Close Call with a Crisis of Faith - Psalm 73
Topic: Faith Passage: Psalm 73
Summer in the Psalms
Grace Community Church
August 29, 2021
Close Call with a Crisis of Faith
Psalm 73 is a psalm of Asaph. Asaph was a leader and a musician in King David’s court. A couple weeks ago we looked at another psalm written by Asaph, Psalm 77, in which he goes from complaining to God (lament) to declaring his confidence in God and we’ll see a similar shift in tone in Psalm 73. I see two sections, with an important cautionary hinge in between the two sections. Let’s read the first section found in the first 14 verses.
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.
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.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.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. Psalm 73:1-14
Asaph starts this song out by affirming that God is good to His people, but then immediately admits that on a personal level, he has had deep struggles with doubt. Asaph’s journey of faith hit a brick wall, and he has a crisis of faith. But as for me, my feet almost stumbled, my steps nearly slipped…
Asaph came close to losing his faith and he tells us why in verse 3: For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Vs. 3
Asaph saw arrogant and wicked men prospering in life. Our faith would lead us to believe that those who trust and obey God will get ahead in life, will lead a blessed life; and those who mock God and deliberately hurt and oppress people will be punished for it.
But what Asaph saw was just the opposite. The most wicked people he knew (and that’s what he’s talking about here – the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low), they were doing very well in life. They had plenty to eat, they were wealthy, their life was easy, no health problems right up to the day they died. The more these elitists took advantage of others for their own gain, abusing, threatening and hurting them, the further ahead they got! And that just encouraged them to mock and boast all the more! Meanwhile, all the regular people Asaph knew, himself included, were barely making ends meet. Their lives were full of hardships and afflictions. It looked like -and it felt like - God was striking him, rebuking him every minute of every day, and God was pouring favor out on those who mocked His name and hurt people.
And Asaph began to envy the wicked. I wish my life were more like their lives. I wish I had it easy. That things went smoothly for me. When Asaph says in verse 13, All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence he’s contrasting the fullness of their lives with what felt like the emptiness of his life (the word vain means empty).
Asaph is experiencing a crisis of faith. What he believes and what he sees aren’t matching up and that brings him to the very edge of losing his faith.
I want to pause here a moment. In recent years it seems like more Christians than ever are experiencing a crisis of faith. I think there are different reasons for that, but if that’s you, start where Asaph starts. Don’t deny it, be honest about it, especially with God. There are times when what we see around us can lead us to question our faith. It can really seem that our faith doesn’t match up with the reality we see around us. A good first step is to be honest about the struggle with God and good friends.
If you know someone who’s going through a crisis of faith, be a loving friend and a steady witness in their lives. If their faith is adrift, they need people in their lives whose faith is anchored and steadfast. And don’t forget to pray for them.
So Asaph is having this crisis of faith, but then something is about to happen that will completely change his perspective. But before we get to that, there is a cautionary hinge in verse 15 we want to look at:
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. Vs. 15
Asaph has all these doubts and questions going in his heart but in the midst of it he knows he needs to be careful. Here we come to a delicate balance. I just said we want to be honest, but verse 15 reminds us to also be wise about what we say and to whom we say it. Asaph realizes if he vomits out all his doubts to everyone he might damage the next generation by undermining their faith in a way they never recover from.
There’s a word of caution here, especially to parents: be careful how much negativity you share in front of your kids. If we run down other Christians or other churches in the hearing of our kids, if we air every dispute and conflict in front of them, if we constantly question the sincerity of anyone who doesn’t see things the way we do, we might think we’re just being “honest” and “real” but the next generation might interpret it as all Christians are phony, that there’s nothing to the Christian faith and their tender faith might be damaged, maybe terminally, by it. Asaph uses the word “betray” – if he were to lead the next generation to question their faith, he would be betraying them in the worst possible way.
So we need wisdom. We need a place and people we can be honest with, but we need to be careful not to stumble a younger or weaker brother or sister.
In the midst of this crisis of faith something happens to Asaph that we read about in verse 16:
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.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. Vv. 16-20
Asaph was tired of trying to figure it all out. Then he entered the sanctuary of God and God met him there, and God changed his perspective. Asaph saw something he had been missing: he saw the end of the story.
until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Vs. 17
He saw their “acharit” – the Hebrew word for their final end. And suddenly Asaph doesn’t envy them anymore.
Our lives are stories, and we can’t fully understand the story until we know the end. The acharit. When the Bible talks about the “end times” – the acharit of history, it describes a time when in mankind’s humanistic effort to make the best world possible, they will succeed in making the worst time in history. People living in the moment based on what they see will be very hopeful. The Bible says when they cry “peace! Peace!” sudden destruction will come upon them.
We don’t understand the story until we understand the end.
If it was announced that five random homes on your block would be given a free week- long cruise on a world-class luxury ocean liner and the neighbors on both sides of you were chose but you weren’t, you might be pretty disappointed. But think what a difference it would make if the departure date for the cruise was April 10, 1912 and the name of the ocean liner was the Titanic? You can’t understand the story until you know the end.
When Asaph enters the sanctuary he sees what all the Bible tells us: one day God will set things right. No injustice will be left unanswered. No evil will be left unpunished. We can’t understand the story until we know the end.
These aren’t happy verses. Asaph finds no joy in seeing their acharit, but he does find perspective. Their injustices, their oppressions, their violence, and their proud mockery will turn to ruin and terror. Asaph sees their end and wants no part of it.
Asaph also sees his own life story through a new lens.
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.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.
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. Psalm 73:21-28
Earlier he felt like his life was stricken and rebuked by God, but now he sees that God is with him, holding his hand and guiding him. Faith is so much more than a lucky rabbit’s foot that we rub and everything goes good. Faith roots our story in God. The good, the hard, the sad, the happy, all are rich with meaning and hope because our faith connects us with God’s redemptive purpose for our lives. We can say with Asaph, when my flesh and my heart fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. He gives me grace to live, and He is the reason I live (my portion forever). And Asaph sees his acharit:
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Vs. 24
When we come to a crisis of faith, be honest with God and trusted friends. And don’t try to figure out the why’s without God. The story can’t be understood without God – He is the author and the center of the story. Jesus is the author and the perfector of our faith.
One last thing about the acharit: on the last day God will do more than right what’s wrong and repair what’s broken. God alone is able to reverse the harm done, the evil done, the injustice done, the breaking done.
Think about the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. The Jewish religious leaders held a trial to judge Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. Now there were two possibilities they had to consider: Jesus either was the Son of God, or he was a blasphemer. They judged him guilty and sentenced him to die on the cross.
Now another court could have come along posthumously and declared Jesus innocent of the charges, but they couldn’t reverse the sentence which was death because he was already dead. But God declared in power that Jesus was indeed His Son, and then He reversed the sentence, raising Jesus up to life again!
When Jesus receives us into glory, made possible through his death and resurrection, all the wrongs, all the pain, all the suffering, even all the stains and regrets of our own sin will not only be forgiven, they will be reversed. Our final end (acharit) will be glory and we won’t want to change one word of our story. Not when we see the end.
That’s what we believe. That’s our faith. And we can stand assured because our faith is built on the promises of God and Jesus Christ His Son. Let’s pray.