When Life Seems Unfair
(H) A psalm of Asaph. (1) Surely God (is) good to Israel, to those (who are) pure in heart. (2) But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled. My steps had nearly slipped, (3) for I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked, (4) for (there are) no pangs in their death. Their bodies (are) well nourished. (5) They (are) never in trouble as others, nor are they stricken with the rest of humanity. (6) Therefore, pride is their necklace. Violence covers them like a garment. (7) Their eyes bulge with fatness. Their hearts overflow with conceits.
While we find no word repetitions in this opening segment of the psalm, we should note the absence of a verb in the first verse, the psalmist’s confession of faith in the God of Israel. It is brief and perfunctory, the minimum required for a worshiper to fulfill his obligation to acknowledge Yahweh in a section that is otherwise filled with complaints.
In the remainder of the segment, we find a number of parallelisms typical of Hebrew poetry: “my feet had almost stumbled...my steps had nearly slipped” (vs. 2), “arrogant...wicked” (vs. 3), “never in trouble as others...not stricken with the rest” (vs. 5), “pride” linked with “necklace” and “violence” linked with “garment” (vs. 6), and “their eyes bulge...their hearts overflow” (vs. 7). Asaph quite effectively portrays his frustrations with those who seem to prosper in spite of their arrogant disregard of Yahweh.
I. Confession of faith in God (1)
II. Core of the problem: envy of the wicked (2 & 3)
III. Catalog of the ways in which the wicked seem to flourish (4-7)
The prosperity of the wicked inevitably causes those who trust in God to question their commitment to walk in righteousness.
Pastor Ryan Braam of Welland, Oregon in an online sermon tells of having to perform the funeral for a young man with a promising career who was tragically killed in an auto accident on his way home to share with his wife the good news of having been offered a better job. His introductory words in the memorial service: “We are gathered this afternoon to protest the death of a promising young man.” When terrible things happen to good people, when the wicked flourish at the expense of the righteous, when everything seems topsy-turvy, our immediate response is not to say, “Your will be done,” but rather to protest with the question, “Why, God?”
The Bible does not condemn us when we ask “Why.” Job asked “Why” when he suffered. Habakkuk asked “Why” when God revealed to him that Israel would be defeated by the pagan Babylonians. Asaph asks “Why” in this psalm. God is not angered by our protests against the seeming triumph of evil, against the apparent unfairness of life when terrible things happen to good people, against the tragedies and disappointments that sometimes seem to pile up in our lives no matter how hard we try. However, there is one thing we must remember when we ask God the question, “Why.” He will, in due time, answer us. And when he does, we must be willing to hear and accept the answer he gives us.