September 8, 2021
Bonnie Lynn Seiber
Tennessee Valley District
Psalm 73: 1-20 (NIV)
1 Surely God is good to Israel,
A Psalm of Asaph.
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.[a]
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity[b];
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
15 If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
Good and EvilI have often heard it said that whom God loveth, he chastens (tests). When I’m going through dark patches in my faith, I want to shake my fist at the sky and yell, “Please God, don’t love me so much.” When everything in life is going well, loving and trusting God is easy. But when life hits a rough spot, we tend to put the blame on God. Remember Job? If you don’t, now might be a good time to read that book of the Bible again.
In Psalm 73 we see the writer, Asaph, on a faith journey that takes him from a skeptic to a true believer. He goes from doubt to faith, from despair to assurance. As our faith develops, we can identify with Asaph’s experience. We wrestle with the problem of evil. We wonder why a good God would permit it. Old Testament theology makes us encounter the belief that the righteous were blessed by God and the wicked were punished on earth. With no concept of life after death, they did not think of rewards in heaven. But the psalmist turns that theology upside down. After he states that God is good to the pure of heart, he begins to look around. He sees that the wicked seem to prosper. These people are violent oppressors who give no credit to God, yet they never seem to get sick. They never suffer pain or hunger. They don’t thank God for their blessings. No, they boast that all they have comes from the work of their own hands (and perhaps the cunningness of Satan).
Yet the people of the city follow them and believe every word. After all, if they are rich, they must be smart. At this point, you and I can identify with Asaph. He is suffering and he is jealous. What good is it doing for him to try to live a righteous life when all he gets for it is more trouble? Why do bad things happen to good people? (Again, remember Job).
Now we come to phase 3 of faith development – the “aha” moment. Asaph is worn down trying to figure it all out. As a last resort, he goes to worship, where he suddenly realizes that the wicked are not as secure as he thought. The prosperity that he so envied could be gone in the blink of an eye. One bad decision could lead to ruin. Prosperity and even their own lives are temporary. They could be gone as quickly as a dream fades as we wake up. But fellowship with God, not bitterness, would uphold Asaph. We can never answer the problems of wickedness and prosperity on earth anymore than Job could. But we can have an enduring peace of knowing that God is with us.
We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. If you were alive then, I’m sure you remember where you were when you heard the unthinkable news. You remember how you reacted. As a Pastor I was constantly being asked, “Where was God when the towers fell?” My answer then was, and still is now that God was in the towers comforting the dying, giving strength to those who were waiting to be rescued. He was there guiding the first responders into a blazing inferno and leading them to those who could be saved. God was outside in the crowd giving strength and comfort to family and friends waiting for news of their loved ones. He was at the Pentagon. He was in Pennsylvania on the airplane with the heroes who gave their lives so others might live. God never left us. Today we still face evil in our world. We see it in the people who are suffering from the result of war, natural disasters, and the COVID virus. Yet God is still with us. Even though our faith is tried, God is still just a prayer away.