We’ve had quite a few gloomy days recently with pitch-black clouds hanging in the sky, the ominous prelude for some big winter storms. The Bible mentions a man named Asaph who had some winter storms of his own going on in his head. He had been entertaining gloomy thoughts, which he proceeded to write down in his prayer book – one of his prayers ended up being published and became Psalm 73 of the Bible. In this prayer Asaph voiced his frustrations about injustice staring him in the face on a daily basis. Let’s look at the preceding verses leading up to the statement quoted above. In Verses 11-14 we read:
“11 What does God know?” they [people] ask.
“Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
12 Look at these wicked people—
enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain.”
Asaph’s jealousy is the root cause for his gloomy thoughts here. He thinks he should be just as rich as his next-door-neighbor living a godless life. Or, according to his sense of justice, because he is a believer, God should shower him with good fortunes and curse his godless neighbor by leaving him with nothing; in other words: Asaph should be rich and carefree and his godless neighbor should be poor and penniless. Obviously, jealousy is exceedingly bad and undermines human relationships to no end. In terms of putting a negative spin on God’s reputation, people listening to Asaph might just come to the wrong conclusions. People may think that God cannot take care of His own children – and nothing could be further from the truth. So unwittingly, with his sour attitude, Asaph ends up insulting God by insinuating that He is not perfect. He is also insinuating that God’s people are blind. Why are they putting their faith in a God seemingly oblivious to their needs and powerless to help them? In his own assessment Asaph later remarks that if he had broadcasted his corroded thought life into the world he would have become a traitor to his own people, namely, to God’s people and to all that they stand for.
Asaph exemplifies how children of God are not exempt from character flaws. They are a peculiar cross between mortality and immortality. The Holy Spirit resides in their mortal bodies and connects them to the Eternal One. They believe that Jesus is God’s Son who fulfilled His mission to redeem every human soul through His sacrificial death. Their faith has deeply impacted their life choices, however, that does not mean there won’t be hang-ups. And it also does not mean that there won’t be bad apples in a barrel. The Apostle Paul mentioned in one of his letters to his Greek friends in Corinth that he faced danger from his own people. He wrote (2 Corinthians 11:26): “I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.”
So, how do we deal with such bad experiences? I don’t think we do ourselves a favor by backing away from people because we had some serious issues. In this vein I read an interesting quote from Charles de Lint this morning: “There’s bad apples in whatever way you want to group people – doesn’t matter if it’s religious, political or social. The big mistake is generalizing.” Thanks to the precious insights of our Psalmist Asaph we can learn what not to do: we do not want to get bitter. Asaph came to this conclusion when he prayed:
“21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
23 Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.”
Bitterness detaches us from reality; we no longer see things clearly. We get all wrapped up in our emotions and the fact that we got hurt. Yet, even while entertaining bitter feelings we still belong to the Lord because He is faithful. God does not disown us because of a sour attitude. God has never disowned His children because of bad experiences with them – and reading through the Bible records we know there have been plenty of reasons why He could have thrown in the towel and given up on mankind, but He didn’t, and neither do we today as we go through our own disappointments – instead we draw near to the Lord, lick our wounds and go back out again with an attitude of grace and love. Apparently, so did Asaph, and His prayer ends on a happy note (Psalm 73:2):