We just celebrated our 33rd anniversary. My wife just celebrated her 55th birthday [She gave me permission to say the number]. Although I’m going back to work in a few days for my 19th year as a professor, thoughts of retirement are beginning with less than ten years till the usual retirement age in Canada. Psalm 92:12-15 has some encouraging words for those of us who are in the second half of life. My body may be showing signs of deterioration but I want to still “bear fruit” and stay “fresh and green” as I age.

And another Steve Bell song is playing in my head! He re-released the song “Fresh and Green” based on Psalm 92, along with all his other songs based on the Psalms. The album came with a companion book of meditations and in the chapter on Psalm 92 he reflects on the faith of his aging mother. I too have benefitted from parents and parents-in-law who have modeled a righteous life into their senior years. I hope to be as fresh and green. “God is my rock” is comforting when life is changing.

 

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I am reading Psalm 90 in light of the fact that 73 years ago the USA dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima [August 6] and Nagasaki [August 9]. It is a sobering remembrance but if we do not remember we are bound to repeat it. Psalm 90 is about the brevity of life so perhaps these events are an appropriate background for our reading the next few days. Hopefully none of us will meet a death so horrifying as the citizens of those cities experienced but this psalm does remind us how fleeting life is. Closer to home, today was also the funeral for a distant relative of mine whom I’ve never met—Samuel Isaac Brandt—who died suddenly at the age of 37. We do not know when we will breathe our final breath. This does not mean we live with a sense of dread but with gratefulness for each new day. CARPE DEIM! Seize the day! [v.15]

Although Psalm 90 has a kind of a hopeless and negative view of life [v.9-10], I find comfort in God’s timelessness [v.2] and unfailing love [v.14].

A few lines in the psalm also reminded me of Steve Bell’s song based on Psalm 90 from many years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SorOK6H0qTM

Summer in Canada is the time for everything positive: longer days, more sunshine, warm temperatures, time off school and work, family vacations, fresh fruit and garden produce, green grass and trees, and all kinds of outdoor activities. I have had a very good summer so far. I work on a ten month contract every year which allows me to have eight weeks of alternative activities in the summer. The first two weeks were spent working hard physically as I constructed rock walls and stairs around and in the garden to replace rotten wooden retaining walls. I also put up a new rain barrel and finished off a garden studio/playhouse in the backyard. Sweat and physical exertion are a wonderful therapy from the mental and emotional work during the academic year! The second two weeks were spent traveling to Manitoba to visit our extended families. This year we deliberately took the slow road [#3 through Crowsnest Pass] and enjoyed ourselves with our first experience of tent camping in 25+ years! After the physical and relational work it was good to rest and not do much of anything this past week.

And then in the middle of a wonderful summer Psalm 88 assaults me! This is the darkest, gloomiest, and most negative of all the psalms we have read so far. It has no redemptive qualities and no rescue from troubles, not even a “someday I will praise the Lord” at the end. It begins and ends with negativity. From a modern psychological perspective we could say that the author seems to be suffering from a severe depression. Regardless of all the positivities of summer there are people who are in a deep depression right now. No amount of sunshine, green grass, and frisbee in the park can lift them out. In Psalm 88, we do not know whether “Heman” was experiencing difficult circumstances or a pervasive illness—the darkness, despair, and fatigue are the same. Psalm 88 gives words to pray for those who are in that dark place, even in the brightest days of summer. I have struggled with depression at various times in my life and last summer I was praying Psalm 88 in a real way. I’m thankful that this summer is not nearly as dark.

PS On the “Psalms Project” tab I have posted a sermon on Psalm 88 I preached a few years ago as well as a related sermon on mental illness preached in my home church a few months ago.

 

I have been away for two weeks, traveling from BC to Manitoba and back. Thanks for all your comments while I was away. I’ll confess that I read Psalms 79-83 in one reading to catch up. It seemed to me that they continued a similar theme to 78. Most of these psalms are a communal cry of “save us from our enemies” perhaps encapsulated by the repeated refrain of Psalm 80:3,7,19 and appropriately ending with a statement that Yahweh is the ruler over all the earth [83:18].

This theme of national oppression was difficult to relate to as I was traveling across western Canada experiencing the varied beauty of our geography the past few weeks. The theme of rescue from enemies is also difficult to relate to as we spent time with family members and friends who love us and care for us. Either I have to take a sneak peek at 84 and 85 which are much more positive pilgrim psalms or put myself into the shoes of someone else who is experiencing oppression. My first thought was of the two refugee families from Iraq that people in our church are sponsoring. They have spent years in refugee camps and now finally they are making the long journey to Canada. I’m sure they have prayed a few of the lines from these psalms over the past few years.

Psalm 84 better encapsulates my experience of the past few weeks. The dwelling place referred to here is probably the temple but I know very few people who would not say that they experience God more out in nature than anywhere else. God dwells in creation. I saw God in the vibrant green and pink fireweed contrasted with the blackened burned trees. I saw God in the majestic mountains and the grinding glaciers. I felt God in the wind waving the long grasses of the prairies. I experienced God’s presence and love in our families and friends.

Psalm 84 and 85 often go together as they are called “pilgrim psalms” and that too has been my theme as I traveled through provinces I have previously lived and spent time with people who have helped me on my journey of life.

Psalm 78 recalls various events in the history of the people of Israel and reminds the hearers of the lessons they can learn from these. It is interesting that the reading of this psalm over the next week or so will include the national holidays of both Canada and the USA.

Most readers of the Bible will have observed how the narrative in the Bible about God’s work with humanity expands from individuals, to a nation, to all people. The purpose always was that “all people on earth will be blessed” [Genesis 12:3] never that God chose an individual or nation for its own specialness or that some have a special destiny. Individuals and nations have often forgotten this and have become prideful, arrogant, and narrow-minded—thinking that somehow they are the only ones God wants to bless. A central prophetic call in both testaments is to widen this perspective [e.g. Jonah, Romans].

Following ancient Israel, both Canada and the USA have had this idea of manifest destiny during their history—and some leaders perhaps still think so—that God has somehow specially chosen them as a nation for a special role in the world. Even the creation of the modern state of Israel by western “Christendom nations” is an example of the misguided view that God favours some individuals and nations over others. All nations are subject to the same divine justice. There is no nation more special than another and no individual more special than another in God’s view.

All of us have lessons we can learn from history. So, as we read about the lessons from the history of ancient Israel while celebrating the modern nations of Canada and the USA, what lessons emerge from the history of our own nations? How do the lessons from the history of Israel still speak to us today?

 

Psalm 73 explores one of the classic philosophical questions: Why do the wicked prosper? Why do good people suffer? This is injustice and it is part of the human psyche to desire fairness. What do you think of how the writer of Psalm 73 responds to the problem?

Note: Although Christians sometimes read traditional views of heaven [as a reward for good people] and hell [as punishment for the wicked] into this psalm, the ancient Israelites did not have a concept of the afterlife such as this. Everyone simply went to SHEOL, the grave or place of the dead.

Yesterday was Aboriginal Day in Canada. Perhaps indigenous people are asking this question more poignantly than anyone. The conquerors of their land are enjoying prosperity while they are languishing in poverty on reservations. This is injustice.

Yesterday [June 19] in 1865, slaves from Galveston, Texas, became the last to know of their newfound freedom. Union soldiers finally reached this city and read aloud Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation, which had declared two and a half years earlier that all American slaves had been freed, although for many their bondage continued.

Psalm 72 is an appropriate psalm for this occasion. A wonderful blessing on a leader who defends the needy, delivers the afflicted and brings prosperity to the land. Perhaps this prayer is more pleasant to pray than the previous post!

Trivial details: This psalm is the only one “of Solomon” and was probably written for his coronation ceremony or some occasion celebrating his reign. Verse 20 says that this concludes the prayers of David. The editors got this wrong as 108, etc. are also psalms of David. We have also come to the midpoint of the Book of Psalms and the end of Book 3 as we come to the midpoint of the “Psalms in a Year” project.