Entering the Sanctuary
(15) If I had said, “I am determined to speak in this way,” I would indeed have betrayed the generation of your children. (16) But when I pondered how to understand this, it (became) oppressive in my sight (17) until I entered the sanctuary of God. (Then) I perceived their final destiny. (18) Surely you set them on slippery places. You cast them down to destruction. (19) How they are destroyed in a moment, totally swept away by terrors! (20) As with a dream when one wakes up, so, when you rouse yourself, Lord, you will despise them as phantom images (of reality).
While there are no repeated words in this segment, the focus of these verses is clearly summarized by the hinge phrase, “Until I entered the sanctuary of God” (vs. 17). Before this moment, nothing seems to have made sense to the psalmist (vss. 15 & 16). However, when Asaph quieted his heart in God’s presence, he received the insight he needed regarding “their final destiny” (vs. 17), and everything fell into place for him. He came to understand and accept what had previously seemed so unreasonable and unjust in his frustration and anger (vss. 18-20).
I. Before: struggling with the prosperity of the wicked (15 &16)
II. Transformation: gaining perspective in God’s presence (17)
III. Afterwards: understanding their final destiny (18-20)
Only from God can we receive the insight we need to understand and cope with the injustice that surrounds us.
In 2007 William Paul Young, the son of missionary parents, wrote a bestselling novel called The Shack (now turned into a film) which embodies the message of Psalm 73:17. The story concerns a father whose five-year-old daughter had been abducted and murdered during a family camping trip and whose body had never been recovered. Several years later, while still struggling to cope with this terrible tragedy, the embittered father receives a mysterious invitation to meet with God at a shack in the wilderness where evidence of her murder had earlier been found (thus the title). What happens during that weekend transforms his perception of the loss he had suffered and changes his life. Any further details would spoil your reading or viewing.
Some have criticized the author of The Shack for his rather unorthodox theology. His portrayal of the Trinity is definitely unconventional, bordering on the heretical. However, the reader must remember that the author wrote his book as an allegory, a parable to encourage our hearts, not as a theological treatise on which to base our doctrine. Young’s message is essentially the same truth we find in Psalm 73:15-20, that only in the presence of our loving God can we receive the insight we need to understand and accept the injustices that we inevitably encounter in our sin-cursed world.
The “sanctuary of God” is not just located in Israel’s temple or even in a shack in the backwoods. It is a place available to every believer every day in prayer. Whenever we are perplexed by life’s dilemmas and feel stuck in our doubts and fears, we should seek the answers we need directly from our loving God who welcomes us into his presence and graciously comforts us with insights for which our hurting hearts desperately cry. Jesus gives us great encouragement in his Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Mt. 7:7-11)?