Injustice percolates every aspect of daily life. Even though we hope to see good rewarded and wickedness punished as God promises, we often encounter the opposite. While many reject God because he allows bad things to happen to ‘good’ people, many who believe in his Son find trouble that he often allows good things to fall on the laps of bad men.
Tyrants many wish were dead outlive most of us. The corrupt lack nothing and yet thanks to their corruption genuinely hard-working people face lack daily. “They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind,” Asaph lamented concerning the wicked in Psalm 73:5.
He couldn’t make head or tail of how the very people who lace their necks with pride and cover themselves with violence (vs. 6), who fill their hearts with folly, “scoff and speak with malice”, “loftily threaten oppression”, “set their mouths against the heavens” and strut their tongues through the earth (vs. 7-9) are the very ones who “have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek” – verse 4.
And neither could Jeremiah. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart,” he grumbled – Jeremiah 12:1-2.
And like them, nearly every child of God alive today finds him/herself staring at injustice and lamenting “Why Lord?” What is worse, the wicked live boastfully as if God is not seeing them. “He will not see our latter end” – Jeremiah 12:4. “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” – Psalm 73:11. To the righteous, nothing angers us worse.
But how are we to respond in such circumstances? How do we uphold righteousness in our hearts when surrounded by the unrighteous who seem to fare on better? From the laments of the two men we can learn both how not to respond and how to respond.
1. Do Not Envy
In verses 2 & 3 of Psalm 73, Asaph acknowledges “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Without his careful watch, Asaph’s heart had wandered. His eyes had looked around him, seen the flashy things about him, and his heart eventually desired them.
We face a similar temptation daily. Life consistently treats us to that better job, and that better house, and that better car. In some cases, the wicked do not just possess better versions of things we have, but things we lack and wish we had. Even though we loathe the means through which they acquired their wealth, we would never mind their prosperity. But such envy is always a sure path to stumbling (Matthew 6:24, 1 Timothy 6:10).
When we are enticed by the wealth of the wicked, it is usually only a matter of time before we find ourselves walking in the way of the wicked. We may successfully avoid making wealth unscrupulously, but our steps have certainly slipped when we selfishly hold onto the wealth we’ve made to afford ourselves the better house, or car, or whatever else.
When enticed by the wealth of the wicked, it’s only a matter of time and we’ll walk in the way of the wicked
While our Lord delights in such generous living that gives away one tunic to the one without even if one had only two tunics (Luke 3:11), mammon says “only seek more for yourself”. And though selfishness with genuinely earned possessions might seem less harmful than graft, the Devil takes equal delight in both.
The prosperity of the wicked should never make us envious. Not even the prosperity of the righteous should. We are never to covet our neighbors’ properties (Exodus 20:17), but only praise the good Lord who gives good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11) and causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).
2. Avoid Self Pity
Envy is not usually stirred up by the feeling that others have more than enough, but the false belief that we have less than enough. “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning”, Asaph cried out – Psalm 73:13-14.
Not only was the Psalmist bereft of prosperity, his steadfastness to the Lord seemed also to earn him misery. All day long he’d be stricken and every morning he’d be rebuked. Surely his faithful devotion must have felt like it was in vain. Why add blows and rebukes to the misery of ‘poverty’?
It is not uncommon that the wicked with money will hardly fall sick while the righteous without enough to afford good healthcare get taken ill frequently. You might not be asking for a mansion like the one owned by the corrupt government official, you might only be wishing you could afford your rent and not risk being homeless.
When such are our circumstances and our eyes catch sight of the wicked basking in comfort, we are bound to feel pitiful and wonder if our faithfulness to God is of any real use. But our faithfulness would only be useless if its purpose were to serve us. If its end is to glorify God, it will always be useful. We will trust that he causes all things to work for our good, even suffering – Romans 8:28.
We will be content with even as little as food and clothing – 1 Timothy 6:8. According to the Bible, that’s enough. Whatever we lack beyond that should not worry us (Matthew 6:25), and whatever we have beyond that should only make us rich towards God through generosity – Luke 3:11.
And though the wicked afflict fellow men and still enjoy prosperity, we will not sink in sorrow as if our God were not sovereign. Confident that the Judge of all the earth shall do right (Genesis 18:25), we will not fret as if things were out of order. We will rest in the knowledge that even the affliction of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked happen only as appointed by God’s sovereign hand for the praise of his glory – Ephesians 1:11-12. They happen according to plan!
3. Do Not Resent or Pray Evil
Often the greatest comfort for believers disturbed by the prosperity of the wicked is rooted in the fact that God will judge the wicked. Perhaps he will afflict them with a terrible sickness their money won’t heal. Or he’ll cause their children to run amok and cause them matchless sorrow. But if he never causes them any earthly sorrow, at least we are certain hell awaits them.
Jeremiah prayed “Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter” – Jeremiah 12:3. Asaph found some comfort when he discerned the end of the wicked;
“Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” – Psalm 73:18-19.
Even though God might judge the wicked with such terrors, our comfort often times is not usually in the fact that he will judge, but in the fact that vengeance will be exacted just the way we want it. That is wrong because it goes against the command “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44. We are not to overcome evil by evil, but with good – Romans 12:21.
We are to leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:19) – that means we shouldn’t think or even pray a certain kind of vengeance, for God alone is perfect. He will pass perfect judgment: saving some who now are wicked just like he saved us, and sending others who die unrepentant to hell.
The Right Response
How then should we deal with the reality of unrighteous men who prosper while we seem not to? First we need to reckon with Asaph that “Truly God is good….to those who are pure in heart” – Psalm 73:1. We must acknowledge God’s goodness to us in the uncountable earthly gifts he’s given us. They may not be as plenteous as the ill-gotten prosperity of the wicked, but if they are more than food and clothing they are more than enough.
By seeking solely after God, the pure in heart see God
But God’s goodness to the righteous is far more than just material goodness. There are immeasurable spiritual riches for anyone who is pure in heart. And who may the pure in heart be? Asaph helps us discern who they are when he finds ultimate comfort in something other than just the terrible end in store for the wicked.
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will bring me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:23-26.
The pure in heart are those who’ve made God their greatest delight. Though struck and rebuked, they rejoice that he holds their hands. His counsel (Word) satisfies them even if they were the poorest materially. When ravaged by sickness and heartbreaking injustices so that their flesh and hearts fail, he remains their portion forever.
Though it may calm them some to know that “…those who are far from you (God) shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you” (vs 27), their greatest comfort expresses as “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (vs 28).
This is why (and definitely how) the pure heart alone will see God (Matthew 5:8): their hearts seek after God alone. Because they do not come to Christianity for a ‘better life’ but for true life (John 14:6), they fret not when the wicked live seemingly better.