This morning I read Psalm 73. It is an important psalm, because it deals with a common false understanding of the relationship between faithfulness and material blessing. It begins with the statement:
“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” (v.1)
This reflects the widely held belief (then and still now) that there is a direct link between faithfulness to God and prosperity. But then the psalm quickly moves on to point out an apparent inconsistency. It expresses the psalmist’s puzzlement and frustration that godless, wicked people seem to be not only getting away with it but are prospering:
“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills … they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.” (vv.2-8)
Not only are these people living “wicked” lives, but they are blasphemously denying the existence of God and proudly setting themselves up as their own ‘gods’:
“Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth … They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” (vv.9,11)
Yet, despite their blatant defiance of God, they are not being punished. In fact, these arrogant, boastful people seem to be gaining a huge following of people who laud them and place them on a pedestal:
“Therefore, their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” (v. 10)
Not only are these people incredibly popular and amass a huge following, they also often accumulate great wealth:
“This is what the wicked are like — always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” (v.12)
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you know people like this? As I read these verses, I find myself thinking of social media ‘influencers’ who amass a huge following and make a lot of money sprouting forth their philosophy. I also think of successful business people and the rich and famous, some of whom live debauched lives openly and defiantly declaring their disbelief in God, and yet they seem to prosper. It can make you wonder why God isn’t doing something about it. The psalmist certainly voiced that question, wondering what the point of being faithful to God was if it amounted to nothing in this life:
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” (v.13-14)
The psalmist is clearly puzzled. Why is he, a faithful servant of God, afflicted with hardship, while the godless and wicked prosper? What strange twist of God’s providence is at work here, that the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle and suffer? Perhaps you have sometimes had similar questions.
But then the psalmist finds the answer to his own questions. He shifts his focus away from the immediate, material world and begins to consider the life that awaits us all, beyond the grave. He starts to consider the eternal perspective:
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” (v.17)
And what is this “final destiny” he speaks of? It is the fact that every human being will one day stand before the judgment seat of God and justice will finally be handed out:
“Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies … Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.” (vv.18-20, 27)
This is an important psalm because it explains two profound truths. Firstly, there is no direct link between faithfulness to God and prosperity. Today’s prosperity preachers have got it wrong. Even basic common sense should tell you that, because not all billionaires are Christians and not all poor people are godless pagans. In fact, far from it. If you are caught up in the false teaching of the prosperity doctrine, Psalm 73 asks you to wake up and smell the roses. Look around you and do a reality check! (You might want to click this link to go to my website, smartfaith.net, to check out previous posts which have dealt with the false prosperity doctrine in detail).
Secondly, the psalm points out that although godless people seem to get away with it and even prosper in this life and many godly people seem to struggle, there will be a final reckoning. Wicked people won’t get away with it in the end. They have a looming appointment with the God of Heaven where justice will finally and irrevocably be handed out. It is an appointment that they cannot escape. They can’t get their secretary to cancel it. They can’t stack the board to overturn it. They can’t bribe their way out of it or gaslight the issues or stack the jury in their defence. The Day will come when they will stand before the judgment seat of the God whom they have denied and defied all their lives, and they will experience the full force of his righteous wrath. Conversely, those who have been faithful to God and lived lives that have honoured him will be finally and eternally rewarded. Their temporal hardships and sufferings will be swept aside, and they will receive a reward that far outweighs them all.
So be encouraged.
Or warned, as the case may be.