(Another look at Psalm 73)
THIS is Asaph speaking. And let me make one point clear at the outset. I know for a fact that God is good to Israel, to the upright and the pure in heart. The truth is so obvious that you’d think no one would ever question it.
But there was a time when I actually began to wonder. My stance on the subject became very wobbly, and my faith almost took a temporary tumble. You see, I began to think how well off the wicked are — lots of money, plenty of pleasures, no troubles — and soon I was wishing that I were like them.
Everything seems to be going their way. They don’t have as much physical suffering as believers do. Their bodies are healthy and sleek (naturally — they can afford the best of everything). They escape many of the troubles and tragedies of decent people like ourselves. And even if trouble should strike them, they are heavily insured against every conceivable form of loss. No wonder they are so self-confident. They are as proud as a peacock and ruthless as a tiger. Just as their bodies seem to overflow with fatness, so their minds are spilling over with crooked schemes. And are they ever arrogant! They scoff and curse at their underlings and treat them as if they were dirt, threatening them continually. Even God Himself does not escape their malice. Their speech is punctuated with profanity, and they brazenly blaspheme Him. Their tongue swaggers and struts through the earth, as if to say: “Here I come: get out of my way.”
Most of the ordinary people think that they are great. They bow and scrape and show utmost respect. No matter what the wicked do, the people find no fault with them. And this only confirms the oppressors in their arrogance. They figure that if there is a God, He certainly doesn’t know what’s going on. So they feel safe in pursuing their careers of crookedness. And there they are — cushioned in luxury and getting richer all the time.
Well, I began to think, What good has it done me to live a decent, honest, respectable life? The hours I’ve spent in prayer. The time spent in the Word. The distribution of funds to the work of the Lord. The active testimony for the Lord, both public and private. All I’ve got from it has been a daily dose of suffering and punishment. I wondered if the life of faith was worth the cost.
Of course, I never shared my doubts and misgivings with other believers. I knew better than to do that. I often thought of the man who said: “Tell me of your certainties; I have doubts enough of my own.” So I kept all my doubts to myself, lest I should offend or stumble some simple, trusting soul.
But still the whole business was a riddle to me: the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. It seemed so hard to understand. In fact, it wore me out trying to solve the problem.
Then something wonderful happened. One day I entered into the sanctuary of the Lord — not the literal Temple in Jerusalem, but the heavenly sanctuary. I entered there by faith. As I was complaining to the Lord about the prosperity of the wicked in this life, the question suddenly flashed across my mind: “Yes, but what about the life to come?” The more I thought about their eternal destiny, the more everything came into focus.
So I spoke to the Lord, something like this: Lord, now I realise that, despite all appearances, the life of the wicked is a precarious existence. They are walking on the slippery edge of a vast precipice. Sooner or later they fall over to their doom. In a moment they are cut off — swept away by a wave of terrors too horrible to contemplate. They are to me like a dream when one awakens in the morning — the things that disturbed the dreamer are seen to be nothing but phantoms.
I see now that the things that were causing me to be envious were phantoms. It was stupid of me to become bitter and agitated over the seeming prosperity of the ungodly. In questioning Your justice I was acting more like an animal than a man (Excuse me for acting as I did).
Yet in spite of my ignorant behaviour, You have not forsaken me. I am continually with [8/9] You, and You hold on to me, like a father holds his child by the hand. Throughout all my life, You guide me with Your counsel, and then at last You will receive me into glory.
It is enough that I have You in heaven; that makes me fabulously wealthy. And now I have no desire for anything on earth apart from Yourself. Let the ungodly have their wealth. I am satisfied with You and find my all-sufficiency in You. My body may waste away and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my life and I’ll never need or want throughout eternity.
Those who try to keep as far away from You as possible will perish without You. And those who have forsaken You for false gods will be destroyed. As far as I am concerned, I want to be as near to You as possible. I have committed myself to You for protection, and I want to proclaim Your wonderful works to all who will listen.