Unless you live in Antarctica, which I presume you don’t, then you will have been impacted negatively in some way by the Covid-19 pandemic that is happening worldwide. The optimists thought it would all be over by now – “just another influenza!”. The realists knew better. The problem is that it actually appears to be getting worse, and on top of that some places are going through a “second wave”, and maybe wondering how many “waves” will follow. Here in Australia, in the State of Victoria, we are experiencing it all over again. The city of Melbourne (population 5 million) has now gone into “shutdown” for 6 weeks and the Victorian border has been closed to all other States.
In my last Post I mentioned that the psalmist, Asaph, who wrote Psalm 73, most probably believed, like most traditional Jewish people of his time, that, in this life, those who do good, who live righteous lives, will be rewarded in proportion to their good works, but those who do evil, the rebels, will be punished according to their evil ways. Somehow though, that did not seem to work in reality and so Asaph was confused and full of doubt.
There were two things happening which seem to contradict his core beliefs on how things worked. One was what evil people seemed to get away with and two was what was happening to him.
Firstly, the others, the ones mentioned in this statement:
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Of them he says:
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Quite a description. No wonder he had doubts!
Secondly, on top of this there was what was happening to him, despite his wanting to live a righteous life, he says:
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.
This problem was then exacerbated by his response. He says:
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
So, it is not too difficult to understand how Asaph was feeling and why he reacted as he did. He is incredibly open and honest and gives us the opportunity to be just as open and honest before God if we are struggling with similar issues.
In fact, he makes a statement which reveals the incredible pain and despair and disillusionment he was going through. He says:
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
Have you ever felt like that? Is it really worth it? Is following Jesus really meant to be like this? Why are things so difficult, even though I am trying to live a godly life? Is my obedience and service to God all in vain?
In the New Testament we read of Jesus challenging his followers about following him, even through suffering and persecution. He said:
34 … Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:34-36)
The Apostle Paul later wrote concerning Jesus, and that our attitude in life should be the same as His:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)
The reality is that the people of God have often suffered in many ways, including by persecution. We read in Acts 5 that, having been “flogged” by the religious leaders of the time, the followers of Jesus continued to preach the good news, “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name [of Jesus].” (Acts 5:41)
Father, we confess that we often feel like complaining about our life’s difficulties, and yet you are patient with us. Teach us to rejoice even when we suffer disgrace for your great Name. Enable us to be “content whatever the circumstances” knowing that we “can do everything through Him who gives us strength.” (Phil. 4:11-13)