Fog covering a ten-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of only a few dozen gallons of water divided into tiny uniform droplets about 1/1000 (0.001) of an inch in diameter. On average there is one droplet in each cubic inch of fog, nothing compared to the tons of moisture dumped in a rainstorm, yet fog can impair visibility, cripple traffic, and cause pileups. Doubt, worry, and bitterness are like that in a believer’s life.
Our text today has become one of my favorite Psalms. There is wonderful truth here for the suffering, struggling saint. Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? See if you identify with the psalmist Asaph’s struggle and the problem of evil in our world.
First, we see the psalmist look back (1). He begins with an affirmation of faith-God exists and He is good. This is not the testimony of an atheist or an agnostic. In fact, his faith in God created the problem. People who attempt to eliminate God from their worldview don’t have to worry about the problem of evil, it’s just a temporary by-product of man’s evolutionary journey upward. Asaph was a faithful Jew, obedient to the Law, with a pure heart and clean hands (13), but he was not enjoying the goodness of God in this life. His godless neighbors were in better shape materially and physically than he was. Was he mistaken in his theology? Was there something wrong in his life that he could not see?
Secondly, we see him look around (2-12). He was slipping. His intense personal problems were causing him specific theological problems. When our theology doesn’t square with our experience we can have a crisis of faith. Asaph became envious of the wicked and their prosperity (3-5). They seemed to be well-fed, comfortably housed, healthy, and successful. It is not easy to react graciously to the prosperity of others while suffering adversity, especially when they adorn themselves with pride like gaudy, cheap jewelry for all to see (6-9). Along with their prosperity and pride, Asaph was envious of their popularity (10-12). The world worships successful people and follows them.
And where is God in all of this? He is left out completely! The successful ask, “Is there knowledge in the Most High?” (11) “We are prospering; why do we need God?” “You claim to know God–how is that working out for you?” That attitude cuts deep into the heart of any devout child of God. Is it really worth being a believer? Negative emotions and doubts must be dealt with.
Next, the psalmist looks within (13-15). Here, Asaph decided to examine himself. His immediate thought was that his devotion to God was not bringing him any special blessings! The wicked were prospering while he was suffering. The ungodly woke up each morning to comfort while he woke up to chastening! He was being honest with himself and with God. He could have piously pretended that he was “living victoriously,” but that would have been hypocritical. On the other hand, he did not want to abandon his faith in God because he knew the truth and could not turn his back on it.
When you have these inner struggles, it is good to talk them over with another believer. However, Asaph was afraid that if he told God’s people what he had been thinking and how he felt, it would cause them to stumble. After all, he led the people in worship! He did not want to offend the younger saints who had not yet faced some of these deeper problems (15). This believer is at a critical crossroads in his life. He has looked back and declared; God exists and He is good. He has looked around and envied the wicked. He looked within and wondered if he was mistaken. What will he do? Abandon his faith and run with the shallow crowd that lives for momentary pleasures? Try to pretend that all is well while deteriorating emotionally and spiritually? Fortunately, Asaph took the right step.
Then, we see him look up (16-22). In spite of a confused mind and an aching heart, Asaph went to the temple of God and presented his case. As valuable as theology is, it can never be a substitute for a personal relationship with God. When we walk by sight, all we can see are the price tags of this life, but when we walk by faith, we learn eternal values. Outlook affects outcome.
One of the greatest needs for believers today is for individual and corporate worship. We need to meditate on God’s truth and communicate our thankfulness to Him. Worshiping does for the inner man what bathing, eating, and resting does for the outer man. Worship helps us evaluate life and choose the things that matter most. Verse 20 paints a graphic scene. Asaph sees God as though He were awakening from sleep. He has permitted the ungodly to prosper but now is the time of reckoning and their dream world is coming to an end.
Finally, he looks ahead (23-28). The worldly crowd may seem to have an easier time on the road of life, but they are headed in the wrong direction! Whenever you are tempted to think God has not been fair with you, read these verses and see how rich you are. Unsaved people may have health, wealth, and worldly success but they don’t have God! And no matter what a person has, if they don’t have God, they have nothing. Having the right values is a matter of life and death (26, 27). The end of Asaph’s experience is a great contrast to the beginning. He started off with his feet slipping but ended standing firmly in the faith. Did his situation change? No, Asaph’s perspective changed!
In conclusion, Psalm 73 teaches us some valuable lessons. First, we should walk by faith, not by sight. Second, God’s word is true regardless of what our circumstances say. Thirdly, take the long view in life and don’t abandon the eternal for the temporal. And lastly, we must spend time with God in worship and spiritual evaluation.