Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation
Gaining God's Perspective in the Midst of Trials
||Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.
Sometimes it seems that living for God yields no real tangible benefits. At least, that is what the psalmist said in a moving lament: “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psalm 73:13-14). Such a pessimistic statement, however, stands in bold relief to the introductory affirmation of this psalm: “Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart” (v. 1).
The psalm alludes to the circumstances that gave rise to the feelings of futility expressed in verse 13. The psalmist, who took God seriously, apparently had been stricken with a debilitating disease that inflicted him with a prolonged period of discomfort (v. 14). On the contrary, evildoers who boasted of their infidelity appeared to prosper in every conceivable way (vv. 3-12). Reflecting on this perceived disparity, the psalmist began to lose faith in the special beneficence of his God (v. 2). However, something on the psalmist’s spiritual decline toward faithlessness caused him to alter his course radically, and exclaim: “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works” (Psalm 73:28).
The turning point occurred when this wearied follower of God entered the sanctuary and was reminded of the fate of the wicked, and God’s continued presence with the godly sufferer (vv. 17-24). The sanctuary of God was where the Law was read, prayers were uttered, and songs were sung. It was there that God’s sovereignty and vision of life were articulated and acknowledged. In the solemn presence of God, the psalmist recaptured and confessed his profound trust in Jehovah’s life-sustaining power, even though there is no indication that his external circumstances had changed.
Though written centuries ago, this psalm is as relevant today as it was when it fell from the author’s inspired pen. In bold language, it affirms the real struggles that the faithful face in their walk with God. The lament embraces the daunting reality that our faith in God’s benevolence can be subverted by extreme adverse circumstances. Yet, the psalm also demonstrates that expressing one’s waning faith and frustration to God is, itself, an act of faith. For in so doing, the complainant implicitly trusts that God will hear.
The psalm also provides meaningful language for all believers who struggle with the realities of living. While it embraces the negative emotions associated with the pain of unfavorable situations, it moves us beyond such potentially destructive thoughts. In the end, it offers us God’s perspective in the midst of our trials and invites us into His holy presence where we can find “the strength of our hearts and our portions forever” (v. 26).