A man is musing upon the swift changes of life and upon its impending end. As he reflects, he is reminded that the scenes of life appear and then, like the cool dew before the rising sun, disappear. Perhaps his mind wanders back to childhood, to familiar scenes, the village or town or countryside where he spent his earliest years. They’re gone. Memory of those scenes is made sweeter by the widening chasm of the years. Or maybe his thought focuses for a moment on those dear faces and strong characters who sat around the hearth when he was a boy or walked past the house where he played. The elders of the neighborhood who, it seemed then, would always be close by, with their firm expressions, their strong arms and rough hands which could become so tender in comforting childhood heartbreak. Alas, they are gone, he realizes as he shakes his head.
In this frame of mind, a man sets down this living song, realizing that change and time are working their steady erosion and unending decay. Scenes and friends of other days are all passed away, and he himself is marching toward a grave. Maybe as he looks up, he says, “The good earth and large blue sky will remain as fixed points in a constantly changing scene.” But then the writer realizes that the earth, which has borne countless generations, is under sentence of decay and death, and the broad, blue blanket of the sky has its rendezvous with change. The heavens shall perish. “They shall wax old like a garment,” he says. As a piece of clothing, they shall be put off when worn and threadbare, and he himself, the thinker, was on his way to becoming a corpse. He who mourned at many a grave would soon be the mourned for. Where he had followed funeral processions, others would follow his. Thus, from his pained and saddened heart, there leapt a prayer, quivering in its urgency, trembling in its poignancy: “O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days.” Midst all this fluidity, in the very presence of all this change, there was a fixed point, one who would outlast the burning suns and outlive the stainless snows. God is eternal! “Thou art the same,” he cried, “and thy years shall have no end,” so states Psalm 102. Here in this hope, the psalmist takes his stand.
There are times when we are sharply reminded of the swift shift of life’s scenes and circumstances. We meet an old and treasured friend after years of not seeing each other, and an almost painful tug is at the heart upon noting the changes the years have wrought in the countenance of that friend. A fragrance, a sentence in a book, or a picture suddenly reminds us of the dear, dead days that come not back again, and we know again a kind of sweet sorrow in our memories. We are under sentence at the same time to continue moving. There is here no abidingness in the things that are physical. Childhood’s gay skip soon becomes maturity’s dull trudge. The middle years pass so rapidly into the evening season, when so much of living is a memory of days that were and are no more. All the while, around us there is the increasing number of empty places where once sat those we knew and loved. We think of them and pause a moment with the wistfulness of Tennyson when he wrote, “Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.”
Then again, we lament when we read these memorable words from the wise old book: “All flesh is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth.” We need midst the flux and change abiding-ness. The men who go to sea have little that is fixed. You can stand on the deck of an oceangoing ship and you will see water, water all around, as a familiar piece of poetry has it. All the heaving, foaming waves look the same. There is no way in watching the ocean to gauge distance, since there is no fixed point in the never-resting sea by which to measure movement. The skies overhead offer no landmark, save one. The seaman sets his course by the North Star, for midst all the ceaseless, changing turbulence of earth and sky, the North Star remains fixed, and thus he charts his course.
Amidst this restless, rolling, raging sea we call life, is there a North Star, a fixed point in the creation, a constant in the presence of change, an abidingness where all else is decay? Yes, there is one, only one, the psalmist would say. God is here! We must sail life’s voyage by his position or become derelicts on the face of a heaving sea. God is the same. He shall endure. “His years have no end,” wrote the man. His judgment hangs over our years. Have you ever thought what it would be like to have a God deciding our faith who is subject to change in his view of right and wrong? Deep within us, there pulsates a desire to do right, to be right. I do not believe that any mentally and spiritually healthy person desires to do wrong. There is no pleasure in our transgressions, really. We are in quest of peace and satisfaction, and if our choice of goals is sometimes dreadfully wrong, it is not because we will to be evil. We desire the right. Suppose for a moment that the God who is the umpire of our deeds was shifting and changing in his standards of goodness and evil. What an impossible scramble life would be! Where there are no standing rules, no abiding principles that stand no matter what happens, those who live under such misrule are frustrated, and those who deal with such meaninglessness are rendered helpless and bewildered.