Recent events have left me thinking about what we should do when it feels like our beliefs and understandings of the world don’t line up with what we’re experiencing or observing. What are my responsibilities in regards to how I should act and respond? What should I do when it feels like the foundation and assumptions on which I place my values and morals are being shaken?
This is the same place and the same questions that the writer of Psalm 73 found himself asking. His understanding of the world was that “Truly God is good to the upright” (v. 1), but what he was seeing was that the good things were instead happening to the wicked. He goes through all the emotions – frustration, anger, annoyance, envy – and is ultimately left feeling a sense of defeat, fearing that maybe his beliefs were all wrong and instead wonders whether he should join the wicked, for life seems to be going better for them. He longs to understand why things are playing out the way they are, but it’s too hard for him to comprehend.
The turning point for both the psalm and the psalmist is v. 17, when he enters the sanctuary of God. What was previously too hard for him to understand on his own, becomes possible in God’s presence, as God starts to reveal to and enlighten him. God reorients the psalmist’s understanding of the world. The psalmist becomes aware of God’s involvement, presence, and will in what’s going on. He begins to see that God does have the power and will ultimately rule.
The psalmist also realises his need to repent of his own actions, for his foolishness and ignorance. Yet despite that God is still there, that God is an ever-present strength.
The psalm ends with an acknowledgment of what this learning now means for the psalmist:
“How good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” (v. 28)
The circumstances may or may not change for the psalmist, but his understanding of both his place in the world and, more importantly, his place in God shifts. And this shift occurs after spending time in God’s presence. It is the power of God that can challenges and realigns thinking to be aligned with God’s will for the world. God has the answers that we seek. The key is to seek God’s presence and wisdom in it, to trust that God is our safety and strength, and be open and willing to see and understand the world the way that God wants us to.