Is anything permanent? Can anything endure without change through ages of time? If we look around us, we must answer, nothing. The impermanence of all things, the transitory nature of all creatures has always plagued men’s minds since the beginning of time. Time moves on. One second follows another, day follows day, and year follows year with ceaseless, irrevocable certainty. And as surely as time progresses, so surely do the creatures of time suffer change. Each moment, each event has its appointed time, then, passing into oblivion it is seen no more. “All things change,” cried the ancient Greek, and I think there was the scent of sadness in his complaint. That change and impermanence are everywhere is simply a fact, known to us all. But that fact is also a source of uneasiness, of anxiety, and of fear. For who can tell what the future will bring? Who knows whether there will be health or sickness, whether war or peace, whether fortune or famine? No one can tell. Only one thing do we know with certainty, and that is that tomorrow will not be the same as today.
We cannot look to the earth for stability and permanence. For in the earth is nothing but alteration: all is transitory and fleeting, all is in constant turmoil. The farmer knows this full well. He may till his land, remove the stones and kill the weeds and drive off the birds, but wind and rain, erosion and blight are forces which he cannot control; even though prosperity may prevail today, tomorrow the fertile fields may be turned to wilderness by wind and floods.
Nor can we find permanence in the works of men. The Pharoahs seeking to build themselves lasting memorials, constructed gigantic pyramids, but even these things of cold, inanimate stone are buffeted and buried by the shifting sands of Egypt. Year by year, century by century, they are worn down, slowly being destroyed by time itself.
Men today are also driven by the desire and the longing for that which endures, which is not subject to the law of universal change. Can houses and barns, automobiles and treasures of silver withstand time’s ravages? We realize with sorrow that they cannot. Houses wear out; the barns decay, and automobiles and machinery break down.
But the instability of things is minor compared with the transitoriness of life itself. Man himself realizes all too painfully how frail he is. Man, of all God’s creatures, changes most perceptibly and most completely. Each moment of life lasts but an instant and then vanishes completely. The infant becomes the child, the child becomes the youth, the youth becomes the adult, and after but a few years, life is gone. Nothing can be repeated; no moment can be continued. A song floats on the breeze but once, the last sweet lingering note of music hangs on the air, fades into a sigh, and then is gone forever. Can the song be brought back? Can we hold it fast and never let it vanish? We know we cannot. It is gone, never to return, and though you sing it again, it is not the same song and you are not the same person. All things change and we change with them. That is the reason why there is so much sadness in the impermanence of nature; it reflects the impermanence of our selves. The aged, nearing the end of life’s span, knows the full measure of the frailty of man, but age has no monopoly on this knowledge. Youth, with all its hoping and striving and planning for the future, experiences also that the future for which it plans is nothing but uncertainty. Tomorrow will be different from today, but beyond that we do not know.
David, with the combined vision of saint and poet, expresses this awful reality by comparing man’s life with the grass of the field: “In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth.”
But David, because he was saint as well as poet, saw beyond the transient insubstantialities of time to the only eternal, unchangeable reality, that which alone is the firm and stable support for our reeling minds and hearts. All things change; all we creatures change and pass away, but there is One who endures from everlasting to everlasting, and who is always the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. What does it matter that this world passes away with all that is in it? In Christ we have the permanence of the heavenly abode and this permanence guides our lives even now. “The lovingkindness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him.” Who can then be dismayed at the alterations of time? With such an assurance we can only respond as David did, with a heartfelt and fervent “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”