December 2016 Issue
Why Do the Wicked Prosper?
Living in Psalm 73
by Susie Hawkins
Photo by Andy Beachum.
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, good friend of many, and 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, and 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 his life going so well while hers was in such disarray?
As I listened, I was reminded of Psalm 73. Asaph, the author, asked the very same questions my friend was asking. She was, and IS, 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 wicked (unbelievers or unrepentant) living in ease, wealth, and leisure. He can’t reconcile what he sees with what is taught in the Law—the promises of blessings to the obedient and judgment on the disobedient. In the text (verses 4–12), he details his complaints: he is envious of their “prosperity” (“shalom” in the Hebrew); they are healthy, problem-free, boastful of their possessions, thoroughly 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 He even notices what is happening in their world (verses 10–11.)
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 him 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.” Verse 28 sums up his new perspective: How good it is to be near God! (NLT)
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 is transformed and her spirit is 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 psalm has carried my friend through dark days and is a continual source of strength for her. Watching her and learning from her faith struggle has sharpened me—and driven me to Psalms time and time again.
There are more people than we know in our churches who struggle with injustices, 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.
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