Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bitterness and Healing

The last few days have been very busy, as between Friday and Saturday, I worked a total of nineteen and a quarter hours. 13 of those hours were on Friday. Yes. I'm not exaggerating. When I got home from work around 10:20 last night, my feet were so sore I felt like there were tacks stuck into my heels.

Oh well, I'll get a good paycheck next Friday.

Anyway, I feel like my thoughts are still rather scattered, but not quite as bad as when I last wrote. Went to church this morning, and the service was very encouraging. The pastor there has been doing a series called "Encountering God in the Psalms." The text today: Psalm 73. The question: Where is God When Life is Unfair?

I felt the message today was pretty appropriate for what I've been dealing with lately, as I've been struggling with finding contentment with where I'm at right now as a whole. Yes, I know that I'm very fortunate and that life is good and that God is providing for everything I need, but that's just the theology of the situation; what I know in my head to be true. Sometimes my experience isn't very supportive of my theology. Actually, the contridiction of theology and experience was the first thing touched on in the message today. (Kinda cool how I worked that in there, huh?) ;)

Here's the text of Psalm 73 first of all.

Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph NLT

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don't have troubles like other people;
they're not plagued with problems like
everyone else.
They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
and clothe themselves with cruelty.
These fat cats have everything
their hearts could ever wish for!
They scoff and speak only evil;
in their pride they seem to cursh others.
They boast against the very heavens,
and their words strut throughout the
And so the people are dismayed and
drinking in all their words.
"What does God know?" they ask.
"Does the Most High even know what's
Look at these wicked people -
enjoying a life of ease while their riches

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain.
If I had really spoken this way to others,
I would have been a traitor to your people.
So I tried to understand why the wicked
But what a difficult task it is!
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the
Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to
In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant -
I must have seemed like a senseless animal
to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow
but God remains the strength of my heart,
he is mine forever.

Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the
wonderful things you do.

In the past, when I read Psalms such as this one, I never really understood them. To be honest, I avoided them or skipped over the depressing parts to get to the encouraging stuff. In the last few years however I've been beginning to appreciate them. Yes, the writers of the Psalms were writing through the ispiration of the Holy Spirit. But they were still human! This Psalm in particular is a depictment of the the writer's despair, and it's emotionally hard to read. But the Bible, as always, is brutally honest. It deals with the hard questions. God wants us to ask the questions we have. Why? Because he's big enough to encompass our doubt and give us peace! Because he wants the chance to prove to us his love, strength and desire to care for us. (Starting with and especially through what he's already done.)

Looking at all the "depressing" verses, one is usually inclined to read them from the same viewpoint as the writer. However, when it comes to many of the characteristics of the wicked, most of them can unfortunately be applied to believers as well as unbelievers. It might not be the most enjoyable thing in the world to realize one can at times act like a "fat cat," however I believe it can be ultimately very beneficial when reading verses like these to ask ourselves - What about me? Do I have an overgrown sense of entitlement? Do I think I'm not getting what I deserve from God? Do I see others getting unfair "privileges"? Better yet, instead of asking myself, I need to be asking my Father these questions. I'm pretty sure he can reveal the truth to me a little bit better than I can. (My overgrown sense of entitlement might prevent me from discerning the truth if I just ask myself.)

Back to the writer though. Through his viewpoint, he found bitterness growing in his heart as he focused on what was wrong in the world. Discovering the bitterness he is dismayed before the Lord, likening himself to a "senseless animal." From experience, I know that when one has bitterness growing in their heart, almost any behavior becomes possible. When one is cynical about the future and their hope is being siffoned away from them, losing sight of what really matters, the importance of sharing joy with others - of even enjoying the Father's joy oneself - will be forgotten. The more bitter a person is, the more confused their thinking will become. Bitterness leads to cynicism; cynicism leads to seperation and relational hardships; relational seperation produces brokeness.

Realizing that bitterness can lead to brokeness is important, because I know that I often don't remember that bitterness is a wound that God wants to heal. And when considering that, it is a blessing to realize that even bitterness can be used by God in a person's life for good. The writer in the Psalm realizes the bitter root in his heart, and through his response to the Lord - surrendering to his council and recognizing his love and provision - he was brought into greater joy and peace as he grew closer to God through the healing.

When we recognize that we have allowed the affliction of bitterness and cry out to the Father for discerment and healing, the Lord gives us understanding that brings so many other issues to light. Yes, there are those who are wicked and ignore the power of God. But gaining a right understanding of the root of their behavior through God's eyes is what prevents the bitterness from taking hold. (Our culture is not a lense through which to read the Bible. The Bible is the lens through which to view and understand our culture.)

Understanding rebellion changes everything. Understanding the Cross changes everything. Understanding eternity changes everything. Everything is broken without God.

Where does this understanding come from? The writer goes into the sanctuary, and then he gains discernment. We know that the sanctuary was the Temple in the time the Psalms were written, but what is the sanctuary today? The building where you meet on Sundays? No. The sanctuary is where God dwells. The sanctuary is the church - the people. Every child of God is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Our indwelling is the sanctuary.

I love the way the Psalm ends. "But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do." The writer realized earlier in the Psalm how wrong and damaging it would be to share his discouraging and bitter thoughts with others, God's people especially. Of course, he does ultimately share his bitter thoughts, but only when accompanied by the understanding God gave him through the healing of his bitterness. And now his only desire is to be near God! And the only words coming off his tongue are those of praise and wonder at the wonder of the Father.

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