The end of our days
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
What do you think of when you see a sunset? I watch for them with longing, hoping to witness a burst of fire within distant clouds or blowing dust. Such sights remind me of Exodus 33:18, when Moses asks God to reveal His glory. As Psalm 19 notes, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
If the sunset brings forth burning skies, I feel blessed, for these displays remain something of a rarity in my life, creating treasured memories. Indeed, you can see multiple images of the last one I caught in my website photo albums. It was pretty cool!
But if this twilight leads me straight into night, I still feel blessed, for as I prepare to mark my 61st year of life, I still find that transition from light to darkness quite gripping… not just for the inherent drama and mystery, but the questions it raises again and again of my mortality. One day, who knows when, I will face my last sunset.
That is not a morbid thought, but a calling. Psalm 90:12 recommends this in a prayer to our Lord: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 39:4 encourages us to seek even more: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”
The web actually provides some shallow insight here. Since my birth, I have lived 22,251 days, according to birthdayanswers.com. That adds up to more than 530 thousand hours, or 32 million minutes… many of which I’ve wasted in pursuit of meaningless drivel. Few of those days, hours, minutes do I remember with any clarity, though our Lord does, along with the uncounted others that proceeded my birth. But then, He’s God. “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night,” Moses said of our Lord in the song we call Psalm 90.
Of course, our minds could never compile, maintain, and comprehend such data. Indeed, the New Testament book of James reminds us of how foolish it is to try. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,’” James wrote in his book’s fourth chapter. “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
James borrows a spiritual metaphor common in the Old Testament. It’s not just symbolic, but drawn from our creation experience, as noted in Genesis 2:7 – “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
That evokes poetic symbolism. Take Psalm 78:39 – “He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.” Job 7:7 carries that another way, saying, “Remember that my life is a breath.” Psalm 144:4 takes a harder stance – “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” – while Psalm 102:11 links this analogy to twilight: “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” Psalm 39:5 sums it up as part of God’s plan: “Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”
Those people saddened by such talk miss the point. Sunsets vividly remind me to treasure each moment of life, for it is an incredible, if fleeting experience. Our Lord Himself said so, as noted in Genesis 1:31 – “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Psalm 139:14 reminds us to thank God for this: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
That said, Scripture often reminds us that we were created for greater things than earthly delights. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 6, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The apostle Paul added to this in Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
All of this underscores why our Lord made us in the first place. As noted in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This leads us into one of the greatest blessings of twilight and night, and one of the most fundamental promises of our Lord. Psalm 4:8 spells it out for us: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 127:2 chides those who overlook this, saying, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Psalm 116:7 pleads, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
Sleep… rest… both have symbolic links to death. But rest is also a practical matter to God – so much so, He devoted one day of our week to it. In Isaiah 30:15, the Lord tells His people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 40:31 echoes that: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
This leads to one of the most interesting aspects of sunsets, for even the most fiery displays may calm our hearts and souls, positioning us not only for rest, but to know Him. Indeed, resting is a recommended path to reach out to God. Psalm 37:7 tells us to “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Our Lord repeated this in Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Jesus, who embodies all these aspects as the Son of God, made this a very personal plea. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” he said in Matthew 11:28-30. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In Christ, the concepts of sleep, rest, and death take on new meaning. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” John writes in chapter 3, verses 16 and 17. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Christ made this very clear. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said, as recorded in John 11:25. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Three chapters later John offers another direct quote that strikes home: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” said Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
For those who struggle with this in our fast-paced, high-tech age, the apostle Paul offers this advice. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” he wrote in Philippians 4:6-7. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The peace of God… something else to look for in a sunset… indeed, in all creation, among all the other “invisible qualities” of our Lord, to quote Romans 1:20.
Thank you for reading this! Let us close with Numbers 6:24-26 – “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Amen!