God is good and God is just. As a Christian, I affirm both of these propositions as true. Even if and when I don’t feel that he is good or just, I know he is. The Psalmist, Asaph, knew so too (Ps 73:1).
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
This is an important affirmation in our current secular context, where feelings all too often dominate and dictate what is true and real and good in our society.
The spirit of this age refuses to acknowledge that feelings wither and perceptions fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.
Truth is truth, regardless of how we feel.
But while our secular neighbors may often cave to the hegemony of feelings, is it possible that many of us religious folk have underappreciated the importance of feelings?
I recall an unfortunate pastoral situation at my friend’s church a few years ago. A young woman was struggling with feelings of anxiety.
After seeking counsel from her pastor’s wife, she was rebuked from Philippians 4:6-7.
[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
She was called to repent of her sinful feelings of anxiety. After all, the truth was that she was in Christ and had access to the peace of God. She had no reason to be anxious, right? “Ignore and repent of your sinful feelings,” she was told.
I could be wrong, but this method of counselling does not sit right with me.
Do our feelings really not matter at all? Should we just ignore or even suppress how we feel?
Should we be merely satisfied to ‘know’ the truth without also feeling the truth?
But how well do we know the truth if we do not also experience it?
Were we merely meant to know that God is good, or were we also meant to taste and see that he is good?
This is why I love Asaph’s reflection in Psalm 73.
On one hand, and unlike the average secular person in our present culture, Asaph doesn’t define truth and reality according to his own understanding or how he feels. He cognitively affirms the truth: “Truly God is good…” (Ps 73:1).
But on the other hand, and unlike a religious dogmatist, Asaph is unashamed to express his personal feelings to God. While affirming the truth, he doesn’t ignore his feelings, but prays and processes them before God: “But as for me…” (Ps 73:2).
Asaph wasn’t satisfied to merely know the truth without feeling it.
So he expressed this dissonance to God.
He knew that God was “truly” good to his people, “but” so many things in his experience seemed to tell him otherwise. He knew the truth, but he didn’t feel the truth.
Asaph perceived that the wicked enjoyed God’s shalom (Ps 73:3), and that followers of YHWH were stricken all day long (Ps 73:14).
And yet he knew that to cave in and join the wicked would be to betray God and God’s people (Ps 73:15).
So he was stuck with the “wearisome task” of reconciling what he knew and what he felt (Ps 73:16).
Do you feel stuck with this wearisome task? I often do.
Or maybe you’ve given up on the wearisome task of reconciling what you truly know and what you currently feel. I do that too.
In my head, I know that God is good, but very often I can’t taste or see it. I often can’t feel it.
And, like Asaph, I don’t think I should be okay with that. Like Asaph, I think how I feel matters.
But how do we get from knowing that God is truly good, to tasting and seeing that the LORD is good?
For Asaph, everything changed when he “went into the sanctuary of God” (Ps 73:17).
It was there in the sanctuary, that Asaph not only reaffirmed the truth, but began to feel its reality.
But what was it about the sanctuary?
Maybe it was a hot Sabbath day in Jerusalem. Asaph had already gone a week seeing the wicked prosper, and at this point he didn’t feel like going to the Temple. But maybe it was his turn to lead worship. So he went.
Then maybe Asaph got up before the people and began to strum his harp. And perhaps he looked up, and saw the people of God raising their hands, singing with all their hearts in worship to God, their Savior. Perhaps the service progressed, and Asaph heard the reading of the Law, reminding him of God’s goodness and justice to Israel when they were slaves in Egypt. And then came the main event – the burnt offering. He could see it and he could smell it, a bloody sacrifice for his sins.
And suddenly everything made sense, and there was harmony between his head and his heart – harmony between the truth he knew and the truth he formerly could not feel.
And he saw that even though he was ignorant and acted as a beast toward his Lord (Ps 73:22), his Lord was continually with him, holding his right hand and leading him into glory (Ps 73:23).
And feeling this strong hand holding his, this same hand that led his people out of Egypt and that extended grace and forgiveness to his people time and time again, Asaph could then feel the truth.
And he exclaimed:
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.
Verse two’s “But as for me” of doubt and despair in the presence of the wicked is transformed in in verse twenty-eight into a “But for me” of hope and confidence in the presence of God.
It was the truth of God’s saving presence that led Asaph to finally feel the truth. He felt the truth when he felt God’s saving hand grasping tightly to his own.
Do you feel the truth of God’s goodness? Do you feel his saving hand?
Reach for it, and you will taste and see the LORD is good.
Asaph genuinely felt this saving hand, but we can feel it in a way that Asaph could only have hoped for.
For when we hold the saving hand of God, grasping us tightly, even when we are ignorant and act as beasts toward God, we find that it is nail-pierced.
This is the only truth that could ever make us feel his goodness. The nail-pierced hand of our God and Savior is the truth that makes us feel it.