The oldest moral dilemma is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
We’d like our world to be fairer. We’d like God to treat people as they deserve, where good people live a long and happy life, and evil people pay for their crimes in this lifetime. Sadly, life isn’t like that. This problem almost caused the writer of Psalm 73, the Levite musician, Asaph, to give up his faith.
Psalm 73:1 affirms a great biblical truth: God is good to the pure in heart. Jesus called them “blessed” (Matthew 5:8). Quickly, though, the poet shares what almost made him lose his foothold and caused him to wander away from the faith (v. 2). He observed that the wicked enjoy the easy life. They are healthy and strong, and almost seem immune from the normal troubles of life. They are arrogant and give no thought to God. They behave as if God neither knows or cares about their behaviour (v. 11). As such, the psalmist wondered why he even bothered to try and keep his heart pure (v. 13).
However, his world view dramatically changes in verse 17. In God’s presence, he sees “their final destiny”. The wicked may escape God’s judgement now, but not forever. At death they’ll “be completely swept away by terrors” (v. 19). They are on slippery ground and will tumble to destruction (vv. 18-20).
Asaph now admits he spoke in ignorance (v. 22). He comes to the same realisation as Job. Job also questioned God’s justice (see Job 9:14-17; 27:2). Job, too, had a revelation from God (Job 38:1-41:34). Then he, like Asaph, admitted “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).
Asaph ends off by reaffirming his relationship with God, “whom have I in heaven but you?” (v. 25). This is one of the Old Testament’s clearest confessions of belief in life after death. Asaph knew God would take him to glory.
Psalm 73 doesn’t answer all our questions about justice. Many people suffer in ways that seem unfair, and we long for more justice in this life. But we can take comfort in knowing that God is not removed from our sufferings. He came to us in Jesus and experienced our world of pain and injustice. After His death, He rose and now reigns in glory, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
When Jesus comes to judge the wicked, we can be confident that He’ll receive “the pure in heart” into glory.