Mortal Wisdom

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps 90:12).

One of Pascal’s constant themes in the Pensées is the vanishingly brief span of our lives in comparison with the everlasting time that opens before us after our deaths. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Ps 90:10). Blink, and you’ll be dead, and whatever comes next will endure a great deal longer than what came before. Might we enter, upon dying, into communion with the LORD? Or might we find ourselves separated agonizingly from him? Or might we simply pass into nothing? The stakes for our answer to this question couldn’t be higher, and yet we throw away our time in idle diversions.

Pascal offers a parable to illustrate: we’re like a group of prisoners, condemned to execution in just one hour, and unsure whether our appeal for a commutation of the sentence will be granted or not, but yet still using those final precious minutes to play cards (Pensées Sec. 163, p. 522b).

We need to learn to “number our days,” so that, impressed with the fleeting time set before us, we will pursue the LORD with the intensity that a condemned prisoner pursues the possibility of freedom.

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