One summer, I was spending two months at a discipleship training event in Daytona Beach with a college ministry. On Saturdays, we were encouraged to practice what we were learning about sharing the gospel on the shores of the beach. We would approach men, women, and families on the beach to engage in spiritual conversation and share a gospel presentation. Typically, we would close our time by asking if there were any other questions they had. Almost every Saturday, I was hit with a question like, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" The stumper of all stumpers. This is a question we've frequently heard asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. When we hear stories of noble and faithful men and women that experience injustice, suffering, or unspeakable trial we might question, "Why would God allow the righteous to suffer?" and sometimes we might take it a step further when we see others prospering in their sinful ways and ask, "Why do the wicked prosper?" Though having a simple answer might've helped in my conversations on the beach, understanding these things are not simple. God's Word does not always give us direct answers but will always provide us with hope and wisdom for every circumstance.
Psalm 73 is a chapter of the Bible that centers around the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked. Read the full Psalm here. This chapter helps to shape our perspective when asking questions like the ones above. In the introduction of Psalm 73, Asaph, the author, is recounting a similar struggle. Asaph was an organizer and leader for the temple choirs in the days of David, and likely for Solomon after him. He was a man after God living among people indulging in the ways of the world. He was striving for faithfulness, but those around him were striving for futility. Yet, their lives seemed to be easier and free of consequences. He questioned why God would allow such prosperity to such wicked people and suffering to people like him.
The hard truth of our nature is that we are not righteous people or even good people in and of ourselves. The Bible makes it clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23) and that no one is righteous, not one (Rom. 3:11). Even if we desire to do good, we do not do it (Rom. 7:18-19). But God, He is good in and of himself. He is the essence of goodness. He is good and He does good. Anything good in this world comes from Him. But thanks be to God! He does not leave us to ourselves but graciously offers us the gift of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23), so that if we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we then have access to the goodness of God. Our hope is not in our own goodness. Our greatest hope is in the goodness of God. Asaph begins the Psalm by acknowledging God's goodness (Psalm 73:1). This is a declaration, an acknowledgment of assurance in God's character, and a foundational truth.
Though Asaph confidently trusted in God and believed that He is good, he was struggling to see that truth in his circumstances. He wanted to walk in obedience in a manner that pleased the Lord but seemingly felt no reward for his faithfulness. The wicked lived as they pleased. Why did their lives look so easy, when his life felt so hard? Because of this, Asaph began to doubt his own pursuits. He saw arrogance, wealth, gluttony, violence, blasphemy, and every kind of evil. He wondered how God could allow these people to continue you in their ways. He questioned whether he was walking in obedience for nothing.
In the midst of his questions, the answer is found when he enters into God's presence. Asaph is reminded of who holds His righteousness. If it were not for the saving grace of God, Asaph would know nothing else but the way of the wicked. His comparison to others was crippling his understanding of God and robbing him of contentment. His hope was in God and he needed to be reminded of that. What was the prosperity of the wicked? Temporal. Those who put their hope in the ways of the world will surely perish with it (1 John 2:16-17). Asaph is reminded of the ultimate hope of this world that the wicked will never enjoy - the presence of God forever.
In all of Asaph's questioning and doubts, he concludes there isn't any earthly prosperity that can be to him what God is to him. God is where supreme joy, comfort, and hope is found.
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.Psalm 73:23-26
The hope of this Psalm is that to those who belong to God, there is good to come, fully and finally in eternity. Christians are not promised an easy life. The circumstances we face now, whether unfair treatment, injustice, pain or suffering, even death will not get the final say. But we are reminded of God's promise that He will be present and near. God made this promise complete by sending Jesus to secure our hope for all who believe and trust in Him. There is nothing in this world that can rob God's people of that hope. Though doubts and questions may come and while we may not always understand why things happen the way they do, we can confidently declare and trust in God's goodness. There is no bad that can take away the goodness of God. This world is passing away. Our flesh and heart will fail, but God assures those who are faithful that He will be their strength and portion forever.