The recent events in Afghanistan have brought back the remembrances of its 20-year war. Memories flash on the screens of our minds. We see where we were when the towers fell. We see the images of the firefighters on the rubble and our troops on TV. We see hometown heroes on city lampposts and normally-boisterous stadiums stand in chilling silence for the fallen. Blue-starred flags of yesteryear returned in vibrant color, and gold-star families live forever among the ranks of fellow warriors.
Months became years, and years became decades. News of the war drifted from front page to back page to no page. Normal routines resumed and consumed our minds.
But now the memories are back. We face the closing of the war. Twenty years ago we asked questions like, “What has happened? What went wrong? What comes next?” Twenty years later we find ourselves asking the same questions.
“The bad guys are winning,” we say. “It’s not supposed to end like this.”
Uncertainty, confusion, despair, and dread. Many in Afghanistan, especially Christians, face immense uncertainty and hostility. Even those of us across the world feel pain, anxiousness, and anger.
What are we to do? Human opinions, critiques, and assessments abound. As a former soldier with a Political Science degree, I could certainly add my thoughts to the pile. But is this what we need when we are faced with chaos, uncertainty, and evil?
No. We Christians acknowledge that we should look to God. But do our actions and thoughts prove that we are? Most of us won’t openly question God, but our reactions to traumatic events reveal our foundation. How do you respond? Are you shaken? It is because your worldview founded on something that is shakable. Are you fearful? It is because the threat you see is greater than the security you hold. Are you anxious? It is because your vision is fixed on that which fades or changes.
In Psalm 73, Asaph also faces a problem of unchecked evil. He looks around him and sees the success of the wicked. “…I saw the prosperity of the wicked…They are not in trouble as other men…They mock and wickedly speak of oppression” (3-8). The similarities to our day are astounding.
Initially, the Psalmist is confused and despairs (13-16). He feels that he has followed God in vain. His suffering was not worth it. He does not know what is happening.
But then He steps into the presence of God. He fixes his eyes on Him and calls to mind God’s character and promises. In the verses that follow, we see three roles of God that restore right thinking. These reminders will lift us from confusion to trust, from chaos to rest, from despair to hope.
God is the Sovereign Ruler
Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. -Psalm 73:18
Unchecked evil appears powerful. It seems that nothing can stop it. But God has complete control over them. He sets them in slippery places and casts them down. Those are not phrases used of a powerless God, and they show He is in control (Isaiah 46:9-11). God does not struggle to overcome the wicked. They are utterly in His power.1
No one is greater than the LORD (Proverbs 21:1), and none can stand before Him. This is a great comfort! We may not know why God is doing something in our world, but we know it is not happening outside of His control. The Taliban, the Islamic State, persecutors of Christians, and oppressors of the innocent do not run the world. God does, for He is the Sovereign Ruler.
God is the Righteous Judge
How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! –Psalm 73:19
God is not only Sovereign Ruler, but He is Righteous Judge (Psalm 9:3-10). The wicked only appear to be victorious. In reality, they are awaiting the judgement of God. Our sense of justice feels violated when wicked people are not punished. But just as there are no creatures outside of His sovereign rule, there will be no evil outside of His judgement.
The Psalmist compares the prosperity of the wicked (3-12) with the affliction of the righteous (13-14). This reality conflicts not with his own sense of fairness but with the commands and promises of God. How can God’s enemies prosper and God’s people falter? Is God not just? Does He not see?
In response to this, the Psalmist sees that this prosperity and affliction are only temporary. This is not the end of the story. Seventeenth-century Puritan Thomas Watson writes,
Now things are out of course; sin is rampant, saints are wronged, they are often cast in a righteous cause, they can meet with no justice here, justice is turned into wormwood; but there is a day coming, when God will set things right; he will do every man justice; he will crown the righteous and condemn the wicked.2
There is no act, small or big, good or bad, that escapes God’s piercing vision. There is no wickedness, however ancient, that will not be punished. Just as we submit to God’s sovereignty in confusing and chaotic times, we embrace God’s justice and submit to His timing. We look forward to the day when all wrongs will be righted, and the temporary success of evil will not deter us from this hope.3
God is the Close Comforter
My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge… – Psalm 73:26, 28a
But is God only a high and impersonal Ruler and Judge? By no means! Asaph shows the closeness of God. God is high and lofty, but He is also near and lowly. First pictured as a mighty ruler, God is now a personal comforter. The intimacy of this passage is unmistakable. God is not just mighty, He is also near. He not only rules with power, but He gives strength to our hearts.
When we suffer at the hands of wicked men, God is near. When we struggle through the grind and drudgery of life, God is our strength. When it seems that God has left the world to the rule of sinful influences, He is our present refuge. Do not let the abundance of wickedness or the presence of suffering blind you from this truth. Take refuge in the God who is near.
Encouragement and Exhortation
As we go from here, we will continue to see evil and experience suffering in this world. The barbs of wickedness may pierce us sharply, but let us hold fast to God and the promises of this Psalm.
Turn your minds to our suffering brothers and sisters across the world. Oh! how wretched we are that we do not think of them more! How distracted we can be by our own lives! Forgive us this self-centeredness, oh God, and give them comfort! Let the nearness of Your presence be their good. Let Your joy be their strength. Let Your peace encompass them in their darkest hours.
When you see evil, do you panic and grow anxious? Remember, God is the Sovereign Ruler. Nothing happens outside of His divine will, and He is working His plan. Pray for your needs and the needs of others, and rest in His sovereignty. Evil does not have the ultimate power. God does!
When you hear news of evil, do you feel indignation and cry for justice? Remember, God is the Righteous Judge. He does not ignore evil and will not let it to slide. There will be a day of reckoning. Stand firm in His Word and His way. Evil will not have the final say. God will!
When sorrow besets you, are you downcast and distressed? Remember, God is your Close Comforter. He is near to you, and He will deliver you. His deliverance may be through the thin veil of death. But oh! What joys lie on the other side! Call to Him. Cry to Him. Take refuge in Him in your moment of need. Evil is not your closest companion. God is!
And lastly, there may be some who have not trusted in Christ alone as Savior. Know this: you stand under the judgement of God (John 3:16-21). You say that you are not as bad as some people, but God judges your goodness based on His own (Matthew 5:48). Can you meet that standard? There is One who did. Jesus Christ was innocent, but He took the wrath of God that was meant for us. You need not be punished for your sin! God calls you to repent and trust in Christ. The Sovereign Ruler, the Righteous Judge, the Close Comforter is faithful, and He will deliver you from your sins.
1This raises questions of God’s allowance of evil and suffering. Please see this sermon by Pastor John MacArthur for an excellent treatment on the topic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LFzk1afiD8
2Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1965.
3I wholeheartedly affirm that we are saved from our own wickedness, and we ourselves are to do good to our enemies and endure persecution after the example of Christ (Romans 12:19-20, 1 Peter 2:21-24). That is just not what is in view here. This passage magnifies God’s justice and shows its comfort, and that is how we should take it.
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.