Follow Jesus long enough and you will make a profound and painful discovery: people who care nothing about God often have great success while people who devote their entire lives to Him often struggle to make ends meet. If you follow Jesus and find yourself perplexed by this heart-wrenching discovery do not give in to despair. Read Psalm 73 instead.
Asaph has been there.
The psalm begins with the optimistic declaration,
Truly, God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
This confession is no greeting card inscription, however, because we will soon discover, Asaph had come very close to walking away from the LORD.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
And the reason for his near abandonment of the faith? “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
In today’s sensitive climate, the use of the word wicked to describe the non-theist is likely to be frowned upon. It’s a bit extreme. A tad too finite in its absoluteness. However, for Asaph it was the only appropriate word to describe those who defy God, deny His commandments, and denigrate His people. And still, God lets them have their cake and eat it too. His lament continues with the Shakespearean eloquence of a righteous man bewildered by the prosperity of the wicked,
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
Asaph is perplexed. Why does God allow good things to happen to wicked people?
Given all the good things God allows the wicked to enjoy and the evil they get away with, Asaph complains to God. Whereas the wicked are rewarded for their wickedness, Asaph scorns his own faithfulness. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.”
And yet, he cannot bring himself to cut ties with God and walk away.
If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
And there it is. Clarity. Perspective. Insight. Hope. Courage. As long as Asaph wrestled to understand this on his own, he found only discouragement, bewilderment and vanity. Almost in desperation he retreats into the presence of God and there he discovers the truth. All is not as it seems. The wicked may prosper but their prosperity is short-lived. Their triumph hollow. Their time in the sun brief.
We must widen our gaze. We must see life from the perspective of eternity and not through the gauzy mist of the American Dream. It is not that we cheer for the demise of those who put their trust in things destined for dust and decay. It is that we resolve to place our hope in One who promises to be all we need; who will give us everything necessary for life and godliness and who has promised us an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade – an inheritance kept in heaven for us who are protected by the power of God through trust/obedience in Jesus Christ.
Like Asaph, we know better than to trust in the trinkets of this time. Yet we also know we are human enough to be distracted and discouraged by those who boast and brag about such things. So when we are overwhelmed and perplexed by the prosperity of the wicked, we would be wise to follow Asaph’s example. Let us retreat into the presence of the Almighty. For there we will discover in truth what the wicked will discover too late: what they now own they must eventually give up.
By God’s grace, let us join with Asaph and confess confidently:
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
You think about that.