Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why do the wicked prosper while the good struggle?

Why do evil people prosper while good people struggle?

What is God’s definition of justice? How come evil people don’t seem to suffer the consequences of their evil actions? Instead, they look like they have an easier, more pleasurable lifestyle? And why is it that Christians often face the consequences of their sins right away? Does God get hurt too when he sees us, the ones he loves the most, hurting? Okay, that’s quite a few questions there. But they’re all basically asking the same thing: Why do the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer?
Guess what, people have been asking that question for as long as evil has been in the world. In fact, King David probably said it best in the passage from Psalm 73 this morning. NIV Psalm 73:3-5 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.
That certainly asks the big question this morning. And, you’ll find verses like that throughout the Psalms. But you’ll find many more verses like our other reading from this morning: NIV Psalm 37:7-9 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-- it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
What does it mean? Let me try to tell you what it all means by telling you a story I read this week. It’s a story told by a pastoral colleague. One night after church, he ran into a woman who somehow had the impression that he was walking home. She warned him to “be careful out there,” because “all sorts of bad things are going on nowadays.” He smiled and told her that he wasn’t afraid. After all, he said, he’s on good terms with the Management of the Universe, so even if something bad happens to him, it will eventually turn out all right.
These passages are telling us that by his nature, God is completely fair and just. He is not responsible for the sin and evil in the world.
In fact, sin is under God’s death penalty. According to Romans 3:23, we are all sinners. Therefore we all face the prospect of eternal spiritual death apart from our faith in Christ. God’s justice says that we must pay the penalty for our sins. But, His love and grace say that Christ has already paid the penalty on our behalf.
And yet we still struggle while bad folks seem to have it easy. Why? Why doesn’t God make us prosper?
Well, I think we have to understand the difference between prosperity and providence. Because not all of us may prosper, especially in this world. But all who claim the name of Jesus Christ as savior, all who call upon the Lord will experience the providence of God.
Now, I am no stranger to hard times. I have faced adversity, I’ve had my share of troubles. So I find that people who suffer hard times find me a helpful person to talk to and I’ve come to realize that God gave me hardship as training so that I could serve His people who are in distress.
Right now these are good times for me, I must say that I’m in one of the best places I’ve been my whole life. But even in hard times, if I’ve had my wits about me, I have always been confident in God’s providence. I have always known that God was looking out for me. I rely on Psalm 37. That passage says that godly people will have bad times and suffer days of famine. Surprisingly, that is something which I find very reassuring, because if I do face adversity, trial, and hardship, it doesn’t mean that I have fallen out of God’s favor. God won’t grant me an exemption from hard times, but God will give me dignity in those hard times.
And I bear witness in my life that this is true: because at no time during any adversity in my life
was I ever debased by anyone other than myself. I’m my own worst enemy. But those around me have always been supportive and loving. And at no time did I lack anything that I truly needed, except maybe in my imagination.
This kind of leads me to that other thing we’re talking about this morning, but that doesn’t bother me any more. It’s about when a person triumphs through evil.
You all know what I mean: A competitor is convicted of fraudulent trade practices and is still able to win a sale from under your nose. An office adversary stabs you in the back and is rewarded by a promotion. A thief breaks in and steals a gift you gave a loved one and you can’t replace it. You work and slave behind the scenes, while the lazy loudmouth gets public credit for your work.
Most of us have had some experience like that. These things have all happened to me, too. I used to be furious with God about those kinds of things, and God and I used to have it out in loud fights.
Yes, you heard me correctly. I said that I’ve had fights with God. You see, someone once told me that if I was mad at God, I should find a place where I can’t be overheard and have a good knock-down, drag-out fight with God. Yell and scream at God, she said, give Him a piece of your mind and don’t let Him off easy. She said that if my relationship with God was so fragile I couldn’t have a little argument now and then, my spirituality was too weak to do me any good anyway.
At first, I thought this was mucho crazy and a little dangerous, but then I had weekend hospital coverage when my pastor went out of town. A very sweet lady from the church had Parkinson’s disease. She also needed a knee replacement. She was admitted to the hospital and had her knee replaced. She was doing well after the surgery on a regular floor, when she was found after lunchtime having aspirated a bit of food, in cardiac arrest. The crash team came in and she was brought back and admitted to ICU. Unfortunately, her strength was just not enough and she passed away the next day.
God and I had words that very day. We had a knock-down-drag-out, we did. And I can bear witness to you that even though I have lost every single argument with God, I never had an argument with Him where I didn’t learn something. God returns every distress and care with a deep, abiding peace.
You know, I used to laugh at how silly it was for Adam to wear a fig leaf in God’s presence; now I realize how silly it is to wear a fig leaf of propriety before God in my private prayers.
Don’t fret yourself over the one who prospers, or the one who succeeds in evil schemes. Refrain from anger, leave rage alone.
If I am overwhelmed by anger and rage, I try to take it out on God rather than on people, because unlike people, God can handle it, defuse it, and remove it. I’m not always perfect on that but I try. If I am stressed and troubled, I talk it out with God. If I discuss distressing rumors with people, the rumors grow and lead me to evil, but if I discuss my troubles with God,
nothing bad will happen to me, because nothing I give over to God can succeed in leading me to evil. I don’t pretend that I have mastered this in my daily life, but I do admit that I strive daily to submit all things to God.
Folks, as Christians, it may seem that we experience the consequences of our sins right away. But that’s because God loves us like a father, which of course he is. Would you let your children get away with their sins? Or, would you love them enough to correct them and sometimes even punish them? Why would our heavenly Father do anything less with us? Those who do not know God as Father don’t experience this because they’re receiving all the reward they’ll ever get right now.
I’ve heard it said that an evil person is as close to heaven right now as he or she will ever get. But a believer in Jesus Christ is as close to hell right now as he or she will ever get. For us it will never get worse. For them it will never be better.
So maybe right now something in your life hurts. Maybe you’re dealing with stress and anxiety and pain. And even is that trouble chases you for your whole remaining life, it’s still only temporary.
Yes, God hurts when he sees us hurting. God is compassionate. But God also loves us too much to let us try to continue to live in our sins. Wicked people don’t know how to live any differently than they do. But as children of God, we do. It’s incumbent upon us to live differently as an example to the wicked and the “bad” people. It’s our God-given responsibility to be the model of righteous living to the world.
Regardless of how rich or poor, regardless of power or prestige, we are blessed by God. And God has provided for all of our basic needs in this world. So don’t fret those who succeed without faith. We already have treasures and assurances that they may never know. We are blessed by God.
AMEN

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