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Thursday, August 19, 2010

“Dear God: Life is not fair.”

Have you ever thought that God has abandoned you? That life was just not fair? You are not alone. Psalm 73 presents an honest cry of the heart. The psalmist is confused, hurt, and at least at first even mad at God:

1Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, "How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?"
12 This is what the wicked are like always carefree, they increase in wealth.
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.
15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me [17] till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, [22] I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

When we are going through difficult circumstances it is easy to fall into the trap of looking at everyone else that seems to have it so easy, or at least much easier than us. These feelings become even more grievous when those who do not follow God’s law are living a “life of ease” and we are struggling, being treated unfairly, or suffering greatly. That describes the plight Asaph, the author of this psalm.

Asaph knows that God is good, but there sure seemed like there was a lot of evidence that He seemed unfair as he looked around and saw so many godless people who were prospering, yet he was suffering. God not only seemed unfair, but worse, God was indifferent to the psalmist needs. [verses 3-14] When we make the comparison with others the standard measure of our happiness, we will become “embittered” and we cannot process our thoughts as we should. [v. 21-22]

How did Asaph get victory over these tremendous feelings? Scripture says that he “entered the sanctuary of God,” which changed his perspective. The miracle wasn’t a result of meditating on the building, but one of worship on the nature and character of God. As a result, he was able to understand the ultimate consequences of a life whose decisions were made outside of God’s direction. He then begins to change the focus of his thinking. It is as if were asking himself, “What is the truth that I know?” That mediation leads him on a journey that leads to healing the bitterness of his heart and mind:

— Comparison only left him with jealousy and bitterness [v. 21]
— God has the last word, they will be judged [v. 18-20, 27]
— God’s presence never leaves me, even when I might not be aware or “feel” it. [v.23]
— God will guide me here to and through eternity [v. 24]
— God is the focus on my life, everything else is secondary [v. 25-26]
— Since God Almighty is the one who is my refuge, I will tell of His greatness [v. 28]

These are the truths on which the psalmist began to focus and they transformed his heart and mind. They can do the same today. One side word, one side comment that needs to be said. Some of our suffering is the result of poor choices on our part, that is, we deliberately chose not to follow God’s instruction and are suffering as a result. An unfortunate reality is that bad choices generally lead to more bad choices. How can we break the cycle? How can we break free of this vicious downturn and black hole of desperation? I think the first step is still the same: we must turn to God in worship. True worship begins with seeing God as He is and seeing ourselves as He does and seeking repentance and reconciliation. Only with that purified heart are we able to hear God’s voice. We must feed ourselves on God’s Word, asking the Spirit of God to grant illumination to understand and apply truth to our hearts and lives. Even when we are suffering as a result of our own poor choices, God is merciful and gracious and is ever willing to receive us back under His care. That, too, is a choice we must make, but that is a wise one filled with the wonder and majesty that only a Redeeming God can give.

If you have found yourself in that “where is God” and “life is unfair” attitude, spend some time meditating on Psalm 73, turn your heart to worship and let God turn your heart inside out.

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