Is there any hope to rid ourselves of envy and jealousy? What are we to do with our dark longings? We can feel powerless to combat them. We hate the way they make us feel. Dissatisfied and grumpy. Convinced that the next iPhone, the next TV show, the next vacation, the next date, the debt finally paid off, the _________ (you fill in the blank) is what we need to fill that empty hole. This is especially so when our friends or co-workers seem so happy and at ease. But when we hit that milestone, we are shocked anew that the emptiness remains. Nothing has changed. New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, was once asked, “How many more Super Bowl rings is enough, Tom?” His response? “One more.” At 42 years old, Brady seems to be longing for another one.
What about our poet Asaph? In this Advent series on longing, we’ve been learning from Asaph in Psalm 73, and he has allowed us to see the dark longings of his heart. Where will he go with his thoughts and his pain and his confusion? He tells us in verse 17. He enters the sanctuary. He goes into the house of God, and then he says he finally understood!
This is one reason why it is so important to consistently gather for worship. Though we may be struggling with envy, gathered worship draws us to truth. Through the words of the songs we sing, through the testimonies we share and through Scripture we study, we are pulled back into the story of truth. So often our daily lives are caught up in another story. That’s what was happening to the psalmist. He was living life, thinking thoughts, and feeling emotions based on a false story. But he was believing it, and it was killing him.
In our day and age that same false story is very much a part of our American experience. It is the story that says the right possessions, the right amount of money, the right job, the right vacations, the right hobbies, can fulfill your longings. This is why Gore Vidal said that envy is the central fact of American life.
This is also why I chose the picture of the person shoveling dirt into a hole for this post. Our hearts are like holes that we are trying to fill, but those longings are like bottomless pits. As the psalmist discovered, we can’t fill that hole with the seeming wealth and freedom and ease we see around us.
Asaph said that in the middle of this oppressive situation, in the middle of his confusion and bitterness, he entered the sanctuary, and he re-centered on the truth.
In verses 18-20, Asaph explains the truth about the wicked. Poetically he describes that there will come a day when God will deal with them. Though the wicked seem impenetrable, God will have his day. We can bank on that. He is a righteous judge, and though the wicked might not face ruin in this lifetime, they will have to face God in the one to come.
But Asaph, in this psalm is not so concerned about the wicked getting justice. He is rightly more concerned with the shocking revelation that he has about himself. It started in verse 17 when he says he went into God’s sanctuary and he understood. Now look at verses 21-22.
Asaph’s moment of self-awareness is new. He admits that he was really far gone before. When he had allowed his heart and mind, his longings, to be captured by the prosperity and health he saw around him in lives of the wicked, he now knows that he was senseless and ignorant and a brute beast, and he tells God so.
This is Asaph’s cry of confession and repentance. He is saying, “God I was focused on the wrong things, and it turned me into something far from what you wanted for me.” In fact, he describes himself as a brute beast. He is depicting in that phrase the difference between a human and an animal. Big difference, right? Humans have the highest capacity in the animal kingdom for thought, emotion, reflection, and more. Animals are controlled by their instincts, drives, and primarily hunger.
I have no idea if animals have souls or if dogs will go to heaven. I have spent a lot of time with our dog, and there are times I think he has genuine emotion, such that it seems he must have a soul. In fact I recently read an article saying that when a dog puts their paw on you, that is how they say, “I love you.” But there are many other times when I think our dog’s instincts control him almost to the point where he is a soulless robot. If we take him out to do his business in the back yard, and there is a squirrel within range, he will lunge after it every time. Even though he is hooked on a leash, and the squirrel is 20 feet up in the tree, he will try to defy gravity and jump straight up in the air to reach it. Every time. What bugs me the most is his barking when cars pull into our driveway. We’re all inside in the living room, and as soon as hears a car, he starts barking immediately and loudly. You’d think after three years I’d be used to it, but it can still often make me jump. If the person stays in their car checking text messages or something, he continues barking, and he will not stop. I honestly don’t think he can stop. It’s like he has this genetic robotic programming in him that is ruling him. In that sense he is a brute beast. The psalmist says he became like that. He allowed himself to be so caught up in the false story that he could not see life any other way. Bitterness and anger and envy and jealousy was crushing him. It took worship to yank him out of the false story, back into the truth.
Worship is an antidote to envy and jealousy. Check back in to the next post, as Asaph will guide us further into combating envy in our lives.