Thoughts on Psalm 73
Elfed Godding 19.01.21
Worshipping and serving God in a world of pain can sometimes seem impossible and the global experience of Covid-19 is no exception.
In our Psalm this week, its writer, Asaph starts with what he knows to be true, ‘Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. However …’ He knows that God is good but struggles when he sees the wicked prosper’. So he lays bare his soul in the writing of this Psalm as he journeys from engagement with God to struggles against God, to wonder-filled communion with God. I am sure many of us have been on this journey.
His psalm is an adventure in trust and here are some of the sign posts en route:
Sometimes our problems arise because we have faith in God! v1-16
When our faith generates the problem, we may stumble for a while. Asaph nearly lost his foothold of faith because he observed how wickedness seemed to be rewarded: the wicked seem to have immunity to disaster ‘They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong’ (v4-5), they are arrogant, ‘pride is their necklace’ (v6) and they are popular with the masses ‘Therefore their people turn to them’ (v10).
When what we have always believed doesn’t seem to be true we can envy the wicked and start to think the unthinkable - becoming bitter and tempted to give up, ‘surely in vain I have kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence’ (v12)
But verse 1 is both the Psalm’s premise and conclusion. As a premise it can read ‘Surely God is good to Israel to those who are pure if heart? i.e. I should believe this, but I am not convinced! As a premise it could be considered a naïve and untested idea; pre-doubt, pre-hurt it means one thing. Or as a conclusion it can be read ‘Surely God is good …’ i.e. I know God is good! It is a battle-tested, a scarred and ragged affirmation. Post-struggle, post-pain it means something else. God is good.
‘The words of our faith remain the same, but through the experience of life they come to carry a different freight. Psalm 73 is an assault on naivety’ Walter Brueggemann.
Asaph is honest and his honesty is rewarded with renewed hope.
God’s perspective trumps ours. v17-28
When we take refuge in his presence, we gain his perspective. ‘until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny’ v17. By rediscovering the centrality of enjoying the presence of God in worship Asaph finds a new perspective and gets reality back into focus. He gains to long view and the final destiny of the wicked. Life regains its moral coherence even if inequities remain! The situation has not changed but Asaph has. He will dwell in the presence of God forever v23-24.
When we experience his nature ‘it is good to be near God’ v28. God’s covenant name ‘Yahweh’ is not used until this point at the very end of the Psalm. Asaph is waiting to use this most precious name for God until the climax of his experience. It is the name for God that expresses ultimate love and authority. The name that is used in Exodus 3:13-14; Moses asks God ‘what name shall I tell them? God responds to Moses ‘I AM WHO I AM’, tell the Israelites ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.
When our heart is restored, we know God is with us: ‘God is the strength of my heart’ v26. The most common noun in this Psalm is ‘heart’ It is the story of a heart seduced and then healed, isolated and then restored in fellowship. It traces Asaph’s journey into disorientation and out again. Asaph chooses faith, and with faith comes a decision to maintain ‘an alternative reading of our current reality’
Let’s take time to adore God; to bask in the sunshine of his presence. Read Rev 5:11-14 as we worship him. Let’s pray for those we know whose faith is challenged, that they may enter his sanctuary. Let’s pray for friends and family who have yet to come to faith in Jesus.