Psalm 73 is about someone who struggles with the question of what is good. The psalmist looks at others–at people who don’t care for God–and determines that they have what is good and he doesn’t. This realization brings him to the brink of despair. We end up in the same place when our lives are not centered on worship to God. The psalmist is particularly discouraged by the prosperity of the wicked (vs. 3). Psalm 1:3-4 says it is the righteous who should prosper and wicked are the ones that should suffer. So the psalmist trusts his own understanding and begins to doubt. That doubt turns into envy and bitterness (verses 3, 13, 14). You can almost hear his cry of anguish:
Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning. Psalm 73:13-14
Sometimes Christians feel this way about each other. Why are my kids the ones with issues? I try harder than almost everyone else yet I can’t seem to get anywhere. It is so easy for them. Why is it so hard for me? And then the focus turns to those who are in the world and really aren’t concerned with God. They appear to prosper. They appear not to have problems with the economy while you, the faithful Christian, seem to be losing the financial battle. The thoughts come–it is not fair. It is not supposed to be this way. Why does good come to them and not me?
This kind of thinking comes from looking at the world with the world’s perspective. Good in this sense is defined by what the world thinks is good rather than embracing what God says is good. The psalmist recognizes this at the end of the psalm, but in the beginning he has lost sight of true goodness. God’s people must ask themselves how thrilled they are that God has promised to be with them. How thrilled are you that his Spirit resides within you?
The psalmist says in verses 15-17 that when he entered into the presence of God, the dread of oppressiveness dissolved in the reality of the nearness of God. We will look at how this was resolved in the next post. But for now, notice what leads to freedom from the oppression of envy and bitterness. By coming to God in his sanctuary, the psalmist’s confused thinking ends. Gone were the nagging doubts of Why is it like this? and How come things are so bad for me? Why? Because the circumstances changed? No, because the perspective changed. The arrogant were still mocking God and scoffing at righteousness. For the moment, at least, they still had their bounty of nice things. The personal issues and struggles were still there for the psalmist. But his difficulty with bitterness, envy and discouragement subsided in the presence of the precious promises of God’s care. Ephesians 1:8 says that the riches of God’s grace have been lavished upon God’s people. This is a matter of faith and trust. Do you feel like God has lavished his riches on you? Even if you don’t–that doesn’t change reality. God has given you riches beyond measure, riches that will not evaporate in a roller coaster stock market. Thus, it becomes a matter of defining good the way God defines good. Like Paul, we must become content in all circumstances, whether good or bad.
Parents, your children need this level of stability from you. If you are constantly up and down, confused that things don’t appear to be better, then perhaps your personal definition of good is in need of some biblical insight. If God is constant–if his love doesn’t waver, if his plans are good and do not change–then we can know that he is good, even if the wicked appear to flourish. So, it is true, the nearness of God is our good!
We will finish our brief look at this psalm in the next post. Why not read Psalm 73 over and let me know your thoughts?