070506 TQ-Why Isn't God Fair
Tough Questions – Real Answers
Why Isn’t God Fair?
May 6, 2007
If God is good, shouldn’t we receive more “good” things in our life?
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
A few years ago a young man named Jason Brookins, a GB Packer made a huge mistake.
He misinterpreted the Packers’ request for his playbook. Jason thought that that was their way of telling him he was cut from the team so he turned in his playbook, jumped in his car and began the long drive to his home in Missouri. He was so despondent that he turned off his cell phone and no one could reach him.
But his perception was wrong. The Packers had no intention of releasing him. His name was on a list asking for him to turn in his playbook so that it could be updated in time for the next practice.
It’s so easy for us to get out of touch with what is real. When we lose our perspective of reality, we can say and do some pretty crazy things.
Our perception of reality will always affect our response to reality. I wonder if some of you may have lost your spiritual equilibrium as a result of some faulty perceptions.
One of the ways we can have a faulty perception of reality is by not having all the information… and that includes the facts about life and what is fair and what isn’t.
One of the major issues for all people, in all cultures, societies, backgrounds and times is the inequities of life. Life just isn’t fair. God isn’t fair.
Today I’d like to introduce you to the 73rd Psalm. It’s important enough that I’d like you to open your Bibles to it and read it with me this morning. I’ve also would like you to get out a pen and use the the sheet in the bulletin to take down some notes.
The 73rd Psalm was written by a man named Asaph.
We don’t know a lot about him but he was a mature, godly man who served as the worship leader in the temple. Asaph wrote 12 different Psalms.
He was a man of God yet here in this psalm we see a men who was ready to hand in his playbook and head for home. He almost walked away from because his perception of reality was mixed up.
This psalm is very personal, and filled with gut-wrenching honesty. In it Asaph asks the question that many of us have asked at one time or another: If God is supposed to bless believers, why do we struggle with health, finances, and relational turmoil while the unbelievers around us seem to enjoy prosperity? Or, we could ask it this way, “Why are the wicked successful while the righteous suffer?”
Asaph begins with an introduction, a summary statement, and a theological conclusion all wrapped up in verse 1: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”
Asaph is stating the universal premise for the believer: God is good.
The word “surely” literally means “yet” and also has the idea of exclusivity: “No matter what happens, God and God alone is good.”
While we can count on this certainty, it’s also the crux of the problem.
Shouldn’t we at least have more blessings than those who don’t even care about God?
The Human Perspective
After stating what he knows is ultimately true, Asaph looks around and from a human perspective wonders what is going on in the first half of the psalm. He was bothered by what he had been taught in Scripture because what he had experienced in life was radically different.
In verse 2, he admits that he had almost “slipped.” This verse stands in stark contrast to the certainty of verse 1: “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” God, you might be good, but I almost bailed on you. Asaph felt like he was trying to walk on moss-covered rocks in a lake. He came very, very close to losing his confidence in God’s goodness because of four things that he saw around him.
The Prosperity of the Wicked
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Verse 3 tells us why Asaph almost went spiritually AWOL: “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
The word “arrogant” comes from a root word that means a loud and clear noise. The idea is that a proud person is one who toots his own horn real loud. It’s also used of the braying of a donkey.
Notice that Asaph is not upset with the arrogant or the wicked, he’s jealous of them. He wants what they have. But actually this goes much deeper.
The word “prosperity” doesn’t do justice to the original term: shalom. This word is pregnant with meaning for the Old Testament believer. The root of shalom is “completion” or “fulfillment” and was often used to describe peace, wholeness, harmony and physical well-being. The word is used as a greeting today but it is really a blessing asking God for a good life.
It’s obvious that Asaph just doesn’t get this.
Why would the wicked have everything that was only promised to God’s covenant people? It doesn’t seem fair. He’s doing what many of us do when we make judgments based only upon what we see. His perspective is on the present and he’s forgotten the future.
The Peace of the Wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong
5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
In verses 4-5 Asaph wonders why life seems so good for those who have nothing to do with God: “They 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.”
They live in the fast lane but don’t seem to crash and burn. Their life appears painless and easy.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Those who deserve the hottest hell often have the warmest nest.”
The Pride of the Wicked
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”
12 This is what the wicked are like— always carefree, they increase in wealth.
As Asaph looks closer, he sees that the unbeliever has no need of God in verses 6-12. The very people who are often the most prosperous and live the most peaceful lives are also those who are the most arrogant.
They don’t need any jewelry because their pride glitters like an expensive necklace. They think very highly of themselves and very little of others. Verse 7 says that they have no limits. They have all the time, money, and influence to do whatever they want.
These prideful people make fun of believers in verse 8 and even speak against God in verses 9 and 11. Their pride has taken them so high that they look down on God and on God’s people. Verse 10 indicates that this boasting and scoffing has a powerful impact on those who are trying to follow God. Verse 12 gives a summary of what the wicked are like: “Always carefree, they increase in wealth.”
Let’s admit something this morning. Many of us secretly look up to those who are famous and financially secure.
That’s why the Deal or No Deal and American Idol are such big hits on TV.
We’re jealous of those who seem to live without boundaries, of those who can do whatever they want.
Some of you teenagers are wondering right now if following Christ is really worth it. Why should you live for Jesus when your friends seem to be doing all right without Him?
The Self-pity of the Righteous.
13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.
In verse 13, Asaph basically believes that there is no advantage to holy living. He’s starting to tube out spiritually when he writes: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.”
From a human perspective, there seems to be little reward for righteous living. The Living Bible puts it this way: “Have I been wasting my time? Why take the trouble to be pure?”
In verse 14 Asaph wonders why he’s been beat up while the prideful are prospering. He turns to self-pity as he describes the emotional deluge that has come over him: “All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.” His afflictions last all day and when he wakes up the next morning, there’s a boatload of new problems waiting for him.
At the end of verse 14, Asaph is filled with turmoil, confusion and despondency.
What begins as envy in verses 2 and 3 results in agonizing self-doubt.
The Unfairness of it All.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me
16 Asaph responds to these feelings in a number of ways that are important to remember when we are depressed, tired, weary, and feeling the pressure.
The first thing he does is to remember that he is part of the community of faith and that he must be careful what he verbalizes: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children.”
He couldn’t talk to others about his doubts because it would have done more harm than good. Asaph is concerned for spiritual infants. He doesn’t want to do anything to lead them astray so he chooses to keep quiet. If he had spoken openly about his doubts he would have betrayed younger believers by introducing ideas that were not true because they were incomplete. Friends, if you have any suspicion of being wrong, it is better to keep your mouth closed.
Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
This is admirable but it doesn’t solve his dilemma. His second approach is equally futile.
Verse 16 says, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.” Keeping things inside only made him want to explode. He was miserable because he couldn’t talk to others and he was overwhelmed because he couldn’t figure it out on his own.
From the Trial of God to the Triumph of God
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
As we come to verse 17 we see a noticeable shift in Asaph’s paradigm as he goes through a reality check.
In the first half of the psalm, he is viewing life from a human outlook. In the second half, he reframes his understanding of reality by looking at heaven’s viewpoint. The first section deals with the “trial of faith,” and the last part addresses the “triumph of faith.” We can delineate the difference this way:
Trial of God (2-16) vs. Triumph of God (17-28)
Focus on self Vs. Focus on God
Locked into present vs. Longing for the future
Slipping away vs. Secure forever
What is it that changes everything for Asaph? The same thing that will transform our perspective: worship.
Verse 17 is the hinge point of the psalm: “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”
I really like how the Message translates this: “Then I understood the whole picture.”
When we just look at those around us, and when we judge God according to our own experiences, we can never have the whole picture.
Everything is put into proper perspective when we go into the presence of God. The prosperity of the wicked had filled up his vision, but from now to the end of the psalm, God Himself, the God of the sanctuary, becomes his focal point.
The word “sanctuary” is plural and refers to holy places. In the Old Testament, the sanctuary was a set place with certain regulations about how to approach God.
According to the New Testament, God has now taken up residence within believers. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
We don’t have to make a pilgrimage to a special spot in order to enter the holy place but it’s important to have some places where you can meet with God and gain His perspective again.
If we don’t gaze at God, we’ll default to our human perspective and end up becoming jealous and bitter.
God’s point of view is understood when we meet with Him. When we’re reminded of His attributes, His character, and His power, we see both God’s judgment of sin as well as His solution offered to sinners.
It was only in the sanctuary of God that Asaph could understand the precarious predicament of the wicked and the sweetness of God’s grace and mercy in his own life. The mysteries of life only make sense in the presence of the Majesty. One of the results of revering God is that instead of focusing on the present, we are transported to eternity. It’s only then that we can fully appreciate the gravity of a final destiny apart from God.
When we look at life through the eyes of eternity, we will see four things:
The Ruin of the Wicked.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
In verses 18-20, Asaph’s reality is reframed as he’s finally able to see that God has placed the wicked on very slippery ground. In verse 2, he felt like he was sliding away, but now he recognizes that unbelievers will be cast down to ruin.
Slippery ground originally referred to a piece of polished marble that was very slick. From heaven’s perspective, lost people will lose their footing and have a quick ride to the bottom. The word “ruin” was used of a desert or an area decimated by a storm. When God’s judgment comes, unbelievers will be wiped out.
Verse 19 is the destiny of those who do not know Christ: “How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!”
Friends, listen carefully. Instead of jealously longing for the things that lost people have, we should have a holy horror about their final destiny.
Verse 20 warns us that they are living a dream, or a fantasy, that will eventually turn into a nightmare.
Judgment is real and we shouldn’t try to sugar coat the awful truth of eternal punishment.
It’s important to remember that people often get things turned around.
We think that when a person dies that they leave the land of the living and go to the place where dead people go. When we come into the sanctuary of God, we see that this is the land of the dying, and when we take our final breath here, we go to the land of the living.
The Repentance of the Righteous
21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
In verses 21-22, Asaph owns up for his myopic vision: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”
The word “grieved” is used to describe the expanding, bubbling nature of yeast as it works its way through bread. It’s also used of vinegar, which helps to describe his expanding and sour attitude toward God when he looked at life through his human glasses. His spirit was bitter, which can literally be translated, “my kidneys were sharp with pain.” When he wanted what the wicked had, he was eaten up on the inside.
When controlled by bitterness, he behaved like an animal. He uses a term for a grazing animal that lives with his head hunched down, seeing only the grass, and never the sky. Like an animal out to pasture, so Asaph was viewing things only from a human perspective.
One of the things that separate us from brute beasts is that animals cannot contemplate the future; they live only in the present. When Asaph looked only at the here-and-now, he was like an ornery ox that had no concept of eternal realities.
The Rewards of the Righteous
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
I love the first word of verse 23: “Yet.” After confessing that he was bitter, senseless, and ignorant, he immediately recognizes that God has not cast him away: “ I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” This verse delineates two rewards: God’s presence and God’s protection. God is always with us, no matter what we do, or think. And, He holds on to us.
We are His possession. Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Verse 24 describes two more rewards: God’s guidance and God’s glory: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” God promises to counsel us and lead us through life. And, then when our time on earth is finished, He will take us into glory. We can rest in God’s grip. We can rely on His guidance and we can reflect on the glory to come.
In verse 25, Asaph is finally at the point where God has always wanted him to be: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” If you cannot say this with integrity this morning, then your perspective is more human than heavenly. Until you and I can get to the point of saying, “God, you’re all I want because you’re all I need” then we’re going to wonder why life doesn’t seem fair. Is God all you want? No matter what happens to you, or what you see in others, are you satisfied in God? Asaph knew that nothing was more valuable than what he already had. Do you?
In verse 26, Asaph can say that no matter what happens to him, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The word “strength” means, “rock.” As a Levite, he knew all about a “portion” because his livelihood was dependent upon the tithes and offerings of God’s people (much like pastors today). This “portion,” can also be translated as his “allotment” or “inheritance.”
While his present needs are taken care of through people’s faithful stewardship, his eternal inheritance is rock solid because God Himself is His portion.
Ultimately, no matter what happens to him, the Almighty is his allotment.
Can you say what Habakkuk declared in Habakkuk 3:17-18? “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
The Heavenly Perspective: The Responsibility of Believers
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 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.
Asaph concludes by saying that he will fulfill two key responsibilities of every believer. First, he will stay near to God. Look at the first part of verse 28: “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge…” Since happiness is only found in a close relationship with God, it only makes sense to get as close to Him as possible. His nearness is “good,” which means, “sweet and pleasant.” Asaph has learned first-hand that the greater our nearness to God, the less we will be affected by the attractions and distractions around us. James 4:8: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Will you draw near to Him right now?
Our second responsibility is to tell others about God. We see this in the very last phrase of the psalm: “I will tell of all your deeds.” Before Asaph worshipped he concluded that it wasn’t worth it to follow God. He was filled with envy and decided to not tell other believers about his doubts. Don’t miss this connection. As long as he was discontented with God he could say nothing at all.
Envy is the enemy of evangelism.
But in the second half of the psalm he reaches a different conclusion. Once he sees the destruction of the wicked he no longer craves what they have and now he can speak.
Listen carefully. Many of us don’t tell others about Jesus not because we don’t know how but because we don’t really believe that what we have is better than what others have.
Worldliness is devastating to our witness because we secretly desire to be more like lost people than we desire that they be like us.
We want what they have more than we want them to have what is ours.
One of the best motivators for evangelism is to come into the presence of God and allow Him to shift your paradigm. Think of the people you go to school with. Think of your relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and friends who don’t know Jesus. Are you attracted to their lifestyle? Do you wish you could do the same things they do? Do you wish you could have their toys? Ask yourself this question: Where will they be when the finality of God’s judgment lands on them with a thud?
Not Home Yet
After having served for decades in Africa, a missionary couple, Mr. & Mrs. Henry Morrison, were returning to New York to retire. After years of service they had no pension and their health was failing. They were worried and discouraged.
They were on the same ship as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his African hunting expeditions.
No one paid any attention to the missionary couple. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the President and his entourage.
During the voyage, the missionary said to his wife, “Something is wrong. We have given our lives in service to God in Africa all these years and no one cares a thing about us. Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us.”
When the ship docked in new York, a band was waiting to greet the President. The mayor and other dignitaries were there. The papers were full of news of the President’s arrival. No one was there for the missionary couple. They slipped off the ship and found a cheap flat on the East side hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city.
That night the man said to his wife, “I can’t take this, God is not treating us fairly.” His wife replied, “Why don’t you go into the other room and tell that to the Lord? He did just that and returned a short time later but his face was different.
His wife asked him what happened. “The Lord settled it with me,” he said. “I told Him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one even met us at the dock. And when I finished complaining, it seemed as though the Lord put His hand on my shoulder and simply said ‘BUT YOU ARE NOT HOME YET.’”