The honesty of the Scriptures is lovely to behold. God, in the inspiration of his holy word, did not remove from the lips or the pens of the authors of the various books the pain, hardships, foibles, and failures they faced. It is good, very good, that we see that they did not all have it easy. It is good, very good, that we understand that they had fear, doubt, frustrations, and all the rest.
In Psalm 17, as a simple example, the psalmist is praying to God for deliverance. Early in the psalm, the singer declares to God that he is asking for rescue because he has been faithful to the ways of the Lord. I think it fair to say that the psalmist, in declaring his uprightness, did not consider himself perfect, but simply understood that he had obeyed God’s laws in his dealings with those who are trying to wrong him and to kill him. The psalmist cries out to God for protection, knowing that he has never treated people in the wicked way the people are responding to him.
Now, a false religion, at this point, would have done a few things. First, the false religion may well have pretended that followers of God never face frustrations like the psalmist faced. But God’s word is honest, telling us that pain is a part of living in this fallen world.
Another thing that a false religion may have done is put in the psalm a perfect promise of absolute vengeance, restoration, and vindication. If I were making up a religion and shaping it to my whim, I would make sure that my poor, wronged psalmist could say that soon, very soon, all the bad guys will get theirs and my hero will ride off into the sunset victorious.
But notice that, unlike the false religion of the prosperity gospel or the violent self-vindication of other religions, the Bible takes the psalmist down a different road.
13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and they leave their abundance to their infants.
15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
The prayer of the psalmist makes sense. He cries out to god to arise, fight, beat down the bad guys, and show that the psalmist has been right all along. That prayer is not a surprise. Nor is such a prayer wrong.
Then the psalmist points out how much ease the bad guys have. They have kids. They have money. They seem to be passing wealth down from generation to generation as they continue to have things their way.
And one expects the psalmist to see the tables turn and get his way. But, this is not what God has to teach us in this song of worship. No, God wants to show us something better, and it is not the false, worldly success promoted by man-made religion.
At the end of his prayer, the psalmist says, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (v. 15). Do you see what happened? The psalmist does not, at the end of the day, expect an earthly reversal of fortune. Instead, the psalmist stops, takes a breath, puts on an eternal perspective, and expresses a greater hope than money and kids and earthly success. The psalmist expresses that his soul will actually be satisfied, not in the stuff that the world sees as success, but in the sight of the face, the majesty, the glory of God. Seeing God in his glory satisfies. Having riches in this life does not.
I wonder how well we sing this truth today. I wonder how honest our songs are about the pain and hardships of life. I wonder how often, when we present the truth of the faith, we include for people that there is no guarantee of success before the return of Jesus and the ultimate resurrection. I wonder how well we show people that a glimpse of the glory of God is worth more than power, prosperity, or progeny. May we learn to sing songs like Psalm 17 and focus our joy, not on the here and now, but on eternal truth.