So often, we misunderstand what is happening around us, because either no one has explained the world to us or we fail to listen and understand what is right before our eyes. In the psalm today, Psalm 73, Asaph or one of his descendants addresses the confusion and pain of misunderstanding the prosperity of wicked people. It is a needed lesson for all who think that God does not see or condemn unrighteousness.
Psalm 73: 1-5 Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
The psalmist began by acknowledging that he almost lost his faith because of his confusion about the prosperity of the wicked. He could not understand why people who did not fear God prospered, having healthy bodies and no troubles.
Don’t judge the psalmist too harshly, for I believe that every person, Christians included, have wondered why it seems that good people suffer and wicked people have lives free from trials. I believe it is one of the reasons why many people who see themselves as “a good person” question their suffering and grief.
The psalmist’s dilemma resonates with me. When I was diagnosed with colon cancer, one of my first thoughts was, “Why me? I am a good person. I never hurt anyone.” Like the psalmist, I believed that trials and troubles should only happen to individuals who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior or do not know the God of heaven.
Psalm 73: 6-9 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for! They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth.
In these verses, the psalmist sums up nicely what many of us feel. He watched as the wicked strutted around, displaying their wealth in their big homes, jewelry dripping off of them, and their pride. Today, we would write of the wealthy industrialists who with such cruelty fire people or lay off people or outsource work to other countries, closing plants and not caring about what happens to others, even as dreams are crushed and cities die. They use pretty words, like efficiency and return on investments, to hide their greed.
Psalm 73: 10-14 And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words. “What does God know?” they ask. “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?” Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.
We find it hard to understand why they seem to prosper in their lack of empathy and greediness. In our minds, we think that the rich have no problems, partly because we experience the life of the rich from a distance. The very wealthy tend to only associate with other wealthy people, including attending the same schools, clubs, vacation spots, and neighborhoods.
So, we wonder if we are wasting our time living righteous lives and obeying God’s commandments, if there are no downsides to unrighteousness. And to add insult to injury, doing what the Bible requires of us, such as forgiving those who persecute us or loving our enemies, only results in pain and suffering, with new problems to confront each morning. What is the upside of righteousness?
Psalm 73: 15-16 If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people. So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!
Questioning God’s ways among church people will not endear you to them or raise your standing in the church. Too many people would question your salvation and the measure of your faith, so people often keep questions like the prosperity of the wealthy to themselves. But, understanding God’s ways, as much as we can, is vital to a healthy Christian walk, and the psalmist knew where he could find answers: in the sanctuary of God.
Psalm 73:17-20 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.
It was in the presence of God and listening to the sermons that rightfully divided the word of God that the psalmist came to understand that the wicked must eventually answer for their greed and cruelty. We learn that looks pretty on the outside is not always what it seems.
I would argue that wealthy people have even more fears that the poor: fears of losing everything they have, fears of others trying to take what they have, fears regarding who are true friends and who are just hangers-on. What a horrible life to live, always worrying, surrounding yourselves with bodyguards and bullet-proof glass, unable to walk down streets or go to restaurants without being constantly watched and approached!
It is not a life I would want, for all the money! Yet, even I have been envious and wondered what it would be like to never worry about money problems. I would imagine that every poor person has done the same, and maybe not a few middle-class people.
Psalm 73: 21-25 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant– I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.
The psalmist asserts to God, with some embarrassment, that he was bitter and really confused, but out of ignorance, not any malice toward God. He lets God know that, even though he wondered about the unfairness of life, he still trusted in God and his confident hope was still in the great I AM, the only One who holds our hands!
My understanding and the subsequent loss of envy over the prosperity of the wicked came from two scriptures. Matthew 5:45 states, “In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” This verse reminds me that everyone suffers good and bad, and that no one can avoid the rain.
Job 1:21 states, “He [Job] said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” This verse reminded me that trying to own a lot of stuff is pointless, because you leave this world as naked as you came into it. King Solomon would say that it is all meaningless or vanity.
Psalm 73: 26-28 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.
The psalmist ends on what is most important: Trusting in God, no matter what the circumstances of your life. In sickness and health, poverty or wealth, keep praying, obeying God’s words, and abiding in His presence through the Holy Spirit in us.
Let the people of God testify to His goodness in our lives, so that other people will learn that God is not partial. In this blog and in my sermons, I share the wonderful things God did for me and continues to do for me, to encourage, inspire, and give hope to others, reminding them that what He did for me, He can and will do for them.
Fandango prompt is Resonate.