But as for me, it is good to be near God.
Surrounded by Contradiction
The anonymous writer of the gospel classic, “Farther Along,” began the hymn with this: “Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder/Why it should be thus all the day long/While there are others living about us/Never molested, though in the wrong.” Asaph, the composer of Psalm 73, expresses a similar sentiment. After acknowledging God’s goodness, in verses 2 and 3, he confesses: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
More often than we’d like, we’re surrounded by contradiction. We follow Christ to the best of our ability, yet we observe others who don’t honor—in some cases, altogether ignore—His principles prospering and progressing more rapidly than we. From what we see, their lives are wrinkle-free, while we’re constantly trying to iron out complications we didn’t anticipate or weren’t of our doing. We’re oft made to wonder. In fact, sometimes the contrast between their good fortune and our problems is so severe, we’re apt to ask, “What’s the use? This faith thing isn’t working like it’s supposed to.” We’re like Asaph, who can’t understand why the wicked “have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.” (v4-5) We feel our feet slipping; we nearly lose our foothold.
Before It Gets Better
Many times it gets worse before it gets better. While we hang on, striving to love God and our neighbors, those living for their own pleasure shove their health, wealth, and success in our faces. Some go so far as thinking their position entitles them to belittle us. “Pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence,” Asaph says. “They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.” (v6, 8) Haven’t we all been there? While clinging to hope, the smug counsel of non-believers is not what we need. In Psalm 35.15 and 17, David describes how it feels to be surrounded by people without faith during stressful times: “When I stumbled, they gathered in glee; attackers gathered against me when I was unaware. They slandered me without ceasing. O Lord, how long will you look on?” And haven’t we all been there too?
Opposition during times of doubt isn’t confined to non-believers, either. When our faith is under fire, fellow Christians who dispute our godly inheritance and condemn us for not conforming to their beliefs may also turn up. They insist our troubles prove we’re wrong. But the Bible says the opposite in Psalm 34.19: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from the all.” The Philadelphia church faced the same problem. While it soldiered through hardship, some believers challenged its legitimacy. Yet Christ instructs John of Patmos to write this to them: “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3.11) When non-believers or doubting Christians surround us, claiming superiority based on their success, that’s the message we need to hear. We hold on to what we have. We give our crown to no one.
Is it not crazy to think we’ll profit by entertaining doubters in troubled times? Their cynical condescension only adds to our confusion, making it harder still to comprehend why they flourish as we languish. Asaph writes, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (Psalm 73.16-17) Hardship is not the time to compare our situation with others presently better off, nor is it the moment for exposing ourselves to undue criticism. It’s time to hide—to seek sanctuary in God’s presence, rejuvenate our confidence in His purpose, and wait for His direction. “For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle,” Psalm 27.5 reads.
Looking around us and listening to faithless advice are wastes of time. They encourage discouraging questions: Has God forgot us? Has He ceased to care? Though we know neither is true, needless influence leads to such conclusions. It pushes us away from God—our only help—when we should scramble near Him. Asaph finally gets this. “Yet I am always with you,” verse 23 says. “You hold me by your right hand.” After using others’ success to benchmark his situation, he lands on the best solution he—and we—will ever find. He lets God deal with everyone else. “But as for me, it is good to be near God.” When trials befall us, we quit looking at people to start looking for God. And once we find He's there, as always, holding us in His hand, we stay close.
Rather than watch how everyone else is doing, it’s best to see God is close to us—closer than He may appear—and stay close to Him.
(Tomorrow: Engineering Disasters)