However, his sense of despair could not be repressed much longer. What troubled him was not just the brevity of life, as short as "hand-breadths" (v. 6), nor was it the fear of death, but a paralyzing sense of the worthlessness and vanity of human existence. What is the use of all this hustle and bustle? "Man is a mere futility, . he gains wealth, not knowing who will use it.. Everything dear to him vanishes like a moth" (v. 7, 12). Stripped of hope and meaning in this life, he turns to God: "What may I expect, O God? In You lies my hope" (v. 8).

The psalmist was left to wonder about the brevity of life. Is it a waste and futility? Believing, however, that he may have dialogue with God, he hoped God would pay attention to his prayer and tears even though he was of small account, a mere "stranger and sojourner": "Hear my prayer, O God, and give ear to my cry; keep not silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You and a sojourner, as all my ancestors were" (v. 13). Having scaled down his expectations, he would settle for very little: "Spare me and let me have some comfort before I go and be no more" (v. 14).

Reflection: Death
From the human point of view, death is an incomprehensible scandal. It drives home not only the brevity of life but the indignity of being reduced, in the end, to a condition no better than that of insects. Franz Kafka, in one of his parables, tells of the transformation of a human being into a cockroach. The psalmist compares man to a moth: "Like a moth You make his beauty to be consumed. Surely every person is vanity" (v. 12). Other psalmists affirm the presence of God at the very heights of enthusiasm. The author of Psalm 8, for example, is enthralled by God's majesty, reflected in the heavens and in the order of nature on Earth. However small the human creature appears to be in the cosmic context, man still is God's crowning creation, destined to rule over all other creatures on Earth. The author of Psalm 19 is jubilant at the sight of the heavenly bodies that run their orbits, under God's laws and God's spiritual gifts to man. On the other hand, the author of Psalm 39 speaks to us out of the depths of futility as he contemplates the prospect of annihilation in death. In his condition of helplessness, he feels driven into the arms of God: "And now, God, what do I wait for? My hope, it is in You" (v. 8). He believes in his abiding connection with God through prayer. "Hear my prayer, O God, and give ear unto my cry. Keep not silence at my tears." (v. 13). Evidently, the human being, even if reduced to a moth, is significant enough to have a relationship with God.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus