One of the best known memoirs of the Holocaust is Night by Elie Wiesel. Wiesel was a devout Jew before his experience in the Nazi death camps, but his time there destroyed his faith. He wrote, “Why, but why should I bless Him? In every fiber I rebelled. Because He had had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept six crematories working night and day, on Sunday and feast days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death? How could I say to Him: ‘Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, Who chose us from among the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematory?” (Night, 64-65). What happened to him, and what he saw happening around him, raised questions that caused him to give up his faith. (Nik Ripken, the author of the video we’re going to watch the next several Wednesday nights, was like that. He lost his son on the mission field, and he was asking, “Is God insane for asking His people to make sacrifices like that?” God’s NOT insane; but these kinds of questions are real, and difficult.)
The author of Psalm 73, Asaph, was almost like Elie Wiesel. This Psalm is his very personal testimony. He opens it with a truth: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But then he begins to tell his own personal testimony in :2, “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling.” He says God is good; I know that — but I came close to stumbling (in the Bible “stumbling” means to be lost; to give up the faith. In the NT Jesus says “don’t cause one of these little ones to stumble” — that means don’t do anything that might cause someone to be lost.) So here Asaph says, basically, I almost gave up the faith! He DIDN’T — but he said, he almost did. He was really troubled by what he had seen in the world around him, and it raised questions which bothered him. Some of us today, if we are honest, might say that we are troubled by some questions is our lives just like Asaph was. What caused Asaph to almost lose his faith, and what brought him out of it — and how can this help those of us today, who might have some questions like he did?
I. The Questions That Assailed His Faith
Asaph said as I looked around in the world, there were some things that bothered me. He said in :3, “For I was envious of the arrogant …” He said the wicked in his land seemed to prosper, and he was jealous of them. He goes on to describe their situation:
:4 “There are no pains in their death, and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind.”
He says, there are wicked people in the world, whom you would THINK God would be punishing, but instead they are not only not being punished, they are succeeding; they are prospering. How can that be?
He said these people mock at God (:8). In :11 he says they say: “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” He says these people are basically spitting at God and getting away with it!
So he says in :13, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence. For I have been stricken all day long, and chastened every morning.”
Asaph says, look at these wicked people, who mock God, who do wicked things to other people. They have no trouble; they succeed at everything they do; they are so well off they are bulging with fatness; and are “at ease” and “have increased in wealth.”
But on the other hand, HE, who was trying to obey God and do what is right, has “been stricken all day long, and chastened every morning.”
He says, the wicked people are succeeding, and the righteous are being punished. SO WHY SERVE GOD? He said it’s just about enough to make you lose your faith.
One of our daily Bible readings as we started off the year was the Book of Job. Job had questions like this, didn’t he? He didn’t understand what was happening to him:
— He said in Job 10:18, “Why then have You brought me out of the womb?” In other words, his suffering was so great, why would God allow him to be born if he was going to have to go through all of that?
— Then he asked in 13:24 “Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy?”
— In 21:17, “Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful?”
These are a lot like Asaph’s questions, aren’t they? Why do good people suffering, and wicked people prosper? Is it really worth it to serve God?
If Asaph had lived our century instead of his own, he might have been looking at the life of Hugh Hefner. Hugh Hefner may well have been one of the most evil men in the world in the last generation. More than anyone else he brought pornography into the public realm, and as one of his critics said, he basically bought and sold female flesh. He was used more by Satan than perhaps anyone else in his lifetime. He was evil. And yet Hugh Hefner lived in a $200 million mansion, and lived to the ripe old age of 91! Asaph might have looked at Hugh Hefner and said, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence.” Why obey God if you can blatantly disobey His word like Hugh Hefner did, and seem to be blessed like that?
Some of us today might ask those same kinds of questions:
— You might say, I have always gone to church, and tried to do everything right, but yet I have all this trouble right now — but my brother, or my friend, who never goes to church, and never thinks about God, has this great job, a nice home, and none of the troubles I have. So why am I serving God?
— Or: I have always tried to do the right thing, and not drink, or smoke, or do drugs, but I have all these health problems; while people I know who don’t care, but go and do whatever they want are totally healthy and able-bodied. How is that right?
— Why pray, when I pray these same prayer requests day after day, but it doesn’t seem like they are being answered?
— Why do I serve in ministry, week after week, but it doesn’t seem like it is doing any good, and no one is responding or changing?
— Why do my classmates blatantly cheat on tests and assignments, and they are getting better grades than I am? Why should I be honest? It doesn’t seem to “pay”?
There are a million of these kinds of questions. You have yours; I have mine; Asaph said he had his — and he said he almost gave up because of them. The thing about these questions is that they are usually based on our circumstances — on what we see happening around us and to us — but what we have to learn is that these circumstances don’t show us the whole picture. Asaph goes on to tell us here in Psalm 73 that God did show him the whole picture, and what he learned kept him from giving up ….
II. The Visit That Affirmed His Faith
:17 “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
Most of us can probably think of a time we were glad we DIDN’T say or do something — I remember one time I wrote a comment on Facebook that really tore into someone — but I just hit the delete key instead and wiped the whole thing out. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t send it!
That’s like Asaph here. He says, I’m glad I never said what I was thinking about it not being worth it to serve God. He says in :16 that all of this “WAS troublesome in my sight — UNTIL I came into the sanctuary of God. Then I perceived their end.” There are a couple of things here that Asaph says changed his perspective on what he saw happening around him:
A. The visit he made:
— First, he say in :17 “It WAS troublesome in my sight, UNTIL I came into the sanctuary of God.”
That is so important. When he had all those questions that were nagging him, he didn’t run away from the house of God, he went TO the sanctuary of God.
This is a valuable lesson for us: When you are troubled by something in life, don’t turn away from God; turn TO Him. Bring your troubles, bring your questions, bring your doubts to God. He can handle it!
This is what a lot of these Psalms are about. Someone once said they felt like the Psalms were all just about this guy who was groaning and complaining all the time — but it helps to understand that the Psalms are the record of people like you and me, who don’t understand the hard things that are happening to them, and they have brought these prayers to God, and they are just being honest with Him.
And it shows us that we can do that with God too; these Psalms give us permission to bring our honest hurts and feelings to God, and say like these Psalmists:
— “surely in vain I have kept my hands pure” like Asaph here in Psalm 73,
— “My God, my God; why have You forsaken me?” Like David in Psalm 22
— or “why have I looked for sympathy but there was none.” (Psalm 69:20)
— Why do I cry by day and You do not answer, and by night, but I have no rest? (Psalm 22:2)
— Why did the close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate bread with me, lift up his heel against me? (Psalm 41:9)
Listen, the real Bible — not just the “feel good” parts of the Bible that get quoted in a lot of our devotionals — the real Bible is FULL of these REAL, honest, hard questions that God’s people have brought before Him. And they show us that we can be HONEST with God; we don’t have to hide in some kind of “fake spirituality” and hold any of our questions back from Him. God can handle our hardest questions and still love us. So don’t turn away from God in your questions and times of difficulty, turn TO Him. Like Asaph, “come into the sanctuary of God.”
Be like the disciples in John 6, when Jesus had told the crowds that had been following Him some difficult things about what it meant to believe, and everyone was leaving Him. The Bible says Jesus turned to His disciples and asked if they were going to go away too. But Peter answered and said to Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.”
That’s a good word for some of us. If you’re going to turn your back on God in your distress, where are you going to go? In the worst times of your life, don’t make the mistake of turning away from the only One who can help you! Don’t turn FROM God in your questions, turn TO Him. Put yourself in the position to where you can hear from God.
Several times in recent months I have had individuals say to me: “Pastor, that message today was for me! That spoke to a need in my life, or a question on my heart.” And I am grateful that God speaks to us through His word! But here’s the thing: what if they hadn’t been here to hear that word? That’s why it’s so important to be here at church on a regular basis. A person may say, well I just don’t feel like being there today — but that may be the day that God is going to speak to you. Put yourself in the position so that God can speak to you.
It’s the same thing with our daily Bible reading. God has SO much to say to us — and so many of us are getting so much out of His word every day. But we have to put ourselves in the position where God can speak to us, by opening His word each day and reading it.
So make the “visit” that Asaph made; put yourself in the place where God can speak to you about the issues of your life: be faithful in your church attendance; be faithful in your daily Bible reading. Like Asaph, “come into the sanctuary of God.”
B. The Revelation he was given
But it wasn’t just that he came to God; God actually SHOWED him something specific that helped him: he says in :17, “Then I perceived their end.” He says God showed me not just what the present state of these wicked people is, but what their END is going to be. He says, God showed me that what I am seeing around me NOW, is NOT how this story is going to end:
— He says in :18-20 “Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!”
The revelation of God’s word shows us this important truth: that what you see now, of the wicked succeeding and the godly suffering, is not how it is always going to be. It is going to end differently. Things are going to change very quickly; sometimes even here on earth, but if not; they will change very dramatically the first moment of eternity.
Sometimes things change very quickly, even here on earth, don’t they? Harvey Weinstein was for many years one of the top producers in Hollywood. In fact, someone pointed out that over the past 20 years at the Oscar ceremonies, Harvey Weinstein had been publicly thanked in the Oscar speeches as many times as God! But the man was a sexual predator. How did he get away with this, year after year? It seemed to many people like he was just continuing to sin and get away with it. But he didn’t get away with it, did he? Last October it all came crashing down, with a New York Times investigation, and complaints by dozens of his victims. He was fired from his company, kicked off of the Hollywood Academy, his wife left him, and criminal charges are being investigated. It has all turned around, so suddenly. It is just like Psalm 73 says: “You have set them in slippery places … How they are destroyed in a moment.”
God showed Asaph that it can all change so suddenly. Sometimes it changes suddenly during our lives here on earth — like it did for Harvey Weinstein. But sometimes we never do see it here on earth. But it WILL change suddenly and even more dramatically, the moment they enter eternity.
That’s the story of the Rich Man & Lazarus in Luke 16, isn’t it? That rich man lived in luxury, and wouldn’t even give the crumbs from his table to poor Lazarus; and there was that poor man, covered with sores, starving. It wasn’t right. Maybe Lazarus was tempted to give up HIS faith. Maybe people who walked by and saw the Rich Man & Lazarus were tempted to give up THEIR faith. But if they did, they were foolish. Because ONE SECOND after they died, it all changed suddenly, didn’t it? That poor man was carried away to eternal comfort, but the rich man found himself “in agony in this flame.” It is just as Psalm 73 says: “You cast them down to destruction, How they are destroyed in a moment. They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors.”
So when Asaph got this revelation from God, he said “Oh, I’ve been so foolish.” He said in :22, “I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You,” God. He said, I was so foolish for almost giving in to these questions, and almost giving up my faith. Because God has showed me that things are going to end differently than they are right now.
Whitney Hand was one of the best women’s basketball players who ever played for the University of Oklahoma, and she is also a Christian. But her sophomore year, she suffered a knee injury that took her out for some time. But she had great character; she worked hard and came back, and was an inspiration to many. Her senior year she was having a great season, when in the first half of a game, she blew out her knee again, ending her career at OU. Sooner women’s coach Sherri Coale was dejected at the press conference after the game. She said: “It should end better for this kid. It should just end better. We don’t know why; it’s not our place to guess or even speculate. In the deepest part of your heart you just want it to end better for her.”
When I read that story I wrote an article and sent it to the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, which basically said that because Whitney Hand knows Jesus as her Lord & Savior, that that wasn’t the end of the story for her. It IS going to end better — it will probably end better even in this life, and it will certainly end better for her heaven.
See, what we have to remember is that this life is not all there is. If it is, then just “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” If this life is all there is, then it may not be worth it to serve God, because there are people who sin, and cheat, and steal, and seem to get away with it — while people who obey God sometimes suffer. But because there is an eternity, what happens in this life is not even a speck on the timeline of eternity, and we know that things will be different there. God will judge the wicked, and He will reward the righteous; those who have turned away from their sins, and followed Jesus as their Savior. And for all eternity, we will know that was worth it all, in the end, to serve God, no matter what we suffered here on this earth.
That’s the message of Psalm 73. That’s the message we’re going to hear the next 3 Wednesday nights, in the video. God is NOT insane; it IS worth it to serve Him, literally no matter what the cost.
Our challenge today is to believe that. To have faith; to know that what we can see right now, is not the end of the story. To not be “senseless and ignorant; like a beast before (God)” as Asaph says in :22; To believe that it WILL “end better” for those who “trust in the Lord and do good.”
You often hear people today say: “Don’t be on the wrong side of history.” We hear that a lot from people today who believe that God and the Bible and fading away into history, and the future holds only the triumph of godless values. So they say: “Don’t be on the wrong side of history.”
But the thing is, the Christian has the ultimate perspective on history. We know where history is going. We’ve been to sanctuary of God; we’ve read the word of God, and we know how it ends. History is not going to end with secular humanism on the throne. History will not see the wicked ultimately prosper. There may be times when it seems to be going that way — and it looks like that a lot in America today — but the Bible says it will not end there. So don’t cave in to your doubts. Don’t give up your faith. You’ll only regret it if you do. Just like Asaph, bring your doubts to the Lord, and let Him show you in His word that although it may not look like it now, “it is going to end better” if you’ll hang in there, and learn the lesson of the man who almost gave up his faith.