need to be frightened of illness and other adversities. Even when death, the greatest of all fears, approaches us, it ceases to be death for those who know what it is to live in eternity—within God. Hereafter begins the solution to the problem of death. Strong are those who break through death as one period of time and live in eternal life.

I often think that once I depart from this island called Earth and jump into the ocean of eternal love, things will become even more enjoyable. Truly, I wish I could leave this earth and swiftly set sail.

God, Who Sees in the Hidden Place

Psalm 90:1 begins, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all gen-erations.” Here, “dwelling place” is translated from the Hebrew word maon, meaning “habitation”—a place where one dwells in safety, protected from danger. Indeed! God is eternally love above all love throughout the three realms of time: past, present, and future. We simply travel through these realms embraced in God’s eternal love.

True prayer is to pray toward God in “alam (hiding).” Jesus Christ said, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6). When we pray, why should we pray to the hidden God? Because prayer is truly to shake the invisible hidden realm beyond the limits of time and space.

Offer prayer upon prayer, and pray! Prayer is not begging for something from the dazzling and luring material world or from those who possess power; neither is it to acquire something through demonstrations like those of a labor union. Prayer is to be known by Father God and rewarded by Him who dwells in the hidden place. Waves of prayer moving toward the hidden spiritual realm return to the world of phenomena inhabited by us and inevitably make ripples that cause the phenomenal world to shake.

Therefore, more than anything we must offer prayer upon prayer—and pray! Evil thoughts result in evil, and waves of good thoughts surely result in good phenomena. Prayer brings forth unexpected results before we know it. When we have almost forgotten our prayers and wishes, God remembers and answers them. Don’t you think such wonders of prayers are marvelous?

Shake the Everlasting World

If we come to grasp the meaning of “from everlasting to everlasting world,” we can live more dynamically because the hidden and mysterious realm creates the visible realm.

As we live in the Lord, the invisible and mysterious realm always responds to our prayers. When we appeal to the invisible realm, God responds to us, resulting in a phenomenon of one form or another. As it is said, “The things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The hidden, inexhaustible world constitutes all of time, space, and material objects. All things emerge from there, be they materials, money, or one’s status.

God is much greater than we think. Therefore, unless we possess large-scale thinking that surpasses our common sense and human reasoning, we can neither comprehend the world of God nor pray. Try to make an appeal to the eternal realm. You will be surprised to find how responsively your prayer is answered. The power that pierces from the eternal realm to the phenomenal world causes great activity. Without the cooperation of this supernatural power, one will fail.

Although we say, “I believe in God,” we tend to strive for good results within only our own small world. Why don’t we try to gain good results by obeying God’s great authority, thus shaking the invisible world? Try to shake the mysterious and supernatural world! Your prayers will surely be answered! Conditions will become unexpectedly favorable, and things will materialize for the one who takes action.

Looking up to God’s eternal nature, we feel the impermanence of our short lives. We may suffer from misery and loneliness. Life is harsh and yet precious for people who live life based on only the nothingness of death.

I once composed the following tanka:*

Extreme loneliness do I endure. I wish to offer prayer
‘Til I have poured out my soul into the twilight sky.

Bearing great loneliness, we offer our prayer to God. Where finitude and infinity intersect, humans feel misery and loneliness. However, the hidden eternal world is truly full of an abundance of love, good will, and power even though it is silent. To be amazed at this great discovery is the culmination of Psalm 90.

* * **Tanka, or waka, is a traditional Japanese poem consisting of five verses of 5–7–5–7–7 syllables.

A Thousand Years Are like One Day

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.

In God’s world the time units by which humans count are like nothing—and practically irrelevant. Man was created from the dust of the ground; he came from the dust and returns to dust. To know this fact leads us to realize what eternity is. “A thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past” means that one thousand years go by just as yesterday passed by. But in the eyes of the eternal God, a thousand years are like one moment.

God’s Time Flows from the Future

You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:

Verse 5 is akin to the flood that recently struck my city, Kumamoto—an overwhelming flow of water swallowing everything. “You carry them away like a flood” depicts a gushing stream flowing like from a waterfall.

We tend to think that time runs from the past to the future; on the contrary, the biblical perspective is that God’s time flows from the future to the past. Our daily life of faith hinges on how we view time. For example, some attribute their present misfortune to their past, which they think determines their present. Binding themselves by the law of causation, they focus on and blame their past and lament their present.

On the contrary, people with true faith should not hold such a view of time; they should not feel sorry, for they know that everything comes from the eternal world and that time comes from the presence of God. However bad one’s past may have been, there is a stream with tremendous energy that can completely overturn both the past and present. God’s time flows and pours forth from the future world toward the present. There exists a river of life that pours out like an overflowing flood. Now let us raise our eyes and look up to the future!

In Acts 3 Peter preached that the time of Christ had come and that the gospel had begun. From the day of Pentecost the souls of the disciples greatly changed because “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). The Greek words καιροι αναψυξεωζ (kairoi anapshukseos), translated “times refresh” might as well be translated as “times of refreshing.” “times of revival” or “times of reviving.” When we live in the flowing life of Christ—a new current of time—and time thrusts forth from the presence of the Lord, we will also be saved. Peter and the rest of Jesus’ disciples were revived and refreshed by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. At such a time “Your peace would have been like a river” (Isaiah 48:18).

The breath of the eternal One flows and so does the time of spiritual comfort. Unless we touch such spiritual atmosphere, we will not be saved. Even if we try to repent and return to God, we cannot do so on our own. However, once we abide by the current of revival, we will instantly experience a spiritual conversion and rebirth by God’s love.

Ikuro Teshima