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Nurturing an Eternal Perspective

April 20, 2020

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

For many of us, trials like the COVID-19 crisis have fostered what’s called a “cognitive dissonance.” What we know to be true about God doesn’t seem to square with what we see or experience in the world.

For instance, we know that God is on his throne, but our world feels so chaotic. We know that God is good, but the coronavirus has brought so much heartbreak. We know that God provides, but we’re not sure how we’ll cover the bills. Our knowledge of God seems out of sync with reality. And the longer this goes on, the harder it can be to hold those two in tension without the latter dislodging the former.

This was the very trial that Asaph found himself facing in Psalm 73. Asaph was the chief musician during David’s reign (1 Chron. 16:5)—basically, a worship pastor. His theology was solid. He begins Psalm 73 with a declaration of what he knows to be true of God: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (v. 1). But his theology seems to fall apart when faced with his reality. “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” (vv. 2-3).

His doctrine told him God was good; his eyes caused him to question that. Because from where he stood, it was the wicked who seemed to have it all together. He details this in vv. 3-12, how they have no pain until death, they don’t face the same trouble as everyone else, they are proud and brazen, always at ease and increasing in riches. If God is so good to Israel, why do the wicked prosper while the righteous perish?

Asaph focused on his present experience—what he could see and understand right now—and nearly concluded that his doctrine had been wrong. He offers his tentative conclusion in v. 13: “Truly all in vain have I kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence.” If God’s goodness is measured in earthly peace and prosperity, then following God has been a waste of time.

What stayed him amid this crisis of faith was two things. First, he considered the impact his apostasy would have on the congregation (v. 15), and decided not to give up so easily. Second, and more importantly, he went into the sanctuary of God (v. 17), and that’s where his perspective took a dramatic shift. “Then I discerned their end,” he says. As he approached God in worship, God gave him an eternal perspective. And seeing the end changed his interpretation of the present.

Imagine knowing that your team would win the World Series this year before the season even starts (if it ever starts!). That knowledge of the future changes how you interpret situations in the present. A bad game, or a bad string of games, that might otherwise cause you to lose hope, exerts far less influence on your estimation of your team or your joy in their season. Knowing the end reshapes how you think about and live in the present.

So it was when Asaph finally understood that however peaceful and prosperous the wicked appear now, it doesn’t end well for them. As he declares in v. 18, “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.” The Lord will deal with their wickedness in the end (vv. 19-20, 27). And so Asaph was foolish to envy those whose “success” was ill-gained and short-lived (vv. 21-22).

In contrast, God’s promise to his people is so much better than whatever temporary comfort we might look for in this life. For starters, he is with us even when we don’t feel it: “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand” (v. 23). Second, our relationship with him is eternal: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (v. 24). And third, he is supremely satisfying: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25-26).

What Asaph comes to realize through his present trial as it’s reshaped by an eternal perspective, is that God’s goodness is not ultimately measured by or experienced in the things he gives us or does for us, but in giving us himself. His presence is the treasure. “As for me, it is good to be near God” (v. 27). A treasure he has given us ultimately through his Son, Jesus Christ, the fullness of God in bodily form, crucified and risen for us.

And so one important lesson from our current crisis is the invitation to nurture an eternal perspective. Amid the frustration, disenchantment, fear, or loss, to fix our joy not on our current situation, but on our God above and our inheritance to come. To treasure God’s goodness not primarily in what he gives us, but to treasure God himself.

The apostle Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Knowing the end reshapes how you think about and live in the present.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lori A. Nordine permalink
    February 15, 2021 3:00 pm

    Thanks Pastor Brandon! It took me awhile to get to this but so glad I finally have! Your guidance by the Holy Spirit is evident in your writings. We are grateful for and to you! Lori Nordine

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