Why do the Wicked Prosper – Psalm 73
She was weeping over the phone. Grief, anger, and frustration were pouring out of her as she told me her latest news. Her husband of over thirty years had left her for another woman. At one time he had been a deacon in their church, a respected spiritual leader. He had been a stellar dad, a loyal friend of many, and a successful businessman with a good name. But his spiritual interests had evaporated over the past several years and his heart had grown cold. The divorce was acrimonious and drawn out, she was beyond weary and devastated by it all.
But that wasn't the cause of her current anguish. She had just heard that he had already married the other woman, been promoted in his job, was traveling on exotic trips and had even returned to church. She was struggling with the age-old question: If he was so wrong to leave her, then why was his life going so well? She, on the other hand, was left to deal with broken-hearted children, financial stresses, and the humiliation of it all. Where was God in all this? Why was their life going so well and hers was so painfully difficult?
As I listened to her, I thought of Psalm 73. Asaph, the author asked the very same questions my friend was asking. Just like Asaph, she was living in Psalm 73. Look at the pattern:
In the first two verses, Asaph affirms his faith in God's goodness but then confesses that his faith is faltering. He is troubled because he sees the proud (unbelievers or the unrepentant) living in ease, wealth, and leisure. He can't reconcile what he sees with the teaching in the Law - the promises of blessings to the obedient and judgment on the disobedient. He continues to list his complaints: he is envious of their "prosperity" ("shalom" in the Hebrew). They are healthy, problem-free, boastful of their possessions, corrupt, and have no mercy on the poor. And Asaph isn't the only one troubled by all of this. God's people are confused also, asking if God even notices these injustices and what is happening in their world.
He takes his frustration a step further by asking what good has it done him to keep an obedient heart? All he has is trouble and pain. If that's not bad enough, he feels constrained to keep these observations to himself because he has influence with God's people as a leader. By verse 16, he is ready to throw in the towel and be done with it all.
But the Psalm abruptly pivots in verse 17, with a drastic change of focus. Asaph found himself in God's "sanctuary", which most likely was the Temple, the dwelling place of God's glory. Temple worship consisted of reading the Law, singing, worship, and prayer. What happened to Asaph there? His heart was softened. His attention was drawn away from the wicked to the glory and majesty of God. His focus changed from "them" to himself and God. He was no longer contrasting the wicked with the good, but looking at God alone.
We can almost hear Asaph saying, "What was I thinking?" He confessed his bitterness, his foolishness and recounted the spiritual blessings that were his "glorious destiny". He sums up his new perspective, saying, "How good it is to be near God!" Asaph ends up where he started - affirming the goodness and blessing of God.
My friend, just like Asaph, has discovered the life-giving mindset of being in "the sanctuary"- being still and entering into God's presence. Once there, her thinking was transformed and her spirit made strong, just as Asaph's was.
Occasionally I get a text from her, saying she has been in "the sanctuary" and I know exactly what that means! Living IN the Psalms has carried my friend through dark days and is a continual source of strength and comfort for her. Watching her and learning from her faith struggle has sharpened me - and driven me to the Psalms time and time again.
Believers are not exempt from struggling with the unfairness of life, just as my friend has. While their issues may not be marriage related, the principle is the same. Turning our eyes toward God and off of others brings us a fresh assurance of His presence and eternal graces toward those who trust Him and seek to live in His sanctuary.