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People Are Like Grass

With dark poetic strokes, David the psalmist reminds us that there is no human permanence, and that even though we may thrive for a short time, we ultimately will succumb to a withering death. He writes that the only permanence on which we can count is that the world will not remember us once we’re gone. He compares us to grass, and puts it like this: “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (Psalm 103:15-16).”

Isaiah the prophet visits this imagery as well, but he adds an even more dispiriting comparison. He says that whatever goodness, beauty, or faithfulness that exists in us is temporary and inferior. He writes that when we are met with not just the wind, but with the normally life-giving breath of God, our beauty, our goodness, and our faithfulness fade away like sunburnt grass, and starving, thirsty flowers (Isaiah 40:6-7). It is as if he is noting that we just don’t have what it takes to live in the presence of the one who created us! In fact, he later argues that in some cases, human goodness is like filthy menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6)! He ends this passage with a bleak reminder: “but the word of our Lord endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). Why is that bleak? Because God proclaimed that our sins cause certain death (Genesis 2:17).

Interestingly, John the Baptist quotes from a section of Isaiah’s prophecy that includes the passage on withering grass (Isaiah 40:1-8), as he proclaims the arrival of Jesus (Mark 1:1-8). And it is Jesus who gives us life, and rescues us from the death we earned in the Garden of Eden. Peter reinforces the truth of this rescue when he quotes Isaiah and David in 1 Peter 1:22-25. He reminds us that our current bodies are, indeed, like grass. However, he points out that our obedience to the gospel has changed us. Who we really are is not like grass at all. He argues that we have been born again. And this birth was not from seed that perishes like flowers in the hot dry sun, but is a birth from the word of God which lasts forever. We have overcome death, and have a new life that flows from God. His breath no longer withers us, but enlivens us! We may have to fight with these temporary bodies for a time, but once they wither, we’ll be given new imperishable bodies that will have within them a spring of life (John 4:14).

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