Let's try just Psalm 73 -- summarized by "It's not fair" -- and allow God to restore us.
Do you want proof that the human soul is rational and immortal, that God exists, created a moral universe and is a just judge? Do you want proof that our choices matter? Do you want (additional) proof that we live in a fallen world tainted by original sin? (As if we needed more proof!) You can find all that whenever your children, even the youngest, yell: “IT’S NOT FAIR!”
Do you want proof that fallen human nature is prone to envy? “How come he’s allowed to (insert desired permission here) and I’m not?” Do you want proof that human nature is prone to jealousy? “Why should I share (insert whatever is being clutched in the literal or metaphorical fist here)?”
Keeping score, resenting our neighbor and refusing to trust the goodness of God has been a pattern of human behavior at least since the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-16). That pattern is recorded repeatedly throughout Sacred Scripture.
That same pattern is acknowledged, described and overcome in Psalm 73. If we learn how to pray that psalm, we can become more free from jealousy and envy; we can become easier to live with; and, best of all, we can become more pleasing to God.
Here, I pause, to allow time for many of my readers to roll their eyes: “Oh, Father! Not the psalms! Aren’t the psalms just bad poetry inexplicably memorialized in Sacred Scripture? ‘Forgive me this’ and ‘Forgive me that’ and ‘I’m not worthy …’—they’re so depressing!”
Well, I’ve heard that objection many times over the years, and, honestly, I think it reveals not so much about the psalms as it does about the people making the objection. It tells me that these folks haven’t been taught to pray with the psalms. It can help if we pray the psalms in three steps.
First, let’s pray the psalms with Israel. Second, let’s pray the psalms with Christ. Third, let’s pray the psalms with the Church in our own time and place.
Psalm 73 contains a litany of complaints, a recitation of the creeds of envy and jealousy, summarized by, “It’s not fair!” Consider this list of laments:
… I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people … They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. Therefore the people turn and praise them and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’ Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.
Israel—so often fickle and disobedient—complained of her lamentable circumstances, even those often brought about by her own sin. Israel, at her best, turned again to God: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Jesus fulfilled perfectly—on behalf of Israel and all of humanity—the vocation of receiving and reciprocating the perfect love of God. His Heavenly Father—always faithful—blessed the unshaken fidelity of his Only-Begotten Son. What sinful humanity was called to, innocent Jesus fulfilled.
How shall we pray this psalm with the Church in our own dark times? How shall we pray when the wronged call for justice and don’t receive it? How shall we pray when the wicked appear unrepentant and unaccountable? How shall we pray when the contrite lament of their sin and reform their lives? How shall we pray when God calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven? These are the questions we in the Church must ask ourselves as we look at the headlines and look in the mirror.
Like Israel, we in the Church cry out to God: “It’s not fair!” With Jesus we pray to God:
Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.” With the Virgin Bride of Christ, now betrayed like her Lord, we pray: “When my soul was embittered…I was stupid and ignorant…Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.
When I write next, I will speak of a spiritual response to frustration and disappointment. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.