12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will say it like this,”
I would have been disloyal to the generations of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O LORD, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.
Nothing makes as powerful an impression on a person who is isolated, abandoned, and living in loneliness as knowing that they belong to a people and generation for whom nothing can ever get any better.
If you only focused on yourself, you would simply give up. What kind of struggle is that when one weak person faces the whole world with all its smart, powerful, and influential people entirely on their own? They just laugh you off because of your beliefs, right? They just shrug their shoulders at your simplemindedness. Meanwhile, they fully enjoy the world. They are honored. They get ahead. And it’s very obvious that they don’t do with less because Immanuel is nowhere to be found in their lives.
But when you were first converted, that wasn’t all so bad. Isn’t it true that then you thought to yourself and a little voice inside you said: “Why do I need them? Let them have what the world has to offer. I have my God and his Christ, and I’m totally enjoying the love of Christ. Am I not even richer than they are?”
However, things didn’t stay that way! While it’s true that when your faith life was first kindled, its glow was indescribably beautiful. You were swept off your feet. It was like the warmth you felt from the hearth when, frozen stiff, you first came in from the cold. The inner sensation you had when first converted was even more glorious than that! That was the turning point. That’s when you first drank from the Fountain of Everlasting Water. That was your coming through the Red Sea and seeing Pharaoh drowned; that was your celebration, deep in your heart, on the far shore.
But then you had to go through the desert. God’s Word put it well for you: “The sufferings of the present time cannot be compared with the glory that will then be revealed.” And the Lord’s ambassador said it well when he exclaimed: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” “In hope, we are blessed, and in nothing else!” But those positive words didn’t register with you, and you thought that things would get better. Already now, in this life!
This happened because originally you did not understand the essence of faith. You still didn’t grasp that believing is having nothing in your hands. And that was the complete opposite of what you were experiencing to be true. You hadn’t yet seen that the certainty of God’s blessing doesn’t depend on what you experience, but on what God holds before you in his Word. Your response is not surprising. Faith is not something you learn from some little book. Not by going to a catechism class. Not in a sermon. Nor from what someone tells you. Only God teaches you what faith is when he causes you to believe and leads you spiritually into the faith. That’s how he taught Abram to believe! And David! And Paul! He did it not by explaining it to them ahead of time, but by leading them into it. And that’s how the Lord also does it now, today, with all his children.
It couldn’t be otherwise. It had to be like this. That first overwhelmingly blessed experience had to eventually wear off in order to make room for fear, dimness of soul, empty-handedness, being at a loss for words, and branches without fruit. And that’s when you first really got serious. The situation now became like this: those worldly folk really did have it good. They were at peace. They really did mock you. Now with respect to those people you in fact came to think that the world did have a lot to offer. But inside you felt so deprived, naked, and miserable that you would have been ashamed if they had been able to see inside you.
That’s when faith actually broke through!
Having nothing, but still rejoicing! Rejoicing not based on your experience, but rejoicing because God’s Word says you should! Believing based more on what God tells you to your face than on what your soul whispers to you. You got out of the way. God became everything—everything even in the inner working of your soul and in your becoming more holy. Believing, knowing, and being convinced that you were becoming holier in no other way than by, in, and from him. That was the change! He was accomplishing all this in you. He simply couldn’t abandon this effort because it had been determined in his eternal counsel that all who are elect are chosen to become holy and blameless before him.
Whoever dares to acknowledge this comes to that point. Better said, they are there already!
But that happens only through fear, apprehension, and dying a thousand deaths. Then you will experience what Asaph did when his feet almost took him out the door, that is to say, when the thankless Asaph was ready to give up on his good and faithful God. He was at the point of allowing the most terrible curse to break loose in his soul. Then he thought it would be better to abandon God and to take up with the Evil One. But what restrained Asaph from such a curse at that moment? Or you can ask what likewise restrains every child of God dealing with a similar situation. God’s grace does, you say, and you are correct! God accomplishes this. What I mean is this: How does that occur in the deliberating that such a troubled child of God does on those occasions? How do they work that out in the depths of their soul? Do they think about God? About Jesus? About his atoning blood? Oh, all of that only comes later! Their first response is completely different. It’s totally understandable and completely human! They simply think that there’s more of the same coming, that it’s always been like this for the children of God.
If I were to say anything different, “I would be disloyal to the generations of your children!”
Whether he saddened his God didn’t matter to Asaph very much at that moment. What did matter was that he was recognized as one who kept faith with his brothers. He thought: This huge crowd of witnesses has endured things like this for all these centuries. Now I’m one of them. I’m giving up and I’m going to find out what they loathed and identify with them in their drudgery.
Faithless? Not at all, for God has preserved me for this!
I’ll never be a traitor!
That’s when the loneliness disappears. That’s when the spirits of all the completely justified surround us and when the martyrs wave their palm branches of victory over our heads. That’s when we hear the angelic hosts rejoicing.
Praise God! I’m there!
The battle is over. Let the world enjoy itself and even mock me. And if in so doing they even scoff at God, I remain filled with holy confidence. I testify to them that I may definitely be despised, and naked, and have but few possessions, but in order to become a king … by faith!
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms