Summary: The psalmist looks at the world and everything is wrong. it's the arrogant and wicked show are blessed. Yet having reentered the temple of God he finishes with a resounding cry of confidence in God
A Psalm of Lament audio (5MB)
Today we start a short series on the Psalms – culminating in our evening worship service with Sons of Korah on May 26th. Over the next 3 weeks we’ll be looking at 4 different types of psalm – today a psalm of lament, next week a psalm of yearning, then a psalm of hope and on that Sunday evening a psalm of praise.
Before we begin it’s important to understand that psalms are first and foremost poetry. Poetry is a great medium for expressing feelings. The words that are used are not always exact, nor are they meant to be heard literally. Rather they’re meant to evoke a response of the heart. They often appeal to the emotions rather than the intellect. That makes them particularly helpful for people who are struggling with life, who perhaps don’t have the energy to think things through rationally or who are too unsettled to think calmly. These people can join with the psalmist in pouring their heart out to the Lord. Psalms are also good when you’re so full of joy that you can’t put it into words. That’s when the psalmist calls on the mountains and trees to sing their praises along with his own.
Well, today we’re looking at Psalm 73, a lament.
The psalm begins with a familiar refrain: “God is good to those who love him.” That’s one of the foundations of our understanding of God, isn’t it? God is good. God loves us. God has chosen us. He’ll never forsake us. He’ll look after us. What’s more he’ll bless those who remain faithful to him with every good gift. And so the psalmist believes.
But wait a minute – that’s not how it looks in the real world. As he looks around him he realises that the reality of his world is at odds with what he’s been taught, with what he believes. In fact the discord is so great that it almost trips him up. He looks around and who is it that he sees apparently receiving the blessing of God? It isn’t the godly. It’s the arrogant, the wicked.
He’s probably been to the hairdresser or the dentist and picked up a back copy of New Idea or Who Weekly and what does he see: pictures of the beautiful people, sunning themselves in the Bahamas or the Riviera, with their sleek, sun-tanned bodies, glowing with health, driving the latest sports car. And with the pictures are the gossip columnists’ stories of people leaving one partner to join up with another, fighting among themselves, driving under the influence, overindulging in various ways; but mostly just rich people taking self-care to the point of indulgence.
And then he realises that these people aren’t just well-off by chance or good luck. No, they’re skilful at self-interest. What’s more, they have no shame about it. In fact they boast about it. What’s more their prosperity, he sees, is based on violence (6) & oppression (8).
So what does he think to himself? “How come I don’t have that sort of life?” He envies their success. He wants what they’ve got.
Does that thought ever cross your mind when you see the A-list people strutting down the red carpet? Appearing in the sponsors marquees at the races or the Grand Prix? Why doesn’t God bless me like that?
Then he notices that it isn’t just their prosperity. He says “4they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek. 5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.”
What do you think when you see someone who’s been faithful to God all their life and they’re struck down by illness – or one of their loved ones gets sick and even dies? Do you ask God “Why?” Why them? Why me? It’s a legitimate question isn’t it? God promises to look after us, yet sometimes he lets us get sick and even die. In other cases he lets us grow old to the point where we suffer from dementia and he doesn’t let us die!
We sang a song a couple of weeks ago where there’s a refrain: “Consider it joy, pure joy, when troubles come” and someone commented that when you’re experiencing some troubles it’s impossible to think of joy. There are times when all you experience is sadness and grief.
That’s where the psalmist is as he looks at his life and that of those around him.
It’s so unjust! These people treat God with total disrespect - even scorn (11). They laugh at God because he seems so ineffective. But what makes it worse is that their approach works! “12Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.”
And what about the righteous? As for me, he says: “13All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.” What’s the point? Am I being foolish maintaining my faith in God when all I experience is suffering? Where’s the quid pro quo?