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Why Do Sinners Prosper?
By Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Psalm 73:1-3
Is God Paying Attention?
'Life Is Messy'
Psalm 73 in Context

How good God is to the upright,

The Lord, to those who are clean of heart!

But, as for me, I lost my balance;

my feet all but slipped,

Becuase I was envious of the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

 

The psalms are unflinchingly honest. I like that. Anger, envy, gratitude and trust can tumble out within a single psalm. Any emotion can be the springboard to honest prayer. Nothing needs to be hidden from God—even though the psalmist fortunately does not act on every emotion mentioned.

The author of Psalm 73 sometimes envies people who ignore God, yet al-ways seem to be prosperous and successful. They “suffer no pain; their bodies are healthy and sleek” (verse 4). You can’t write words like that without having already felt them!

Some people think that prayer should always be serene. I used to think that way until I discovered that psalms are not always calm, and yet they are very genuine prayers.

Luckily, the author of Psalm 73 has no need for any pretending. He admits to having envied arrogant people. He certainly wonders why people who reject God’s values seem to prosper so much. Who knows what other questions this author may have put to God?

Luckily for us, the psalmist knows that prayer can incorporate emotions that we might try to hide from God—much as Adam and Eve tried to hide their nakedness from God.

Yet how often do we say to ourselves, “I’m just not in the mood to pray—maybe after I’ve calmed down a little”? The problem here is that by the time we “calm down,” our hearts have probably hardened in some significant way. Prayer under these circumstances brings only part of our life to God—not our whole life.

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Is God Paying Attention?

We easily imagine that God’s love and mercy should protect us from life’s roughest edges, from cancer, divorce, the premature death of loved ones, financial worries, from wars and the worst horrors that people can inflict on one another.

We know that we live in a fallen world; sometimes we are tempted to forget that we also live in a world created and loved by God. When we remember that, we regain our “balance,” as this psalm describes it. As prayers written after moments of darkness and joy, the psalms often remind us of what we once knew, had forgotten and can now reclaim with even deeper conviction.

How often, in response to adult complaints about life’s injustices and disappointments, are we tempted to say: “Get a life! There’s a big world out there and it’s not waiting for you to give it a passing grade. Yes, human suffering is very real and we should meet it with compassion. But we don’t have to live in an ideal world in order to love God and neighbor. Life is messy for everyone.”

If asked, we would probably have arranged the world differently—but without the full range of human freedom that God entrusted to us.

Psalm 73 can help us remember that God never abandons us and that evildoers have only an apparent victory. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by a sense of envy about the injustice of life, we will certainly miss what God wants to give us.

Next Month: Psalm 73:1-3

 

Psalm 73 is a thanksgiving response to being delivered, not from some physical threat, but rather from a personal crisis. It begins and ends with an affirmation of the goodness of God, but in the middle stands a profound struggle of faith.

Why do the wicked prosper and apparently not face punishment? Through some kind of experience at the temple in worship, the psalmist comes to a deeper awareness of the closeness and presence of God. Worship of God and theological struggle can coexist in the heart of the believer (see verses 1,13,21 and 26).

For my overview of the entire Book of Psalms, read The Book of Psalms: Prayers for Everyday Living. —Michael Guinan, O.F.M.

 

Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., a member of St. John the Baptist Province, became this magazine's associate editor in 1999 and its editor three years later.


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