“Teach me to number my days aright, so I can gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12).
As I type those words, I’m struck by the fact that it seems backwards. Can you see it? Shouldn’t it read, “Give me a heart of wisdom, so I can number my days aright”? Wisdom begets right numbering, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, but wisdom never arrives in a vacuum. Especially to a Hebrew like David. He viewed time as circular. We view time as linear. Hebrews viewed it as cyclical. Kind of a “circle of life” sorta deal.
Does our view of time matter? At first blush, maybe not. But think with me. If time is linear, I can more easily say things like, “That was then. This is now.” It was a moment in time, a blip, and I’m not constrained to make the same mistake again.” Water under the bridge is water under the bridge. I build on the past but I am not bound by it. If time is circular, I can more easily see that what happened last time will come around and happen again unless something changes to prevent it. Water under the bridge is like the current in a lazy river at a water park. It recirculates, passing under the bridge over and over again.
If time is linear, I may not learn from past mistakes because I’m convinced it’s just a one time occurrence; life has changed and it won’t happen again because I will never be in exactly this position again. If time is circular, I know I must learn from the past because I’m convinced history will repeat itself unless I change things. But I may also feel like things will repeat themselves no matter what I do. It could breed a kind of fatalism.
But what if… time is both linear and circular? Like a spiral either going up or going down depending on how I respond to what happened the last time around? That, to me, seems about right.
So back to the verse: When David says, “Teach me to number my days aright, so that I gain a heart of wisdom,” he means that in the process of living a life ordered properly, he will learn something. And the circular-time part of his psyche knows that he will apply this wisdom the next time around. He understands that he can’t always afford to learn things the hard way, so he essentially prays, “Tell me what to do today. I may not grasp the wisdom in it right away, so help me see the wisdom in it on the fly… cause I don’t want to waste another day on the costly wisdom that comes from making costly mistakes.”
Amen? Cause I only have one life to live, and it’s too short to explore every dead end.