On the good life
The evil arrogance of wealthy powerbrokers raises hard questions for us now as in ancient Israel. But behind those questions is an even more basic one: what does it mean to live the good life?
An Asaph psalm.
1 How good God is to Israel
to those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me
my feet had almost stumbled—
I nearly lost my footing
3 envying the arrogant as I did
seeing how well-off evildoers are.
4 They live pain-free lives
their bodies healthy and strong.
5 Not struggling like the rest of us
not suffering like ordinary people
6 they wear pride like a necklace
and cover themselves with violence like a cloak.
7 These tycoons are so bloated and bilious
they ooze depravity and delusion.
8 They sneer and spout pure poison
and from their lofty position
they threaten to crush the little guy.
9 Making boasts that reach to high heaven
these bigmouths strut around
as if they own the earth.
10 So God’s people turn away to them
drinking in every word they say.
11 They say, “What does God care?
And what does the Most High know?”
12 That’s what the wicked are like—
always amassing power and wealth
with never a care in the world.
13 “Truly, I’ve kept my heart pure
and my hands spotless for nothing
14 seeing that I’m beaten down all day long
and each new day begins another round!”
15 But if I’d openly subscribed to that
I’d have betrayed all your children.
16 Yet whenever I tried to make sense of things
it was way beyond me.
17 That is, until I entered God’s sanctuary
and saw where their path ends.
18 Truly, you put them on slippery ground
and make them fall to their doom.
19 How suddenly they’re ruined
utterly swept away by terrors!
20 On rousing yourself, Lord
you’ll totally reject them
like one shakes off a nightmare on waking.
21 When I was devastated and bitter
22 I became senseless and ignorant
a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I’ve always been with you—
you’ve held me by the hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel
and will afterward receive me with honor.
25 Who have I in heaven but you?
And there’s no one I desire on earth beside you.
26 My health and my spirit may fail me
but God is the source of my inner strength
my delight forever.
27 Those far from you will certainly perish
you’ll destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me
the good life consists in staying close to God.
I’ve made Sovereign YHWH my refuge
and will recount all you’ve done.
From the first psalm on, the Psalter claims that God-seekers are enviable, contradicting the nearly universal belief that self-seeking gets us ahead. This psalm straddles that fault line by recounting Asaph’s crisis of faith. Having envied the self-indulgent rich who arrogantly think the rules don’t apply to them, he almost labelled pleasing God futile, a lost cause, since it brought him only trouble, while the rich lived trouble-free lives.
Faith often raises hard questions. Under a just king, evildoers are punished and the innocent thrive. So why does God let the egotistical rich get richer and richer at the expense of the poor? Ready to trash his Torah faith, Asaph encounters God in the sanctuary and is kept from betraying his faith community.
When Asaph begins that encounter, the wicked are secure and he on slippery ground. When he emerges from it, the wicked are on slippery ground while he’s secure. But dramatic as that shift is, only his perspective changes, not his outward situation. Still, he sees that—for all their wealth, ease, and popularity—the wicked don’t know peace. What truly makes life good is God’s presence, shelter, and power enabling his people to please him both individually and corporately, and the peace that goes with it.
Delighting in you, Lord, I look to you alone for blessing. Thank you for holding onto me when I’m tempted to seek wealth over you. Your hold on me matters more than mine on you. Help me live always in your presence, protection, and power, enjoying the peace that goes with it. Amen.
During your free moments today, pray these words: