New Year’s Day is usually a day for football, food, and family – probably in that order. However, if I had to choose between my chicken wings and family while watching college bowl games…Well, maybe I ought to change the subject.
Here’s something else we can’t help but do when a new year rolls around: We think about the future and how we can improve our lives. I suppose that’s only natural, given how much of a clean break it is, chronologically. I mean, when the calendar clicks over from December 31 to January 1, we not only start a new day and a new month, we start a new year. We move from 2017 to 2018. I don’t write many checks anymore, but I do recall from years past that remembering to write that new year in the upper right-hand corner took some real discipline.
So it would be surprising if most of us didn’t engage in some reassessment of our lives come New Year’s Day. As in, “I thought I would be retired and living on an island somewhere.” Or, “I thought we’d be living in our dream house by now.” Or, “I didn’t realize I’d be this fat at 59 years old.”
“Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?” is asked in Psalm 34:12. The question is presented in such a way that it assumes every man and woman wants to see good in this life. Often, the start of a new year leads us to yearn anew for good things to happen.
Like many Psalms, this one contains a litany of complaints and trials that is characteristic of being human. There are “fears” (vs. 4); “troubles” (vv. 6, 17); cries of anguish (vv. 6, 15, 17); broken hearts (vs. 18); people whose spirits are “crushed” (vs. 18); countless “afflictions” (vs. 19); and the hatred of the wicked for the righteous (vs. 21).
Who wouldn’t want the year to click over to something new if 2017 had been filled with that mess?
These sorts of Psalms invariably share two other characteristics. There is a list of just what that “good” life consists. Just as there is a catalog of struggles, there is an inventory of good and pleasant results: answers from God when His people cry out to Him (vs. 4, 15, 17); no more shame in life (vs. 5); salvation, rescue, and deliverance (vv. 6, 7, 17, 18, 19); no want for “any good thing” (vv. 9, 10); the nearness of God when we’re hurting (vs. 18); redemption (vs. 22); and no condemnation when we stand before the Lord (vs. 22).
Well, that’ll preach, as they say!
There’s also one other characteristic, and it is the linchpin for the entire lesson of such Psalms. The protection from life’s evils and the guarantee of the good things both reside in God Himself.
This is why Psalm 34 begins with a laser-like focus on the Lord of glory: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (vv. 1-3).
Flowing throughout this Psalm is evidence of God’s people continually keeping their gaze unwaveringly on their Savior. They seek God (vv. 4, 10) and look to Him (vs. 5). When they cry out, they cry to Him (vv. 6, 15, 17). They fear the Lord (vs. 7) and take “refuge in Him” (vv. 8, 22).
These are people who are in love with God and trust Him. Moreover, they realize how broken and needy they are, for they completely and desperately look to Him for help. In every battle, trial, and storm, these saints live at the feet of God and in His shadow, drawing on His truth, wisdom, and power. They know the Lord alone can help them; they also know that, when darkness turns into light and blessings come, the Lord is the gift-giver.
However, is everything on that list of “goodies” going to come to your house in 2018? Some might – and I hope a majority of things on the list visit your address. But even when they do drop by, it’s only for a visit. At some point, the good things, like most of the bad, are only with us for a short while. Sometimes it takes years before an answer to prayer comes, and then, guess what? There will be other needs that arise.
This, then, is an important biblical principle regarding both good and bad things. They are temporary. And here is the corollary: They also point to the ultimate, eternal duration of both good and bad.
Let’s start with the bad. In vs. 21, we read of the fate of the wicked: “Evil shall slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.” This declaration of the destiny of the wicked comes with the implied thought, eventually. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.
The fact is, God deals with the sins of some people in this life, while others appear to skate by. But in 1 Timothy 5:24, Paul says no one escapes. “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment,” the apostle says, but “for others, their sins follow after.”
Of course, bad things that happen in this life, like the man born blind in John 9, are not always evidence that the suffering person is being judged for sin (vs. 3). The entire Book of Job explains that God sometimes has His own reasons for allowing tragedy.
Nevertheless, when we do see bad things happen, there is a spiritual lesson to draw. As spectators of someone’s misfortune, we should all understand that God is speaking to everyone through these circumstances: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).
I have heard people say, “If God does not judge America for her sins, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” First, the suggestion that the Lord of heaven and earth would ever have to apologize to His own creatures for anything is blasphemous. Second, the argument clearly indicates that such a person has missed the point of the judgment of those ancient cities. It is not evidence that God will always judge every act of wickedness here on earth; rather, the judgment is meant as a warning that worse things will eventually come to all who refuse to repent and come to Christ.
In 2 Peter 2:6, 9-10, the apostle says: “if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter … then the Lord knows how … to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment ….”
If that’s true about bad things, then is it also true that the promises to the righteous are also fully fulfilled, eventually. Some of the good things will happen in this life – for a season. For example, God will deliver us on Tuesday, but by Saturday we might need His help again. But everything good that is promised to God’s people in Psalm 34 will be fulfilled, completely and for all time.
In Hebrews 6:4-5, the writer addresses those who have “tasted of the heavenly gift…and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” He says a taste because it is never the fullness of what we will experience forever in God’s presence. It points toward the eternal fulfillment of every need and longing.
Which is to say that eternity holds the promise of full and unending goodness, blessing, and joy because we will be in God’s presence forever. For example, as He is perfect power, we will be perfectly delivered from all that harmed us on earth. As He is perfect righteousness, we will be perfectly righteous and forever free of shame and condemnation. As He is perfect joy, we shall always be kept from sorrow and despair.
This would mean that our true blessing – our true joyful portion in this life and the next – is God. He will eventually fulfill every promise, with the blessings of this life being a taste or testimony of the age to come.
As we prepare to embark on a new year, knowing that both good and bad things await us, let us truly look forward to a year lived in God’s shadow. “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?”
Let’s determine that 2018 will be a year in which we see God more clearly.