“My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Our focus and our faith matter.
Wrong Focus = Destruction
It was when the psalmist was envious of people that had stuff that he didn’t have that he nearly fell. When we see a representation of the “good life” that we don’t have, it can make us discontent and even angry at God.
It makes me think of Instagram. Instagram is notorious at giving a very false lens on life. Not only are pictures edited and filtered, they’re staged. They’re set up beforehand so everything is just right. The pictures are also specifically picked to portray the perfect picture behind the perfect life.
If we focus on other people’s lives, or pictures of their “perfect” lives, it will often lead to discontentment. We will think they have it all. And we will think our life stinks.
That’s essentially what happened to the psalmist. “[Their] steps had nearly slipped.” Why? Because they were “envious of the arrogant when [they] saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2-3).
Faltering faith can be a result of focus. The psalmist nearly slipped not because they began to doubt the existence of God. Nope. That’s not what it was. They began to doubt the goodness of God because someone else was apparently living the “good life;” living the life they themselves wanted to live.
There was no logical argument. The issue was “kardialogical,” from desire of the heart. The psalmist was envious, jealous of someone else’s prosperity, and upset that others have “no pangs until death” (v.4). That is what nearly caused the downfall. He thought, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean” (v. 13). It’s pointless because I don’t get the enjoyment I desire but only suffering (v. 14).
Right Focus = Delight
The psalmist couldn’t understand and was tiring of considering what he thought was unfairness on God’s part (v. 16), until something happened. The psalmist “went into the sanctuary of God” (v. 17). Then his perspective radically shifted. That was when he “discerned their end” (v. 17). He saw things differently from the viewpoint of the coming Judgment. The wicked may enjoy life now but they will be “destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors” (v. 19).
The psalmist realized that though there may be suffering in this life, what is of utmost importance is the next life. The psalmist knew that after this life God would receive him to glory (v. 24). We have to have faith that that is true and focus on that truth or it will be our destruction. If we do have right focus, however, it will be our delight. The psalmist said, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (v. 25).
If we just focus on Instagram we’re going to want insta satisfaction. But there is a life that comes after this life. And it is eternal. As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We need to have the right focus, a focus on eternity.
Let’s have focus on that truth. Let’s remember that our flesh and our heart will fail, but God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (v. 26). And let’s make the Lord God our refuge and let’s tell of His works (v. 28).
A reader of my previous post objected to some of what I wrote. Which of course is fine. I remain grateful that we have the freedom to do that. I’m also grateful for the opportunity it provides me to interact with some of his thoughts and critiques. So, here’s my response…
First, he said he didn’t know what “canceled Christians” means. It is a reference to the “popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures… after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming” (dictionary.com). Christians are being shut down from sharing their biblically informed views (especially moral issues on sexuality) on social media and often in general conversation as well.
He said that “we are to invest much energy into this world.” I, of course, agree with that. The Bible is replete with examples calling us to do just that. One of the reasons it calls us to invest in this world is actually because of the coming of the next. Our eschatology (study of last things) is a goad to our ethics (e.g. Matt. 24:36ff; 25:13; Col. 3:1ff; 1 Thess. 5:1-2).
He also said that this world is not a “stinky tent. It’s God’s handiwork.” This world is not literally a stinky tent. The Bible doesn’t say that exactly. The Bible does, however, say that “in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling… For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened… we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:2, 4, 8). It says, “the creation was subjected to futility… the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom. 8:20, 21, 22 see also 2 Cor. 4:16-18). It thus seems to me that the world is a metaphorical “stinky tent.” It is not our final home. We should have a certain amount of longing for our “lasting city” (Heb. 13:14 cf. 2 Cor. 5:1; Jn. 14:2-3).
God’s creation does show His handiwork and it is an “expression of His creativity.” The first chapter of Genesis says six times that God’s creation is “good” and in the seventh and final announcement God says it’s “very good” (Gen. 1:31). That, however, is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. Something sinister happens. The Fall (Gen. 3). And because of sin all manner of curse and chaos.
We live in a post-Genesis-3 world. So, while creation still attests to the goodness and creativity of God, it is also riddled with ruin because of sin. Jesus as promised in Genesis 3:15 is the one who finally remakes it. And He is the hope of the world.
I really appreciate that he says, “we are called to imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” That is very true. I am not sure why but it seems like he was led to believe that I would disagree with that truth. I am not sure why, however. No writing of any length can say everything, but especially a blog. Yes, we are to “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.”
I actually believe it’s true that unless Christians live as the campers and exiles they are, they won’t participate, they won’t invest, and they won’t forgive as God would have them. It’s being focused on the Kingdom that makes us effective in whatever kingdom we find ourselves in. It’s the person who realizes the value of the treasure (i.e. all the goodness of the new creation) that will sacrifice all to gain it (Matt. 13:44); even if it means loving those who are sometimes unlovely.
That is why we must “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). That, as Peter explains, will help us “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (v. 22). It will help us “imperfectly participate, invest our gifts, to forgive.” It will help us with creation care and the Golden Rule.
As C.S. Lewis said,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
We can be so earthy minded that we’re no earthly good. And we won’t rightly love our neighbor if we only love ourselves. As we look to Christ and the heaven He’s purchased us we will more and more be drawn to live like Christ, to love and sacrifice ourselves for others (See e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18; 5:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:11-14).
Regarding his comment that “most [my] assertions are not contextualized or elaborated” and that what I wrote is “gobbledegook,” I would say that the assertions in his response are also not “contextualized or elaborated.” And had they been his response would have been much longer. I would not say though that as a result what he wrote was “gobbledygook.” I looked up the definition of “gobbledygook” and apparently it means “language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms.” I’m not sure where my post earned the term “gobbledygook” but that is not a noun I want associated with anything I write. I actually wanted my post to be simple and thought provoking. Ironically, it seems to me that writings that are most contextualized and elaborated are the very writings that have the most likelihood of being gobbledygook.
I want to be clear, instructive, and helpful. And this gentleman’s comments are a spur to encourage me in that pursuit. For that I am thankful.
 Of course, I don’t expect the gentlemen’s brief response to be perfectly nuanced either. Covering every facet is not possible in a brief comment, blog post, or even a book-length treatment. We are both fallible and temporal. Scripture itself, if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) is not rightly considered, can seem lopsided. Matthew and Luke, James and Paul, however, are not at odds even if they are emphasizing different things and coming at issues from a different perspective.