“The nearness of God is my good,” says the psalmist.
Though the wicked prosper, though evil carries on, though the circumstances of God’s people are bleak, everything makes sense in God’s presence (Psalm 73:17). There the embittered soul is revived. The beastly attitude is tamed. “Nevertheless,” the psalm goes, “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me into glory” (Psalm 73:23–24).
From start to finish, God is with his people. It’s what makes us distinct (Exodus 33:14–16). Where we go, he goes. Always. The nearness of God is our good (Psalm 73:28).
But then there is Psalm 74.
Immediately after this resolve to remember God’s presence, to dwell on his nearness, the next installment from the psalmist named Asaph begins, “O God, why do you cast us off forever?” (Psalm 74:1). It directly opposes the good news of the previous psalm. Psalm 73 says God’s presence is our good, but Psalm 74 says,
The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary! (verse 3)
Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place. (verse 4)
They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name. (verse 7)
They burned all the meeting places of God in the land. (verse 8)
When He Does Nothing
Do you see it? The language here is all about God’s presence. And the picture is destruction. The attack of the enemy pinpoints the very thing that God’s people have held onto for hope. And worse, God doesn’t appear to care. He isn’t doing anything about it, so it seems. So verse 11 says,
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
In other words, God, do you see what is happening? Your enemies are prevailing over us and you have your hands in your pockets. Please do something!
It makes sense to us, right? God’s presence, the very thing the psalms teach us to prize, to esteem above all else, even that is not out of the enemy’s reach. Or is it?
He Does Everything
The shift comes in verse 12. “Yet,” the psalmist says — that glorious turn — “Yet, God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 74:12). In this moment of disarray, when everything is turned upside down, when everything we expected is dismantled, the psalmist stops and remembers. He remembers that even when the circumstances don’t add up, God is always at work. God is always doing 10,000 things we can’t see. Always.
He knows that God acts. “You divided,” he recounts, and “You broke” and “You crushed” and “you gave” and “you split” and “you dried” and “yours is the day” and “yours also is the night” and “you have established” and “you have fixed” and “you have made” (Psalm 74:12–17). He takes his eyes off of himself, off of his surroundings, and he remembers.
10,000 things, he tells us.
Because He Did This
And we know. We’ve seen this before. We have the whole picture.
There was another day when God’s enemy pinpointed the very thing his people held onto for hope. It was a day when God’s presence was not only ransacked, but the very embodiment of God’s presence — God with us — was ravished. His foes prevailed with no inhibition. The Son of God hung on the cross, and the Father had his hands in his pockets, so it seemed. Even the Messiah was not out of the enemy’s reach. Or was he?
See, it was in this moment of disarray — in this Chaos of chaos — that everything “looked” destroyed and turned upside down. But it was here, by all visible accounts, when things were the most over, that in fact they were the most not.
It appeared evil had won. That God was dead. That his enemies triumphed. But no.
It was in his dying, when our hope looked lost, that Jesus was actually securing it. It was when darkness covered the land, over against the Son’s forsaken cries, that light began to dawn and the Father realized his eternal purpose for the world. Beyond what it seemed, beyond what the circumstances would suggest, God was the one in triumph. Sunday morning made it sure.
So just when we thought he’d be gone forever, he was actually lifted up as the one who would never leave us, nor forsake us — the one who would say, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Ten thousand things, remember. And here is at least one.
Yes, the nearness of God is our good.