In the pandemic era, it is worthwhile to talk about hope. Amidst crisis and despair, humanity has survived; despite the harsh reality of the pandemic, as a new year begins, many are looking towards a new-better future. But what would that future look like? How will be your new normal? Is it going to be worse or better than normal before the coronavirus pandemic hits the world?
Amid this reality, how do you understand the term “hope”? What does it mean to be hopeful or live in hope?
Psalm 73: A Personal Experience of Asaph
To get a perspective, let us take a look at Psalm 73. Walter M. Horton suggests: “The summary of true Old Testament hope is found in Psalm 73. ‘To be with God,’ amid unsolved perplexities, like this Psalmist, is to hope rightly” (Horton, 1952).
Psalm 73 captures the personal experience of Asaph, a relative of Heman and of Ethan (cf. 1 Chronicles 6:39). The text suggests that “it is not material prosperity or even physical well-being that brings happiness. What matters is awareness of the presence of God” (Eliya, 2015). The experience of Asaph confronts the traditional or one-sided understanding of theology that holds that obeying God leads to blessing, while disobedience results in cursing. But, as Asaph observes, such teaching is not relatable to his day-to-day experience with God and the experience of the people around him.
He observes that the wicked continue to prosper, while the poor or the weak are neglected and oppressed by those in power or position. This experiential reflection is pertinent for those residing in the Global South, where the people in power (corrupt) continue to flourish, and the good/righteous continue to suffer. Reflection of this text is also important during the Covid era where millions of people were ravaged by the deathly Corona Virus. During the Covid crisis, the rich got richer and richer. In contrast, the situation of the poor got worse (for further information, refer to the world, US, and India). In such a context, how do you stay hopeful?
In the Jewish context, there is a traditional understanding that God is good to the righteous and pure in heart (v1). However, if Asaph looked around, those who were righteous were suffering, and the wicked were prospering. In his observation, while those who seek God suffer, the wicked seem to live a very comfortable life (vv.2-12). The wicked proudly display what they own without a care in the world. As they live a lavish life, they would cause harm to the common people, those who are vulnerable in society. Despite their reckless life, they seem to claim sovereignty over heaven and earth (v9).
Unfortunately, the material blessing of the wicked is seen by many people as a blessing from the Lord (v10). In fact, several people turn to them, thinking that they will benefit from them. But the reality is that the wicked live their lives without regard to God’s laws; they live such reckless lives assuming that God is not aware of what they are doing. Looking at their lives, even the believing community is tempted to turn from their faith. This is because God appears to be negligent of their suffering.
The Psalmist himself thinks that keeping his heart pure seems to be in vain. He is barely surviving in his faith. At a time such as this, when he was in doubt, he entered the sanctuary of God, and God challenged him of such narrow thinking (vv.15-17). Then, as he reencountered God, he understood and came to his senses.
After reencountering God, he realises that it is not him, but the wicked who are on a sinking sand (v18). While they may remain arrogant in their present state of privileges, that will not be the case in the days of God. As contemporary readers, there is hope waiting for us when the Lord returns if you look ahead. What the wicked seem to have or possess is temporary. It will vanish. Seen through the eyes of God, “the Psalmist admits that his previous attitude was senseless. In his self-pity and bitterness and that he had behaved like a brute beast towards God (73:21-22)” (Eliya, 2015). With this realisation, the Psalmist holds that God is at his side and will remain to do so.
People tend to connect the idea of “the goodness of God” with material blessings. However, even though we may temporarily struggle (i.e., we may not prosper economically), we can still experience the goodness of God in our lives. This does not mean that we do not need material blessing. But we must not limit God’s goodness to material blessings. Our hope in perplexities is found in the presence and protection of God.
Photo by Jordan Cormack on Unsplash