The book of Job is supposedly written sometime between 2,000 to 1,800 BC and is supposedly the oldest book in the Holy Bible and even during that period also the people were perplexed by the same question as we are “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7). Adam and Eve were provided with all possible comforts in the Garden of Eden and got expelled for disobedience. Ever since man has been sinfully concerned about what others have rather than being content with his own share received from the bounties of God. The same issue was raised by Asaph “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…. This is what the wicked are like- always free of care, they go on amassing wealth” (Psalm 73:3, 12).
Our Lord was well aware of the thoughts of people then and the future generations that during the most important teaching session the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ He taught “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). The Greek word used is krinete which is derived from kreeno and another meaning of this is condemn not or do not pass judgement on others. By implication the Lord emphasized on the fact that a person may not be condemned for the evident for the final result may be far different. The criminal on the adjoining cross was condemned but his end was unexpectedly different and though branded as wicked, he landed up in heaven with the Lord due to Divine mercy. His teaching is categorical ‘do not look at the speck in the others’ eye while forgetting about the plank sticking in your own eye’.
Pope Francis once mentioned that he receives numerous letters raising the same question and his advice is the same that God never abandons His chosen people- those who have faith and trust Him “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:6). The ‘whys’ of a believer turn to prayer and the Lord answers the same in due time and in any case we never get to see the blessings of the righteous. (www.breitbart.com).
Do the wicked actually prosper? We generally find those who use all sorts of unscrupulous means earning and gathering wealth in abnormal proportions. But the means of acquiring are based on lies, deceit and treachery, all tools of Satan and his demonic forces. God did not create such disparity and all those found worthy of a mention in the Bible were rewarded for their faith and perseverance. Abraham was simply told “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). He moved in faith in the direction that he thought was right for no destination had been given to him and it was only after he had reached the ‘great tree of Moreh at Shechem’ that “the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:6-7) and the promise finally was fulfilled a few centuries later. But “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold” (Genesis 13:2). Likewise Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Esther and many others prospered.
“To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness but to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God” (Ecclesiastes 2:26, Proverbs 13:22). Right after this Solomon goes on to say “There is time for everything”. The proportion of believers in comparison to others is a minuscule and even among those, how many can be truly called righteous? Thus this redistribution of wealth is hardly noticed by us and in any case the definition of prosperity is per se defined by Apostle John in his prayer “Beloved, I pray that you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). How many people who seem to be prosperous will fit this definition and have peace in their heart, their house and their soul?
Much credit is given to Satan, being prince of this world, to help the wicked prosper. Can Satan create anything or perform miracles? The answer is a clear no. In the book of Job he destroys and steals and in the wilderness his refrain before the Lord is- “turn the stones into bread, test the assured safety promised by God through the angels or to show Him all the kingdoms of the world”. In all three there was nothing of his and as far as the kingdoms also “this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomsoever I wish” (Luke 4:6). He has no power of his own to create anything but uses lies and deceit to usurp what is not his. So how can he be instrumental in anyone’s prosperity? The only thing he can do is help anyone to cheat and loot and that is where his expertise and influence lies. Some of the wicked people are talented and use this to enhance their own image. The multitude of provocative and sexually explicit content in the form of music and entertainment is an example.
But the command to us is clear “For you heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:32-33). It is neither appropriate for me to judge/condemn others nor seek what they have, for this is not under my control. I have been given certain talents by the Master and I am required to earn for His kingdom and in “whatever situation I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). The way to envy is open and sinful and to retard “The Pilgrim’s Progress” as John Bunyan very eloquently put it to echo Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy in 1Timothy 6:8-10.
Our minds are blinded by the veil of separation that has been created by our sinful nature. While the veil of the temple was rent more than 2,000 years ago, some of us still live on the other side of the veil only. The veil of separation that hinders the functioning of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us at the time of our submission to the kingship of Lord Jesus, is unbelief that He will bless us. We are so led by Satan’s lies that we keep on making futile attempts to earn His grace which is freely available because of Divine mercy and love. In this state we focus on not what we have or are likely to receive as an answer to our prayers but on what others have got through evil means.
In our search for immediate answers we start looking at God from the other end of the telescope making Him smaller and our troubles through a microscope making them look much bigger than what they are. And in this Satan feeds us with lies to distort the picture further thus clouding our spiritual vision altogether. For we want a specific answer only to our prayer, any other option is simply not acceptable thus putting a severe restriction on the sovereign God, who in any case knows better for He is aware of His plans for us.
Prophet Jeremiah was faced with a similar dilemma when he asked of the Lord “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” As a spiritual leader his worry was the effect of this “apparent disparity” on the faith of the people for he called out to the Lord “Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us”. This is a dilemma facing all who pray for others or lead them into their new life in Christ Jesus for we expect the Lord to jump to our requests. But the answer from YHWH God is revealing “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:1, 4 & 5). There is an old song “I never promised you a rose garden” and the Lord does not promise a tribulation free life in this world. Rather the “But may the Lord of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you” (1 peter 5:10). This suffering is spiritual on one part due to separation from the Lord and worldly also due to the attacks of Satan.
But why must this happen? Prophet Habakkuk was appalled at being told that the Israelites were going to be punished by a pagan nation and his complaint was that how could a holy and pure God look at such atrocity being perpetrated on His people. But the all knowing God was quick to answer “See, the enemy is puffed up, his desires are not upright- but the righteous will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4). David was made to undergo years of running from Saul even after having been anointed as the king of Israel and Joseph suffered not only slavery but also imprisonment for a false charge of sexual assault on Potiphar’s wife. The suffering of a little while is to train and equip us for bigger and better rewards that are in store for us. The great “cloud of witnesses” quoted by the writer of Hebrews 12:1 is those who remained faithful despite the tempting ‘success of the wicked’ and persevered to receive that ‘crown of glory’. For even our Lord suffered for us even “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which he suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Even the Son of God had to attain perfection through suffering to become a perfect man to ascend to heaven with that body and form.
But what if the situation does not improve? This question must have been felt by Joseph in the prison after the butler and the cupbearer of Pharaoh, did not help, despite their promise and two years passed or to David when he was in the wilderness for 16 years after being anointed king. The end of the wicked is very clear and the illustration was provided by the Lord in Luke 16:19-31 in the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, who died and received just rewards for their life on earth, the rich man being tormented in Hades and the beggar in paradise. The key is to maintain our focus on the Lord who alone has the “authority over everything in heaven and on earth” and He rewards the just, always and every time, at His chosen time. For only He has the full picture of eternity, both past and future, and what seems grossly unfair to us today in our finite knowledge would appear glorious in time to come. He used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people but at the right time punished him also to get His people back to their inheritance. He blesses the wicked also to use them for His glory but eventual delivers His Divine righteous judgement on them also.
King David suffered a great deal at the hands of the wicked but after much deliberation he was content to leave all in the hands of the Lord (Psalm 37). The promise of the Lord and Savior is “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and He dwells in us with the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us to our great inheritance here as well as in heaven. It may appear to us at times that the wicked are prospering but their reward is eternal perdition while a ‘mansion awaits us in the house of God our Father in heaven, for we are all sojourners here on earth.
The darkness tends to engulf us and overpower us to make us cry out like our Lord “My God, My God why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46). But He is with us and in us and according to and through His power that works in us He is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). David was right to say “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4).
HE IS ALWAYS AND FOREVER FAITHFUL BUT ARE WE?