Lenten Devotion: Friday, March 13

Psalm 95;  Psalm 69:1-38Psalm 73Genesis 43:1-151 Corinthians 7:1-9Mark 4:35-41

A Psalm of Asaph
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
Psalm 73

Asaph was an incredibly talented and pious man. His father, Berekiah, was a Doorkeeper to the Ark of the Covenant. King David, himself a superbly talented musician, selected Asaph to be one of three choirmasters for the four-thousand-strong tabernacle choir. He was a man of strong spiritual gifts and vocation, sharing them at the center of his society’s religious life. Asaph’s psalms were revered alongside Kind David’s by successive generations.

Yet Asaph was profoundly distraught. The beauty of his immediate world – the tabernacle – and of his personal work – his music – seemed overwhelmed by the injustice of a world where the sinful prospered. Perhaps King David’s egregious sin of covetousness and murder was the final straw that overwhelmed Asaph, as the moral fall of his benefactor and hero undermined his own spiritual moorings.

As his distress turns to despair, Asaph is tempted to abandon his moral coordinates – to accept the world’s judgments as the measure of happiness and success, in what would be a terrible moment of spiritual surrender: “This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.” And so, what was wrong – sin – becomes desirable, and what was once understood as sin is now seen as a mark of success.

Which one of us has not found ourselves at a similar place? Our hyper-connected, AI-enhanced world barrages us with images of ‘success’ based on money, power, and skin-deep image, personally tailored by social media algorithms to our own proclivities. We are told that gratifying our own urges is the new moral good, under the guise of ‘being true to ourselves.’ Rejecting sinful desires is a quaint anachronism at best, dangerous repressiveness at worst – rather than a necessary part of discerning and following God’s will for us. Fortunately for Asaph, God’s grace shows forth in two powerful moments, diverting him from the terrible path of spiritual surrender, when he enters God’s sanctuary and understands the destiny of those who depart from God’s ways.