Q.

Can Psalm 73 apply to malicious and nasty believers, as well as to the “wicked”? I have found that some Christians can be just as mean as unbelievers, sometimes even more so. This psalm would be a comfort if it could apply to fellow Christians. I hate to ask this; but it is true, at least what I’ve experienced.

A.
Yes, nothing is quite as sad and discouraging as a fellow believer who is not under the control of the Holy Spirit. You are not alone. Most of us have faced and endured Christian people who injured us or despitefully used us in some way. Many Christians have stated that it is much easier to endure the pain the unbelieving world inflicts upon us than it is to endure the pain of fellow believers. Of course, we always need to ask ourselves if we have caused unhappiness and pain in other believers. It’s easy to see the dirt that others throw at us; but have we thrown dirt at others ourselves?

Psalm 73 was written by Asaph, one of David’s choirmasters, unless it is another Asaph. He begins by stating the problem in the first three verses: God had been good to Israel, the righteous in Israel. That was fine with Asaph. But what about the other group of people, the ones who weren’t right with God? They were the wicked ones. Yet God seemed to permit their prosperity. In fact, they seemed to have it far better than the righteous, who often suffered.

Perhaps you have found yourself in a specific situation where you were suffering in some way. You were trying to live for God, but the wicked living next to you got all the breaks while you had hardships and tragedies. You even began to feel reluctant envy concerning those people. Asaph felt that way too: “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3).

Verses 4 through 12 continue, as Asaph becomes quite vivid in his description of those wicked people who seemed to get by with things and prosper: “They are not in trouble as other men” (v. 5). “They have more than heart could wish” (v. 7). “They set their mouth against the heavens” (v. 9). “They say, How doth God know?” (v. 11). “They increase in riches” (v. 12). These complaints sound familiar, don’t they?

Verses 13–16 summarize the conclusion of Asaph’s dilemma: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.” Asaph seemed to say, “I tried, but it’s not worth it.”

Fortunately for Asaph and for all of us who belong to God, there is a new perspective for all of this—God’s perspective. The rest of the psalm deals with God’s viewpoint concerning the wicked and their seeming prosperity. When we see things from God’s perspective, we will always have peace and joy. We begin to despair when we get away from God’s viewpoint.

How wonderful it is to lay out all our perplexities and burdens before the Lord. Have you ever sorted papers or letters on a bed or large table? This is the idea—we are to lay out our burdens for the Lord to see. We can do it. And the Lord will act. He will begin by speaking to us concerning Himself. Then our burdens, like Asaph’s, will fade into insignificance.

What great basic truths did the Lord remind Asaph about Himself? For one thing, God is in control. God’s laws never alter. Those who do wickedly will be dealt with in time (Ps. 73:18, 19; Ps. 34:21). God doesn’t will that evil happens and wicked people do what they do. He permits it, but in the right time things will be made right. God is just.

Second, God guides (v. 24). He counsels. He shows the way to go. What difference does it make if someone else seems to get everything and we receive little? If the Lord is with us, that is everything. And eternal bliss awaits us in Heaven, where all things will be right. “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (v. 25).

Third, God is “the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (v. 26). God not only controls and guides the believer who desires to obey Him and to have an intimate relationship with Him, but He also gives sufficient strength for each day. “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9). No matter what people do to a believer, God gives enough strength to endure. And it doesn’t matter whether those people are believers or not. God also gives a message for the righteous believer to declare: “But it is good for me to draw near to God I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (v. 28).

Isn’t it wonderful that we believers have something to say to the world? Think about it. We have the good news of Christ to give. The world can crank out only bad news because of its sin and rebellion against God. Remember that fact when you read the newspapers. We as believers have good news; we need to keep faithful in giving it out. We not only have the message of salvation, but we also have the message of God’s daily care and answers to prayer. Asaph found his message of God’s grace and goodness when he went into God’s presence and got a new vision of Him.

Now to answer your question. Perhaps Asaph had only unbelievers (the “wicked”) in mind. But when we see the great truths of God in the latter part of the psalm, can we not apply them to sinning believers as well as to unbelievers? Is it not true that God can deal with believers who do wrong against others? Of course, it is. For one thing, we know that God chastens whom He loves. No believer gets by, just as no unbeliever gets by. God is in control—that fact has to be in relation to anyone and anything.

We see from this passage that only God matters. People don’t matter when it comes to obeying God and doing His will. That is not to say that people aren’t important. They are. But God must come first. As believers, we constantly need to put things in perspective. The pendulum of thought swings back and forth from one extreme to another down through time. In the past couple decades we have had such an emphasis on people relationships that we have tended to forget God and the close walk we need with Him. People can sometimes be bad for each other—Christians included. In the case of the latter, a professing Christian can hinder another believer from a life of obedience if he himself is not walking in the Spirit. This is what the psalmist discovered. When we are too engrossed with other people in one way or another, watch out. It is our relationship with God that is all-important. That matters more than anything else.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul mentioned several individuals who hurt him and his ministry greatly. For example, 2 Timothy 4:14 reads, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works.” But Alexander and a multitude of others didn’t succeed in keeping Paul from completing the race of life and doing all God wanted him to do.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (June 1991).
© 1991 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.