Why do the wicked prosper?

As Job’s friends continued to try to reason with him, they were reflecting their own world-view, a view that many people still have today. That view stated that if someone was wealthy, it was obviously because God was blessing them. If they were in poverty or if bad things happened to them, it was because God had withdrawn his blessings due to sin in their lives.

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that this sort of reasoning doesn’t add up. Just because someone is wicked doesn’t mean that God is bringing all sorts of calamities and bad things on the person. Notice what Job said:

“Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? Their children are firmly established in their presence, their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe and without fear; and no rod of punishment from God is upon them. Their bulls breed without fail; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They allow their children to run like a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the accompaniment of tambourine and harp, and make merry to the sound of the flute. They live out their years in prosperity  and go down to the grave in peace. So they say to God, ‘Turn away from us! We do not want to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain if we were to pray to him?’” (Job 21:7-15 NET).

Is it really true that bad things that happen to us are a sign that we are wicked? Just look around and we will find wicked people who live long lives into their old age and continue to become more and more powerful. They have well-established families and nice houses. They don’t live in fear. There is no obvious punishment of God on them. They continue to prosper and have a peaceful end to their lives. They have all this despite having turned their backs on God and brazenly told him that they wanted nothing to do with him – they didn’t need a God of any form (thank you very much!).

You see, the reality of what we see around us is that prosperity or calamity does not depend on whether someone is faithful to God or wicked. As Jesus explained many years later, “But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).

This very situation bothered Asaph in Psalm 73. He saw that the wicked seemed to be getting away with their wickedness – they did bad things yet had everything they wanted in their lives. It wasn’t until he was able to put things into perspective that he realised what was real. Having a prosperous life now was not what living was all about. It was when he entered God’s temple that he remembered that life was really about how we live spiritually. Although it seemed the wicked had it made, they would have to answer to God for how they had lived their lives.

Job knew how he had been living and he knew that he had been faithful to God. He was confident that if he could but speak with God, he would be shown to not be wicked.

Might we all have the confidence that Job had – a confidence based on the reality of living a faithful life before God. When we have this confidence, we can then weather whatever storm may come our way to try to get us to turn our back on God – as we see Job had in the answers he gave his friends.

Readings for next week:
12 October – Job 23-24
13 October – Job 25-26
14 October – Job 27
15 October – Job 28
16 October – Job 29

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