In the third season of Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope and her team are preparing for the Harvest Festival. The success of the event will determine whether their department continues to exist. The stakes are high. They’ve pulled out all the stops, even bringing in a local celebrity: the miniature horse Li’l Sebastian.
As they’re setting up the festival, everything goes wrong. Li’l Sebastian escapes, and they can’t find him anywhere. While most of the team is on the Ferris wheel, the power cuts out and they’re left trapped.
In classic sitcom fashion, everything turns out right by the end of the episode. From the vantage point of the Ferris wheel they’re able to spot Li’l Sebastian inside the corn maze. Of course, actually getting him isn’t so simple, because it takes them four hours inside the corn maze to find him. Surrounded by high walls and dead-ends, it’s a very different view than atop the Ferris wheel.
Suffering forces us into the corn maze. We can be blinded by pain and unable to see things as they actually are. This is what the writer of Psalm 73 was facing too. Asaph looks around and sees the prosperity of the wicked. From his point of view, life is easy for those who don’t follow God: “For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek” (v. 4).
Even if the unbelievers around you aren’t violently oppressing others like in this psalm, they have the same attitude towards God in their hearts:
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?” (v. 9–11)
They live how they want to, because they don’t think God is going to hold them accountable. We may envy how free they are to pursue the glittering things of this world, like money and success and comfort. In comparison, we can feel like we’ve been dealt the worse deal. Asaph certainly feels abandoned, and wonders whether following God is really worth it anymore.
But then he goes up in the Ferris wheel. In the hinge point of this psalm, Asaph enters the presence of God and has his perspective restored:
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. (v. 16–20)
The comfortable position the wicked enjoy isn’t as secure as it looks. Whether by death or the return of Jesus, they can slip and be destroyed at any moment. People may scoff at the idea of God’s judgment, but this doesn’t make them safe from it. And when they do slip, only terror and destruction await them.
When we consider unbelievers with a birds-eye perspective—from the viewpoint of eternity rather than our experience here and now—we see that no earthly happiness is worth what they’re facing. They rest in a false security and in the end will be opposed by God.
This should make us wary of prosperity in this life. While not bad in themselves, money, power and fame promise a lot and never deliver. Desire for these things can easily take over our hearts so that we lose the perspective of eternity. We mustn’t let the corn maze define reality for us.
The destiny of the righteous is so much better than anything we could find here. What does Asaph learn from the Ferris wheel?
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
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. (v. 23–28)
Even though he didn’t feel it before, Asaph has always been with God—and more importantly, God has always been with him, holding him by the hand. God guides us by his Word in this life, and in the end we can be sure that he will take us to glory, to be with him forever.
Asaph breaks out into praise when he sees how wonderful God is: “earth has nothing I desire besides you” (v. 25). Even when he’s suffering and his own strength fails, God is Asaph’s portion forever. He’s content with just having God.
What’s amazing is that Asaph isn’t saying this because life has suddenly become easier for him. His circumstances haven’t changed, only his perspective. So even when we’re going through deep suffering, we can sing and pray this psalm to God. We can cling to the eternal perspective that reminds us of what is true.
We need to keep coming into God’s presence to have our crooked perspective restored. Like Asaph, we are prone to forgetting, being too caught up in our own lives. I often pray this psalm as a request, asking God to change my heart so that every day I can say with more and more certainty: “For me it is good to be near God.”