Longing for the Divine

Psalm 73: God’s Sanctuary and Me

While pondering the events unfolding in our world today, I was struck by the remarkable words of Psalm 73. They tell of arrogant evildoers who clothe themselves in cruelty and violence as they threaten and oppress. The situation is complicated because these evildoers seem to prosper and flourish while the innocent languish. “I almost lost my footing,” the psalmist writes. “My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness . . . They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words . . . Does the Most High even know what’s happening? . . . Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?” (Psalm 73:2–3, 9–13, NLT).

The remarkable yet fragile honesty of Priest Asaph in this psalm is impressive. He describes his own struggles in light of the perplexities around him. Holding on to his faith amid these conditions seems a losing game. He tries to understand why the wicked seem to prosper, but it is too difficult for him to comprehend. In his disappointment, Asaph admits that he has become mesmerized by the apparent success of the wicked and that he almost chose to go their way.

I love what Asaph does to correct his thinking. He runs to the Sanctuary, and there in God’s presence, his perspective changes. He finds stability and a whole new sense of meaning. His soul’s deepest longing is met. In God’s Sanctuary, he learns about life’s high destiny and what truly matters. His sense of reality is recalibrated, and he comes to understand things from God’s point of view. Realizing that he has been stupid, he senses that God is holding him by the hand and guiding him with His counsel, leading him toward a glorious destiny (Psalm 73:21–23). In the end, he does not give up faith, recognizing that some things make no sense apart from it. “Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth . . . God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever” (Psalm 73:25).

Asaph faces a turning point upon emerging from God’s Sanctuary. His whole view of human reality has changed, as he is deeply moved by the insight of God’s mercy and grace. God’s Sanctuary guarantees His love, intimacy, and presence, but when the world seems wracked with arrogant and lying evildoers and instigators of war whose violence causes countless others to suffer and die, how can an old temple help us understand the senseless carnage and outrage?  

When Asaph exits the Sanctuary, he declares his new perspective. His greatest desire is to be in God’s presence and behold His goodness. Once Asaph realizes that God is his forever friend and that he is guaranteed God’s enduring love, everything changes. The Sanctuary helps Asaph understand that God is not the author of the world’s chaos and violence, and it gives him insight into the end of wicked evildoers. We may believe that these evildoers will eventually be judged and punished for their wickedness, but while this is true, consider Asaph’s logic for a moment. He sees that human arrogance and violence are causing problems and that these evildoers are already on a slippery path of inevitable self-ruination and destruction (Psalm 73:18).  

Sometimes, we may become fixated on the violence of an arrogant person, wishing that God would initiate similar violence to end the evildoers of our world. We may even invoke the Sanctuary to prove our traditional notions of judgment and God’s eventual punishment of these evildoers. However, I think the ruin of evil that Asaph describes is self-inflicted. At the end, judgment will reveal self-destruction. Asaph speaks about those outside God’s presence who are without permanence. “But as for me,” the psalmist writes, “how good it is to be near God!” (Psalm 73:28).                                                                                                                                                                  

The conclusion of Psalm 73 should not be disregarded. It’s good that Asaph shared his fragile honesty with us, describing how his views came to change. Perhaps we can learn from his struggle. “I almost went with the arrogant evildoers,” he says. This could be me! I could easily deceive myself into engaging in the same violence as arrogant evildoers while expecting a different outcome. Without the larger framework of Asaph in the Sanctuary, we might wreak havoc on the character of God. Like Asaph, I want nearness to God to last forever. I want to run into His Sanctuary and gain an understanding that will prompt me to cling to Him. The Sanctuary beckons all of us—especially those at risk of harm—to make God the place of our shelter and refuge. It beckons us to stay with God’s love. It urges us to tell the wonderful truth about God’s character (Psalms 73:28). What our world needs today is a picture of God’s goodness and love, a rarity in these times.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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