If you are a Christian in the United States – a true Christian, a committed Christian, a Christian who knows and believes the Bible – it’s temptingly easy to enter 2021 filled with a sense of foreboding. The cultural, social, political, legal, and even economic clouds on the horizon can appear dark for those who name the name of Christ…and maybe they are dark. Rod Dreher’s recent book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, is one example of such foreboding (Note: In saying this, I do not mean to unduly criticize Dreher’s work. There is much to appreciate in the book, though I personally cannot go with him in every part). This dark horizon brings with it other temptations – to cynicism, despair, compromise, a “bunker mentality,” viewing the world as merely “us vs. them,” etc. Over-and-against both the reality of 2021, and the temptations that come with it, stands, praise God, the Bible. In particular (for today), Psalm 73 stands over-and-against the apparent dark clouds of the moment.
In Psalm 73, the Psalmist begins with confession. He confesses nearly being overwhelmed with envious desire because of the seeming ascendancy of evil; desire probably fueled by cynicism, hopelessness, and bitterness: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For twelve verses the Psalmist describes and reflects on the arrogant wickedness of evil people and their apparently trouble-free life. They are those who have no pangs until death; those whose bodies are fat and sleek (i.e. well-fed and without need); those who are not in trouble as others areand are not stricken like the rest of mankind. The Psalmist hears when such persons scoff and speak with malice. He’s listening as they loftily…threaten oppression. The tragedy is all the worse when the apparent prosperity of the wicked – their seeming power and success – dupes some the Psalmist otherwise thought to be God’s people. He mourns when his [God’s] people turn back to them [the wicked] and find no fault in them [the wicked]. The Psalmist is left wondering why he even bothers to live consistent with God’s character and commands (vs. 13-15). Is it really worth it? Such is the Psalmist’s belabored view on life…that is, until verses 16-17.
In verses 16-17, the Psalmist’s viewpoint radically changes. In verses 16-17, light dawns, the clouds clear, and he once again sees clearly. What causes this change? It’s quite simple really… “But when I thought how to understand this [the prosperity of the wicked], it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their [the wicked people’s] end.” When the Psalmist came into the sanctuary of God – when he went to the place of worship and Word – true reality became clear. In a moment he clearly understood that evil would not triumph; that God would judge; that justice would reign; that the Lord would have his victory. In a moment, the Psalmist comes to a place of confession; even to a realization of how skewed his thinking and feeling had become: “When my soul was embittered [at the wicked and their “success”], when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” In a moment, he moves from bitterness to satisfying, peace-bringing, confidence-grounding worship (vs. 23-27). The end for the Psalmist is his desire to stay in the sanctuary: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge...” Why? Because rather than angst and complain about the wicked, the Psalmist wants to live a life of praise: “…that I may tell of all your works.”
Now, here’s the parallel to Christians in 2021. It would be easy, at least in America, to begin thinking, feeling, and conversing amongst ourselves like the Psalmist in his belabored and embittered outlook. Psalm 73:4-12 seems to be a fair description of the world we perceive at the outset of this year and, perhaps, of the world as it actually is (especially if we live in certain portions of this country). But, if we go where the Psalmist says he went in his thinking and meditation, we’ll find ourselves embittered, pricked in heart, brutish and ignorant, like a beast before God. What is the solution? As it was for the Psalmist, so for us it is quite simple: “…I went into the sanctuary of God.” It was this move into the sanctuary that brought the Psalmist clarity and peace, thereby loosening his tongue again for praise rather than complaining. This begs the question, “Where is the sanctuary of God?” Well, I presume that for this writer, when he thought of God’s sanctuary he thought of the Temple (or maybe the Tabernacle). The Temple was the place of God’s dwelling with his people. It was where God’s people gathered together, in worship, grounded in God’s Word. This was the Psalmist’s refuge, his sheltering place, his place of clarity and freedom. What is the equivalent for God’s New Covenant people in 2021? Where is the place of God’s presence? Where is it that God’s people gather together in worship grounded in God’s Word? The answer seems clear. It’s the church…the true church…rightly-ordered and oriented churches for whom Scripture is precious, comforting, authoritative, and determinative. By this I mean primarily local churches of multiple believers, but I certainly would not exclude here the “mini-church” of a family gathered around God’s Word in their home. Jesus said, “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). God dwells with his people gathered together as Jesus’ church. Jesus’ church is the place of Christian togetherness, in worship, grounded in God’s Word.
So then, here’s the promise of Psalm 73: As Jesus’ people come to his sanctuary, his church, for worship, we will not fail to find’s God’s perspective on the dark clouds, the brooding horizon, of 2021. That perspective will be for us freedom and relief. It will be our vindication and joy. It will be the catalyst that turns us from life-sucking complaint to life-giving praise. In 2021, let us come into the sanctuary of the living God!