Why bother with God – Psalm 73
The sheer honesty of some of the psalms opens a window on to the doubts, troubles and fears of many Christians. For all the confidence of v.1 with its assertion that God is good to his people, Psalm 73 is the story of a troubles man.
1. The Problem of Injustice vs. 3-14
You don’t have to look far to see what troubles Asaph the psalmist. Put simply it is the ‘prosperity of the wicked’. They have a problem-free life (vs.4-5) Equipped with the gold card, permanent tan and oozing well-being, they have it made. Incidentally it should make us pause when people offer these verses as a sign that God is with us. They have, too, a moral-free life (vs. 6-7) because they are powerful; enough to make their own rules and play by them. Worse, they are proud of it all (vs 8-9). One commentator observes: ‘They defy heaven and dictate to earth’. And it gets worse (v.10), they luxuriate in public approval. That is how it is: we live in a pragmatic age when people follow what works. Principles have always been in jeopardy in the face of success. The theological question is stark: what kind of God allows this? He must be either one who doesn’t know what is going on, or one who is too feeble to do anything about it. Not for the first or the last time has it looked like that (cf. Matt.24: 36-39)
2. The Problem of the Heart.
Asaph is honest enough to confess to another problem. The objective bafflement of injustice is compounded by the subjective issues of the heart. Envy flashes up (v.3) Why shouldn’t he have all this too, if God is good to Israel? Self-pity is ready to take over (vs.13-14) What’s the point of being godly? Why bother? Such self-pity is a debilitating and ugly thing (cf Luke 15:29) and then corrosive bitterness creeps in (vs.21-22) It wasn’t that he couldn’t work out the problem; but that he wouldn’t let go of his grievance.
3. The Problems in Perspective.
There are great lessons here as Asaph solves his problems! First: don’t open your mouth too quickly (v.15) Go where you’ll get an answer (vs.16-17) He couldn’t work it out for himself – ‘his brain got wearier and his heart got heavier’- so he went where God has promised to be. The key for us, if we want an answer, is whether we will turn to the Bible and to other Christians. Asaph got his answer in church. There injustice is seen in a proper time frame (vs 17-20) All Asaph and been taking into consideration was the ‘now’; but he sees the final destiny of the ‘problem-free’. The switch is dramatic, as though it has all been a bad dream. John Stott observes: ‘Men of the world inhabit the cramped quarters of time, but Christians inhabit the wide open spaces of eternity” Therefore, when we question God about injustices we must put them in His time frame. Envy, what is more is faced with a proper value system (vs 23-26). Asaph longed for what the wicked had, but now instead he values what he has himself. Like the father to the Prodigal’s elder brother, God is saying ‘everything I have is yours”. And for Asaph that is now enough: He is in possession of Heaven, so why he envious of riches, when you cannot take them there (v.25)? He has strength and security that will outlast this life, so why envy their imagined security (v.26)?
What a contrast this psalm sets up! See v.27 and realise how stupid are the fears of v.3. Check v.28 and see how stupid those fears in v.13. That is why Asaph begins his record of God’s dealings with him by spelling out the truth he had always known and had just rediscovered: “Surely God is God to Israel, to those who are pure in heart’
The author of this exposition, Hugh Palmer, is on the staff team of Christ Church, Fulwood, Sheffield.