Why Should the Rantings of the Wicked Matter?

Why Should the Rantings of the Wicked Matter?

Why Should the Rantings of the Wicked Matter?: Psalm 73 Digs Deeper
Written by: Pete McClanathan

We’re seeing that Asaph’s lament in Psalm 73 arises from what he perceives as the “prosperity of the wicked” (vs. 3). Note his observations of the wicked. They seem prosperous, healthy, successful, at peace with themselves and their lives. That alone would justify Asaph’s lament, but as we continue we find something else, something more menacing.

So far Asaph’s lament has consumed but two verses of the psalm (vs. 4-5). It will require seven (vs. 6-12) to express his further outrage.

Asaph is about to show frustration beyond the material prosperity of the wicked. We’ll allow his own words to direct us down that road:

“Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’ Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Ps. 73: 6 -12)

Asaph is sharing some serious thoughts. Not only is he troubled by the material success of the wicked. We find here that their attitudes toward life, toward God, and toward others are equally troubling. Perhaps even closer to the center of his struggle. 

Can we lay these thoughts before us and take an honest look at ourselves? I suspect there are things at work in our hearts that we would do well to understand.

Recall our discussion of envy in the previous article. The subject of many biblical warnings, we found that envy can reveal something unsettling about our own thinking. The root of jealousy and envy lies in some measure of dissatisfaction with ourselves and the life around us.  

This of course should not be surprising. Dissatisfaction arises from insecurity, and there are so many sources of insecurity in our world. How do I look? How am I dressed? Can I compete for the attention I believe I need? What is missing in me that makes attention seem so important? Am I interesting enough for people to enjoy my company?     

Do I have skills that will earn a secure life for my family? How is a secure life measured? Are my parenting and ministry work up to expectations? Whose expectations? Why does any of this matter?  

God is offering us a jewel of wisdom in these observations of Asaph. For they track closely with our own. And we can suffer discouragement not unlike that of Asaph. 

As Asaph discovered, discouragement is magnified when the behavior of the prosperous includes rejection of values that we treasure, and pursuit of opposing values. Our reaction is, “Where are you, God? Why are the wicked granted prosperity in spite of their godless behavior? And why is prosperity allowed to express itself in vulgar ways?”

Let’s pursue this idea deeper. Why would Asaph, or you or I, care about what is going on in the lives of people we have little contact with or likely never will know? We can try to sanitize it by noting that their behaviors and attitudes are repulsive to God. And we’d be right. Asaph scans the landscape of the world and calls out a string of troublesome matters.

Leading the list is pride. The attitude that in certain ways I may be better than others. This discovery is not surprising, but why does pride of the wicked trouble us? The simple answer is that it challenges our sense of order, our feelings about how the world should operate. As if to say, “It’s bad enough when the wicked behave in ways that are offensive to us. But to do so with swagger and no remorse is just intolerable. They’re not only trashing behavioral norms but unapologetically showing disdain for fundamental standards and values. Why is God not rebuking them?”

But a more complex answer would direct itself back at ourselves. Why would these things be a source of such despair in Asaph, or in you and me? Is there some subtle pride in operation within us also? Does something in us suggest that we deserve prosperity more than those we deem wicked? Are we perhaps a bit jealous of them? Or afraid of them setting agendas for government and society? 

And on what basis would we believe that we’re more deserving? Is there in us a remnant of the age-old falsehood that our lots in life should correspond to our “goodness?” Are we seeking affirmation of our values by the world? Could it be that we’re secretly yearning for some reward or assurance that we’re on good terms with God?  

Does the comfort of our faith depend on what we see around us? Does inconsistency between what we believe and what we observe rattle the walls of our faith a bit? Asaph set those troubling questions before us in vs. 2 with the cry, “my feet had almost stumbled.”

The truth is that none of these questions stands up to biblical scrutiny. We risk serious error when we shape opinions and draw conclusions about what God’s activity should be. Think that through for a moment. It does not mean that there are no standards, or that we shouldn’t speak up for them. We may be quite biblically correct on the issues we observe.  

But feeling “right” is far from the measure of our responsibilities in God’s Word. Our place in the body of Christ compels much more. We’re called to see bigger things, to ask deeper questions, to speak more wisely, to respond more carefully.

Let’s consider what Asaph’s attitudes may be costing him. Asaph is allowing himself to be overrun with a flood of conclusions and charges, most of which are at best simplistic and at worst incomplete (recall the trap of assuming that something which seems real is in fact the whole truth). His words are direct and descriptive. But as he continues the lament, we see his troubled spirit groaning more and more deeply.  

Verse 6 suggests that pride can be a fellow traveler with violence, and human experience would agree. It can be common for persons in positions of wealth and success, if they have no clear moral compass, to dominate those around them. To criticize, exclude, discourage, disrespect, even destroy others whom they consider useless or in the way.  

Similar charges appear in vs. 8: scoffing, malicious words, and threats. And vs. 7 speaks of follies, the pursuit of worthless or destructive things. 

Arrogance and defiance reappear in vs. 9, paralleling the cries of vs. 6 and vs. 8, and will be repeated in vs. 12. Then in vs. 10 is Asaph’s troubling observation that God’s own people, their family members or friends, can be seduced to value or follow the wicked. A familiar lament in our time, is it not? And vs. 11 describes the outrage of defiance and mocking of God.

Who among us would not agree that these things are worthy of condemnation? Or that they are poisonous and dangerous to individuals and society? We could linger and develop long and thoughtful discussion over any or all of them. I’ve noticed that some in the body of Christ often do so. It can be easy and somehow comforting to point out the outrages in the world and to speak a biblical contrast. But what really is gained other than scratching a personal itch? Unless we have the courage, the studied wisdom, the self-control, and a proper forum to confront the wicked personally, or to warn and encourage the body of Christ corporately, are we really doing anything other than gossiping or “preaching to the choir?”

It is far more tempting to criticize the world than to do the hard work of conforming our hearts and lives to Christ. We can allow the comforts of Christian fellowship to insulate us from clear biblical instructions. What about my own pride? My spiritual self-righteousness? My compassion, love, caring, generosity, self-control, pursuit of godly wisdom? My forgiveness, my critical spirit, my self control, my concern for the interests of others, my willingness to engage even to an extra mile, my presentation of myself to God as a living sacrifice?

Admiration for the man Asaph protects from accusing him of intentionally destructive words or conduct. His lament is written as a personal cry. There is no indication it was intended for temple worship or public use. Yet the familiar topics of his anguish do inspire our understanding, and a measure of sympathy. 

It is clear that Asaph’s thoughts are sensitive and sincere. But he is fighting the wrong battles. Struggles that do little good and can only lead to a troubled and embittered spirit.

That is about to change, as we’ll discover in the second half of the psalm. But there is one more treasure to be mined from his honest laments. It’s found in vs. 13, and we’ll dig into it in the following article.

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