Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to good people? These questions are by no means new. They have been asked often by people of many different generations. This is what the book of Job is about. “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (Job 21:7).
Jeremiah asked the same question in Jeremiah 12:1;
“Righteous are you, O Lord,
when I complain to you;
yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?”
Psalm 73 is the poetic account of Asaph, the writer of this psalm, who was deeply troubled about these things – almost to the point of losing his faith.
“Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
After affirming God’s goodness to the righteous, Asaph admits that there was a time when he questioned this truth. He had almost stumbled when he looked enviously at the wicked who seemingly prospered abundantly and seemed to suffer no pain or loss in this life. Of these people he said, “...pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment,” and “They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.” Psalm 73:6, 8-9. How could God allow people like these arrogant, blaspheming boasters go on threatening the poor and profiting in their defiance of God?
It is hard to endure this kind of thing when one sees pleasure the wicked enjoy while denying himself these things in order to live a pure life and be found right in the sight of God. He admits…
“Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.” (vv. 12-14).
Was it in vain that he had kept his heart pure and maintained his innocence? Was it fair that he had been struck and rebuked for his efforts to serve God? Remember, these are the thoughts of Asaph before he resolved this puzzle in his own mind.
Are we ever tempted to think this way? Of course we are! We all have a built-in sense of fairness and justice. That does not mean that our idea of fairness is always right, but it does cause us to be outraged at what we perceive to be unfair. Sometimes it even causes us to blame God for the terrible things that happen. The reaction of many to the tragic shooting in Colorado this past weekend has been, on the part of some people, to blame God. “Why did God allow this to happen?”
We are like the psalmist. We puzzle and fret over these seemingly unanswerable questions which only results in giving us a headache. The problem with Asaph’s thinking was that he was looking at the problem from a human point of view. In order to put questions of this nature into perspective it is necessary that we think on a higher level. Listen to Asaph again…
“But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.” (Psalm 73:16-17).
The sanctuary was the temple. He had gone there to worship God. When he got his thoughts off himself and his own self-perceived sense of justice he was able to put things in perspective. In contemplating the sovereignty of God – that He is in control of all things and will judge according to His own sense of fairness – then he could see the end of the wicked. He knew God would not let them get away with their evil forever.
Not only did Asaph understand the end of the wicked, but in contemplating God’s goodness and power he saw himself as he had been in his foolish reckoning.
“When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.” (Psalm 73:21-22).
His thinking had been, what we might call, a “knee-jerk” reaction. He was basing his conclusions on emotions rather than understanding. But in contemplating God, he could see the foolishness of his own thoughts.
What did he see as the end of the evil-doers?
“Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (Psalm 73:18-20)
Something else Asaph came to realize – that all the pleasures the wicked received from their ill-gotten gains couldn’t compare to what he had in his relationship with God.
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:23-25)
He had found that money could not buy happiness. He had learned that happiness does not come from possessing things. He had learned that he did not have to solve all the problems of the world – that there was one who was infinitely smarter and more powerful who would right all wrongs.
Here is what he found to be the secret of true happiness.
“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 73:28).
And herein lies the secret of true happiness for you and me today. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that our life is right with our Creator and Friend. If you have not already done so, make Him your refuge and begin telling others about His works of love and grace.