Summary: Asaph asks the question - is it worth following God? When you look at life from an eternal perspective, the answer is clear.
Have you ever found yourself thinking – I wish I had what my non-Christian friends have? I wish I had the freedom they have. I wish I was able to do the things that they do without conscience getting in the way. I wish I could get up to what they get up to without feeling guilty.
After all, nothing ever seems to happen to them. I know just as many friends from church who have lost loved ones or been diagnosed with cancer as non-Christians. Why am I bothering?
Or if you’re someone who doesn’t call themselves a Christian, the question can be reversed. When I look a the successes, the failures, the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick throughout our community – what is the point of following God?
` I’ll admit I’ve asked that question myself. I did fairly well at my HSC, did well at university and am now teaching Christian studies at a public high school for a salary $20000 less than a normal teacher would get, let alone what I would get if I had joined the business or legal world like my father before me. I think about the fact that because of my choices to minister the gospel I’ll probably never be able to buy a house anywhere near where I’ve always lived. I don’t say that to try to big note any sacrifice I’ve made – I’m not saying I’m living in poverty – but just to show that this is a common question: do we follow God in vain?
That’s the question Asaph, the writer of this psalm is asking.
He was a faithful Jewish man – a man who genuinely followed God – but one day he found himself not just asking that question but going the next step: seriously doubting the worth of it all. PS 73:2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
PS 73:3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Sometimes it seems the most natural thing in the world to be envious of other people. After all, that’s what’s advertising is all about. We see something that other people have and say to ourselves “I want that”. For Asaph, it’s their wealth, their health, their freedom, even their arrogance before God. And he sees them get away with it, so he says in vs 13:
PS 73:13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
PS 73:14 All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every morning.
He reminds me a bit of Job. Job had everything – but then everything is taken away from him: his home, family, possessions, his health. He’s plagued by every ailment. And his wife tells him that he should just curse God and die, because there’s no point to being pure any longer. Look where it’s got you, she says. Have you gained anything? Just give away this faith of yours.
Asaph seems to be going through the same sort of thing. He’s seriously tempted to give it all away. He tries to understand it all, but he can’t. It’s oppressive to him.
You know when you’re trying to understand that elusive maths problem, or that complex theological idea or, if you’re like me, the exact way that new bit of furniture you just bought should be put together – and you wrack your brains but you just can’t get it. Asaph can’t get it, either.
But then there’s a moment for him. For me, that’s the moment I decide to embrace my feelings of inadequacy and read the instruction booklet. There’s a moment when it just clicks. Vs 16-17:
PS 73:16 When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
PS 73:17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Notice where he is when he gets this revelation. He’s in the sanctuary of God. And what I think that suggests is that we can’t understand these things on our own. We need God to show us.
What Asaph understands is this – he realizes the finally destiny of these wicked men, these people he has envied so much. And when he realizes this, he doesn’t envy them anymore.
Just over a year ago, Kerry Packer died. You’ve probably all heard of him. Richest man in Australia, he was. When he died there were memorial services, TV specials, an outpouring of praise for this “Great Australian”. Now I’m not going to compare Packer to an Adolf Hitler, but he was like many ultra-rich people – he did what he needed to to get to the top and stay there. He never paid his fair share of tax. He smoked and drank heavily. He had a foul mouth and a violent temper. His biographer Paul Barry said “his god was money and he worshipped devoutly” He had been ill on and off for some time. Several years ago he had a serious health scare where his heart stopped for several minutes before he was resuscitated. And when he had recovered he spoke to the media and said “when I died there was nothing there. There is no God, and there is no heaven.” This is what he said, word for word, in answer to a question: “I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you son: there’s nothing ***** there!”