If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task… Psalm 73:15-16
In our Sunday school last week this verse was brought up: what is it actually saying? Simply put it is this: we should be careful with our words especially when we encounter trials. There is great wisdom in limiting our words. This is quite a counter-cultural suggestion. Generally speaking, it is considered good to ‘vent’ about your problems. The psalmist suggests that would have been an empty task, and in fact unfaithful. It would have been in vain, especially in the heat of the moment when he is stuck in his jealousy.
I think there are a handful of things that coincide with this biblical precedent. 1. Although it is good to limit our words, there is a proper time to use them. We should realize that the psalmist does eventually speak words about his problems, but it is only after his perception was transformed by his encounter with God. ‘Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I discerned their end.’ If he’d verbalized his musings on the prospering of the wicked before encountering Yahweh, he would have spoken wrongly. The words would have been destructive to both him and his hearers. Wrong perspectives on the world cloud our judgment. After his encounter with Yahweh in his sanctuary, he wrote Psalm 73, and he actually gave words to his wrong perspective, but these words weren’t the end of the matter. He doesn’t end with his jealousy! He isn’t teaching us to emulate him in it. Instead, he knew the nature of humans and knew that this jealousy of the wicked was common to all of us. So, he described his experience, but directed us to the beautiful and good response. Your perception is wrong because you are looking at yourself. You must interpret all situations through the creating and sustaining work of Yahweh our God. Then, you will understand their end.
2. There is wisdom or prudence in choosing our words carefully and lovingly. The psalmist chose his words after he realized that goodness only comes from God, and true happiness and blessedness is only found in nearness to God. We should meditate on this regularly because we live day to day as if other things are our good. Perhaps we find our identity in what we wear or what we eat or how people treat us or respond to our life choices. This is wrong and leads us to a despair and unhappiness because these things don’t actually give us a meaningful identity. It is like the mythical Narcissus who found his greatest happiness in his own image. When we find our identity and our goodness in what we ourselves or others are doing, saying, or thinking, it will drive us to misery.
When we find our good in nearness to God alone, we will find true happiness. Even here, however, we have struggles. We are prone to wander, and in this life, we struggle with sin daily. 1 Corinthians reminds us that we see in a mirror dimly now in this life. In other words, our approach to God is not what it one day will be because one day in the future, we will see him face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So in this life, we are slowly progressing toward this closeness with God, but what does it look like? What would it look like even for a child or an immature Christian? For all who have repented of their sin and put their faith in God, they have been given the Holy Spirit. This means even if you feel as though you are in the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you! His Spirit dwells within you! This is a glorious truth that we must acknowledge as transformative in our lives. So you could say the initial and most common experience of drawing near to God is through repenting and believing. This brings us to a similar observation. Because of this, we are now called the temple of God. ‘Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?’ Paul had to say this rhetorically since the Corinthian believers were not speaking or acting in a way that agreed with this truth. That we are the temple of God is in contrast to the Old Testament. In Psalm 73, there was a sense that the Psalmist’s nearness to God was connected to his nearness to the sanctuary of God. (We can also affirm that in the OT God’s presence dwelt with the godly). But now in this age, the temple of God and the people of God are combined! This is only the case because of Jesus Christ the great high priest who offered himself as a sacrifice and cleansed our sins. We are holy because of this sacrifice. We have been sprinkled with his blood and made holy and devoted to worship of our God.
There are even more images of nearness of God in the New Testament. The church is the body of Christ. This means that when we gather as the church, we experience the body of Christ in a tangible way. In the church, God’s presence is made tangible. This is why gathering together regularly is so important. Otherwise God’s presence is an intangible thing that we can understand but not experience. So when we gather together regularly and spend time with other Christians, we experience God’s nearness, which is our good. In addition to this, we experience God’s speaking in our services. His word is read and proclaimed at our regular meeting, and we respond with songs and prayers of praise. Let us consider each of these things and meditate on the goodness of God’s nearness to us.