Psm 39: 4-5: "Show me, O LORD, my life's end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath.
Man is but a mear phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
He heaps up wealth, not knowing who will
But now, LORD, what do I look for?
My hope is in you."
To get a better feeling (I am a mathematician) for
what it might mean for the years of my life to
be "but a breath" I make the following calculations:
Assume 3-7 seconds/breath and 70 years/Lifespan.
If the passage is taken to be giving a comparison
of human vs cosmic time spans then
70 years/(3 to 7 seconds) = U years/70 years.
This gives U (age of the Cosmos?) in the range of
U about 15 billion to 154 billion years.
While I agree that the Psalmist did not
intend to communicate a precise numerical
comparison of our relative significance,
this calculation (and the modern cosmological
time scales) do help me to gain a very striking
cause for humility in the face of my own tendency
for a vaunted self image if sufficiency, power and
knowledge. An age of the cosmos on the order of 10, 000 years
does not do this, and, I think, does not reflect the
teaching of this Psalm.
Bruce N. Lundberg
Department of Mathematics
University of Southern Colorado
2200 Bonforte Blvd.
Pueblo, Colorado 81001-4901
phone: (719) 549-2482
P.S. I would be interested in any comments. Has anyone
seen this idea elsewhere for Psm 39 or for other
passages which teach us about the relative significance
of human life, power or knowledge in comparison to God?
When I think about the modern cosmological model in its
length, number and time scale, I am driven to
the last line of Psm 39:5 quoted above.