Psalms 73 talks about the psalmist crisis of faith which was brought about by his observation of the apparent injustice and lack of moral order in the world. This crisis of faith is a doubt on God’s character and abilities which later on led to him questioning if it is really worth it to follow and obey God. He expressed his frustration about the prosperity of the wicked and the
suffering of the righteous. But later on, we will also see how God dealt with His doubts and how was he able to resolve this crisis of faith.
In verse 1, Asaph began with a recognition of God’s goodness, followed by a confession in verse 2 that he has almost fell away from the faith. In verses 3 to 12, he explained that the reason behind his struggle in faith is the apparent lack of moral order in the universe as shown by the prosperity of the wicked. In verse 13-14, he further expressed his doubts on the value of living a righteous life. In verse 17-28, his doubts were addressed by a series of realizations including the end of the wicked, that God is his strength and portion forever and then the conclusion that it is good for him to be near to God.
This sermon will remind us during times of doubts to humbly go to the presence of the Lord, consider the end of the wicked and contemplate that whatever happens, even though our flesh and our hearts fail us, God will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.
In this sermon, we will be discussing three main points:
1. The Crisis of Faith;
2. The Turning point in the Crisis; and
3. The Resolution of the Crisis
The Crisis of Faith
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Verses 1-3)
Asaph begins with a recognition of God’s goodness to Israel by saying “Truly God is good to Israel,…”. Asaph is an Israelite and he must have been aware of the history of God’s goodness to His people: from God’s calling of Abraham and the establishment of his covenant with him; the deliverance of the people of Israel from bondage to Egypt; the guidance and presence of God that goes with Israel while they travelled through the wilderness; the giving of the law through Moses; their entry to the promise land; the establishment of the Kingdom of David; and of course, the promise of the coming of the Messiah through the nation of Israel.
In Romans 9:4-5, the Apostle Paul described the especial kind of goodness that God vested to Israel, and he said, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” So here, even in a redemptive sense, God has shown a special kind of goodness to Israel which was not given to other nations.
But not only is God good to Israel, but He is more particularly good to “those who are pure in heart”. These pertains to the real Jews, who are not only Jews outwardly or by blood or lineage, but are also Jews inwardly. These are the people that are described in Romans 2:29 – “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
As believers in the New Testament church, like Asaph, we also believe that God is good to the church, especially to the elect or the genuine Christians inside the visible church. But then Asaph made a confession about an event in his life where he almost lost his faith. There is something that made him question the character of God and the reasonableness of his own faith, which almost made it collapse. That is his envy of the people who are wicked and successful, and are proud of both. He envied the external happiness, riches, health and ease of the wicked who are successful in life and are boasting about it.
4 For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies. (Verses 4-8)
Asaph further explained why he envies the wicked. It is because “… they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.” Perhaps Asaph knew some wicked people who were free from disease, pain and suffering. Or perhaps he knew specific wicked people who died a peaceful and painless death in their old years despite the evil things they have committed and their utter disregard to the precepts of God. He described the body of these wicked men as fat and sleek, signifying that they have been indulging themselves with the comforts and pleasures of this world.
Asaph continued his complaint by comparing the comfortable life of these wicked and arrogant successful people to the miserable lives of the rest of mankind. Unlike these prosperous wicked men, others have to work themselves to the point of exhaustion just to bring decent food on the table. Most of us, while trying to work and earn money, also have to deal with unexpected problems or tragedies like this COVID 19 pandemic, the loss of a loved one, the unfaithfulness of a spouse, the rebellion of child, the collapse of a business and many more. Not to mention yet the fact that if you are a Christian, you are also plagued with persecutions, temptations as well as frustrations and disappointments due to our own moral failures.
The effect of material wealth and the lack of sufferings in the life of the wicked is an increased pride. Since the wicked has no regard for God, he takes credit for his health and wealth and flaunt it to others like a jewelry. The success and prosperity of the wicked worsens his pride because he thinks he deserves what he has. This is like rubbing salt to the wound of Asaph. It is already painful for him to see the wicked prosper, but seeing the wicked brag about it makes it worse.
Violence is also one of the marks of a prosperous wicked person. An arrogant and wicked human being who is prosperous in material wealth has a tendency to be oppressive to others. They are unashamed and unapologetic with their acts of violence because with pride, they see themselves as more significant than others. They have very little regard to human life and dignity and they look down on others as if they are lower forms of creatures.
Asaph then used an exaggerated imagery to capture his strong feeling of resentment against prosperous wicked persons: “Their eyes swell out through fatness…”. He described them as abnormally obese to the point that their eyes are popping out of their face because of excessive fats. In the ancient world, obesity can be a sign of wealth and status. This signifies that the wicked people whom Asaph resents has an almost unlimited access to the pleasures of this world, may it be food, drugs, sex, expensive clothes etc.
And because the wicked indulges themselves with all the things that they desire, their hearts overflow with foolishness. There is nothing wise or sensible that will come out of a heart that is numbed with pleasures. The spoiled heart of a wicked person is not capable of understanding or sympathizing with others nor submitting itself to God because it is only obsessed with satisfying its own desires.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches. (Verses 8-12)
Because prosperous and wicked people think to highly of themselves, they also mock and scoff at others especially those who believe in God. And after mocking the believers of God, the wicked “… set their mouths against the heavens…” When powerful wicked men are given the opportunity to speak to a crowed, most often than not, you will hear them either contradict God’s word or ridicule God Himself. This is the result of too much pride. The reviling, insulting, mocking and ridiculing tongue of the wicked spares no one, not any man and not even God.
In verse 10, Asaph said, “Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.” What is being referred here as “his people” are the people of God, the Israelites who are also Asaph’s people. The people of God who are supposed to be offended for God’s sake, ironically are drawn by these wicked successful people and they surprisingly find no fault in them. This happens even to many Christians today. Sometimes we listen to wicked people despite what they have said against Christ and God. We follow them in social media like Tweeter, Facebook or Instagram. We watch their interviews, we read their books, and we follow their advice on how to live our lives or how to raise our kids etc. And we find no fault in them because at the back of our minds, if they are prospering in this life, then they must have been doing the right thing!
Never mind that they have insulted God in the past. Never mind that they refused to recognize Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Never mind that they give no regard to the word of God and most of the time they contradict it. What we can only see is their success and that gives credence to their words no matter how foolish they are. Sometimes Christians consult Oprah, Ellen the Generes, or Kris Aquino more than the Scriptures for guidance in raising their kids and managing their households. Some Christians, instead of searching the Scriptures for godly principles in leading the family, follow vlogs of unbelieving celebrities who don’t even know how to put their own lives in order.
And now because the wicked are prospering despite their wickedness; because they can practice violence and threaten oppression without anyone checking them; because they can scoff at the believers and mock God and yet God’s people find no fault in them, the wicked now asks “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High (verse 11)?” These wicked people perhaps say “If your God truly exist, and He is the good, all powerful and all-knowing God that you said He is, then how come we can get away with our crimes?” “Maybe your God does not really exist.” “Or maybe He really does exist, but He is not the omniscient God that He said He is because apparently, He is not aware of what’s happening here right now.”
And then Asaph summarized his complaints of the wicked by saying, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” The root of Asaph’s faith crisis is the apparent lack of moral order in the universe. It is absurd for him to see that the wicked are prospering and the righteous are suffering when he takes into consideration the fact that the universe is being ruled by an absolutely holy, sovereign, powerful and all-knowing God. It just doesn’t make sense to him and I know that we have the same struggle sometimes.
The questions that Asaph raised are valid questions. These are not malicious issues raised by a nominal believer that are designed to justify his decision to finally end his hypocrisy. These are valid questions raised by a genuine believer who is genuinely struggling with his faith.
The Turning Point in the Crisis
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children. (Verses 13-15)
Because of his faith crisis, Asaph started to question whether his efforts to maintain a pure heart and to live an innocent life are all worthless. Because of his frustrations, he now questions the value and benefits of living a holy life. This is not only because he envied the prosperity of the wicked, but also because he suffers as a believer. His sufferings as a believer involves being stricken and rebuked by God, although the expressions all day long and every morning are exaggerations that he used to communicate to the readers the regularity or the constant occurrence of God’s acts of discipline in his life.
The word stricken means affliction sent from God as temporal judgments while the term rebuked means to be harshly corrected or chastised. As Christians who are adopted children of God, we often experience these moments of chastening in order to bring us back to the right path. Sometimes when we feel that God’s hand of discipline is too heavy upon us, we wish that we were just like the unbelievers who are able live their lives the way they want, free from any fear of a fatherly discipline from God.
This crisis of faith robs Asaph of his peace. He wants to talk about his questions, he wants to discuss this with someone but he thought that if he speaks his mind, other believers around him might develop the same doubts. Others might think that he is an atheist who is planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the other, causing division among God’s people. This is what he meant when he said “If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” This fear of Asaph is valid because even in many churches today, when a Christian struggles with the difficult questions of faith, it’s either their pastors or church mates will shut them down or they will be accused of being overly critical and divisive.
This is a sad reality in many churches today. And the reason why some pastors react this way to the difficult questions of a struggling Christian is because they don’t know the answers to these hard questions as well. Perhaps they were struggling Christians before and their previous pastors or church mates shut them down also. So instead of resolving these critical issues in the faith, they swept their doubts under the rug and distracted themselves with emotional and sentimental songs, feel good sermons and shallow anecdotes that does not nothing but make them forget that their faith is standing on thin ice.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end. (Verses 16-17)
Because of this fear, Asaph kept his questions to himself. He tried to resolve these questions alone in his mind but he found this mental exercise extremely difficult. I think many of us can relate here to Asaph especially when you are the kind of person who cannot find peace until you find answers to your question. I myself have experienced this multiple times especially when I am still beginning to understand the doctrine of election. I remember myself sometimes falling asleep after much mental struggle with a huge disappointment in my heart because I cannot seem to reconcile in my mind the idea of God’s absolute Sovereignty and man’s personal responsibility.
Sometimes, out of frustration I would search in YouTube videos of atheists thinking that it would be easier for me if will just take their views instead of struggling to understand the hard doctrines of Christianity. But it is too late for me to be an atheist. I cannot convince myself anymore to believe that God does not exist after all the pieces of evidence for the existence of God that I was exposed to. Not to mention my own experience of how God saved me and how he saved my wife. I cannot go back to the shore of unbelief, so it’s either I die swimming or I reach the other side of the sea.
But praise God that He did not allow Asaph drown in his own doubts and questions. Asaph received an answer when he entered the presence of God by going through His sanctuary. Most of the time, in order for us to be able to find answers to our questions, it is not enough that we are intellectually willing to learn, research or contemplate, although we cannot deny that these things are necessary. Sometimes we forget that God is the fountain of all knowledge and we should come to Him to find answers to our questions. And we cannot do that unless we humble ourselves before Him and approach him with fear and reverence. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” And in James 1:5 we can read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
The Resolution of the Crisis
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. (Verses 18-20)
Here, Asaph realized that the stability of successful wicked people is a mere illusion. In fact, the wicked are in an extremely unstable position wherein any moment they could fall into ruin, destroyed in a moment and swept away by utter terrors. Unlike the believers, who though living in constant
persecutions, trials, and sufferings, has something greater to look forward in the afterlife, the wicked has nothing but an anticipation of judgement and perpetual torment in hell.
Asaph is starting to realize that his view of the comfort and prosperity of the wicked is exaggerated. The truth is, even the wicked are subconsciously aware that their days are already counted and the vengeance of God will leap upon them any moment. Aside from this, the wicked also have a sense of lack meaning and purpose in their life. And to distract themselves from this feeling of dread and emptiness, they numb their hearts with all sorts of pleasures like sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping and etc. But as soon as the bliss subsides, they are back to the reality that they are nothing but prisoners awaiting their execution.
21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Verses 21-24)
After receiving the answer from God, Asaph realized that he has been acting foolishly before his Creator. Like Asaph, when we are hurt and suffering, we tend to compare our circumstances with unbelievers and we question God about the discrepancies. Our judgment becomes clouded, we become unreasonable like beasts, and we exaggerate things in our minds like what Asaph did. Sometimes we come to God not only with questions, but with accusations. We demand answers from God as if He owes us an explanation about anything.
But praise God for his unconditional love for His elect. God is truly patient to us even at times when we become unreasonable and disrespectful to Him. His loving kindness towards us endures forever and He never let go of our hands no matter how stubborn we are. Here, Asaph continues with his walk with God despite the times when his feet almost slipped and he almost fell away from the faith. The reason why Asaph’s faith is still standing is not because he is such a faithful person to God. The real reason is, it is God who holds his hand and not the other way around.
The same is the case for all the elect. We persevere in faith because God is the one who preserves us. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 1:12 says, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”
Despite the moments of doubts and stubbornness, God guides his elect with the wisdom that comes through His word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He preserves us in order to make sure that He will receive us to glory. Romans 8:30 says, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Verses 25-26)
The answer to the rhetorical question in verse 25 is none! We don’t have anyone else in heaven to put our hope and trust to but God! And we are very blessed that in the New Testament, the answer to this question was further clarified and revealed to us more specifically. Right now, we know that the One who we can call as our own in heaven is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Romans 8:34 says, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
Beloved, it is not that Jesus is all that we need, but the truth is, He is all that we have. There are not many options for salvation. There are not many ways to go to heaven or to God but only Christ and Him alone! Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, it is true that Jesus is all that we have in heaven for our salvation. Some heretics say that there are many saviors like Buddha, Mohammad, Christ etc., and there are many ways or means to obtain salvation. They say that all of these ways, no matter how different they might appear, all leads to one and the same God. But this is lie straight from hell. There can’t be many ways and many saviors for that will contradict the very words of Christ and will make Him a liar. Christ is the only way to the Father, all other ways lead to a dead end.
When we think about this truth, we will not dare to wander from the faith no matter how hard life becomes. This realization is the also the reason why the 12 disciples of Christ remained with Him after all the other followers deserted Jesus due to His hard teachings. In John 6:67-69, Jesus said to the twelve “Do you want to go away as well?” and Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Although the 12 disciples deserted Jesus during his trial, their faith in Him did not totally collapse. They may have escaped out of fear but it is not because they no longer believe Jesus as their Messiah anymore. And in the end, we saw them continue with the faith to the point of laying their lives individually for the gospel.
When you are in a crisis of faith like that of Asaph and you are tempted to leave God, before you go, answer this question first: to whom shall you go then? Let’s say you did not receive answers from God for the questions that are thrown to you by the atheists. To whom will you get the answer then? To the atheist? Beloved, what the atheist can only offer you are questions that they themselves cannot answer. The moment you leave God, the unanswered questions in your head will multiply exponentially and you will soon know that the atheist don’t have answers to these questions either.
Asaph made a very important realization: that his health may fail and his courage can melt away, he may be stricken by a serious disease and become bedridden all the days of his life, he may become depressed and overwhelmed by his circumstances, but at the end of the day he will still persevere until his last breath because God is the strength of his heart. Beloved, even though the whole world is turning against you and the darkness of the night seems to have no end, take heart. Have faith that you will never fall because God is the strength of your heart. No matter how thick the darkness is, he will never allow your light to be put out. He will preserve you; He will uphold you because He loves you so much. And if ever you doubt that love that He has for you, beloved look at the cross of Christ! That is the evidence of the Father’s great love for you. He turned His face against His own Son on the cross so that someday you will be able to see Him face to face.
Even if the wicked is prospering and we are suffering, there is no reason for us to be bitter and envious of them because the Lord is our portion forever. It means that God is the ultimate source of our happiness. If you really consider God as your portion or inheritance, you will never compare your circumstances with the wicked again. The key to stable faith is to have a stable source of joy. The reason why we envy wicked, which causes us to struggle in faith, is because we forget that their source of happiness is different from ours. Since the wicked has all of the pleasures that the world could offer, we mislead ourselves into thinking that they are happier than us. We forget the fact they are actually miserable their source of joy is temporary, unstable, superficial and destructive.
The more that the wicked indulge themselves with worldly pleasures, the more they become corrupted, the more they become numb and the more they become depressed. Too much access to the pleasures of the world causes the wicked to self-destruct. But this is not the case for us, for we have a source of happiness that is pure, permanent, genuine, stable and unchanging. The more we enjoy God, the more we are made whole. And this is the case because this is actually what we are made for. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. (Verses 27-28)
Asaph now came to a conclusion that it is better to be near God than to be far from Him. Those who left the faith has only one end: destruction. God puts an end to the unfaithful. It does not mean that God cannot preserve the faith of some of His believers, and so when they finally leave Him, God destroys them. That is not the case. The truth is, those who leave God were not preserved by Him in the first place. And they were not preserved because they were not elected and that is why they did not truly believe in God. 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
So, the bottom line is there is nothing to gain in leaving God. In times of faith crisis, the best thing that we can do is to strive more to be near Him. When the storms of doubts and confusion visit us, let us go to the Lord and make Him our refuge. Running away from Him will not answer our questions, but there is always wisdom in submitting to Him, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Only those who survive the crisis of faith can tell of the works of God. Those who deserted Him can no longer speak about His works because of shame.
ZCRC Imus, it is not impossible that we will have the same faith crisis that Asaph experienced. When that moment comes, let’s us humbly go to the presence of the Lord, consider the end of the wicked and remind ourselves that, whatever happens, even though our flesh and our hearts fail us, God will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.