St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Sunday, June 28
By: Carol Hagler
Psalm 73 first caught my attention on a chilly November Saturday morning in 1989, as I studied the Sunday school lesson for the following day. Having found and read several other verses suggested for the lesson, I read Psalm 73:26.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart. And my portion forever.
“What?” I thought, “This doesn’t ‘fit’ with the other verses I have just read.” Sure enough – my error—right verse; wrong chapter! Or was it? I had fumbled my way into the perfect verse for my circumstances on that morning. My physical body (my flesh) and my mental, emotional, spiritual state (my heart) seemed to be failing in a spectacular way. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and on the following Wednesday was scheduled for a mastectomy. In one word, the psalmist reminded me of the path to hope, confidence, peace. He said, “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I clung to that verse repeating it over and over as I was rolled into the surgical suite on November 15. I have repeated it and found comfort in it in other crises that I have faced.
Much later I studied the rest of Psalm 73. Most often attributed to Asaph, a temple choir leader, Psalm 73 begins with a strong theological statement of God’s goodness. 1. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
However, Asaph soon experiences a crisis of faith – he “almost stumbles, nearly slips” (NKJ) as he observes the health, wealth and apathy toward God of the “wicked.” He speaks to me of my own experiences in times of personal problems and in times such as this when our country faces multiple cultural problems – COVID19, racial inequity, economic difficulties.
2– 3 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 thewicked.
His doubts and complaints are not without basis in reality, but he seems to be aware that his attitudes regarding these disparities do not reflect “his best self”.
4-12 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters of abundance. They say “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Faced with this picture of the easy life of the wicked, Asaph questions the benefit of his own devotion to God’s principles in view of his earthy circumstances compared to those of the prosperous.
13-16 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, ”I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me
And then an epiphany!
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
Entering the temple sanctuary and feeling the presence of the Lord, Asaph realizes that “the wicked” are only one step away from earthly ruin and more importantly, eternal separation from God.
18-20 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
Then, he confesses and grieves his envy and doubts.
21-22 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
(I think we Baptists call that conviction…)
He restates his trust in God’s love and goodness – no matter his circumstances. He acknowledges God’s constant presence and guidance. He asserts that the grace and mercy of God is better than anything on earth and that he looks forward to what God has planned for him for eternity.
23-28 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
I have come a long way from that November morning in 1989. There have been missteps and backslidings, but my heart still sings Asaph’s song of gratitude and praise.
“It is good to be near God.”
The Sovereign Lord is always a present refuge.
Thanks be to God.
A contemporary rendering of some of the thoughts of Asaph were introduced to the choir a couple of months ago by Randy Edwards. The composer, Robert Sterling, also finds solace and hope (and a bit of attitude adjustment) in God’s sanctuary.
Listen to the message of his song, “Church.” May we all be able “to go to church” soon.