But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Asaph wrote about the vital importance of cultivating a heart close to the Lord. He needed to do so in worship because life can easily skew the believer's perspective. The psalmist begins the 73rd Psalm with a theological assurance: God is good to the nation of Israel and to sincerely worshipful and obedient individuals (Psalm 73:1). The author then interjects his own confession in verse 2: he came close to stumbling because of his sinful envy of the prosperity of the wicked. He questioned his faith commitments in the light of what seemed to be contradictory evidence. Wicked people seem to live more prosperous lives than the godly. This is a bold journal entry of Asaph's... one I could echo in the age of social media and easy access to what's on display in the lives of all people.
Well nigh half the Psalm is then spent on describing this contradiction (Psalm 73:4-15). Like a well-filtered Instagram album, what Asaph sees in the lives of wicked people has him more than theologically puzzled, it just doesn't seem to make sense that they should be so stinking happy while showing off their sin. He is considering his faith to be fruitless. He sees all his investment in worship and obedience to the Law as wasted (Psalm 73:13). Yet he cannot himself fully resign himself to this contradiction as a sound reason to abandon God. He wisely cautions himself with the reality that a generation will be lost if he does so (Psalm 73:15).
Asaph turns the corner on his doubts and frustrations with one act of worship. His questions drive him to worship and there in God's sanctuary in the nearness of God he saw the end of the wicked. He saw the way in which even the most prosperous wicked person will be judged quickly. And the author repents of the sins of doubt and frustration. Don't think those two things are sins? Asaph said his soul was bitter, he was brutish, ignorant, and beast-like in his attitude. He repented of sinful emotions... yes, sinful emotions. Our feelings can be sinful and must be repented of before God. This psalm leads the way for us in this understanding.
Thankfully, even in Asaph's worst struggle, God is always present. The psalmist is always before the Lord, guided by God's counsel. Even though his heart and flesh failed, God was his strength (Psalm 73:23-26). And in that awareness and with his repentance, he rejoiced to be near God. God was there all along, Asaph is just recognizing it again. And so should I. I need to guard my heart from letting feelings feed contradictions and doubt. I need to be quick to repent of my envy of the wicked and to throw myself into the nearness of my God.