Why does God let evil people prosper?

A recent sermon at my church addressed the spiritual discipline of dealing with wicked people. The sermon was based on Psalm 73, a psalm of Asaph. Asaph was a Levite priest appointed by David to give praise to the Lord. In this psalm, Asaph almost seems to be accusing God as he struggles to understand how God could let wicked people prosper. Even though we lived in very different times, Asaph could have been speaking for me. I have struggled to understand why God lets evil people get away with wickedness. Why doesn’t God punish them? Where is his justice?

Surely God is good…

Asaph started the psalm saying that “surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Like Asaph, I know that God is good. God is loving. God is merciful. God is faithful. Through his commandments, God has shown me what is good and I know what he requires of me – to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8).

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Surely God blesses the pure in heart. Surely God blesses peacemakers. Surely God blesses the merciful. Surely God blesses the poor in spirit. Surely God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Surely God is faithful and just. Surely all his precepts are trustworthy.

and yet the wicked prosper…

Asaph saw, just as I see today, that the wicked prosper. They don’t have a care in the world. They enjoy good health. They are strong. They seem to escape the struggles and misfortunes that everyone else faces. They take possession of the earth and their mouths even lay claim to heaven!

The wicked are clearly not doing God’s will. Surely God sees what they are doing. They oppress and mistreat the weak and defenseless. They are violent and abusive and malicious. Their hearts are callous. They are selfish and greedy and arrogant and deceitful.

And yet the wicked always seem to find plenty of people who are willing to defend their immorality and corruption. They think that God is not paying attention. They believe they will never be held to account. Why wouldn’t they be carefree? They have always gotten away with breaking God’s laws. There seem to be no consequences to being bad.

Surely in vain, I have kept my heart pure

Asaph was afflicted, troubled, aggrieved, embittered. He found himself envying wicked people because they seemed to be doing well despite their disobedience. I too have been distressed by the success of the wicked. Why aren’t they being held to account? It seems pointless to be righteous. Where is the reward in being a good person? Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure.

My portion forever

When Asaph entered the sanctuary of God, he understood the things that troubled him so. The prosperity of the wicked is temporary. In the most holy place, in the presence of God, Aspah could see that there is nothing to envy in wickedness. They are destined for destruction. Asaph understood that God will cast the wicked down to ruin. Unless they repent, they will be destroyed, separated from God forever.

When it seems like evil people are getting away with wickedness, when they escape justice at the hands of man, remember this: God will bring every deed into judgment. Be patient and wait on the Lord. Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).

****

Thank you, Lord for always being with me. Thank you for guiding me and showing me your truth. Thank you for showing me that my treasure is in heaven. This earth has nothing I want or need more than you. You are my strength and my portion forever. I will sing your praises and tell the world of your wonderful deeds!

****

A psalm of Asaph (Psalm 73, NIV)

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
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 common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
    I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
    you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
    when you arise, Lord,
    you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
    you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.

The strength and beauty of old age

I once heard a sermon on aging based on the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the book that Solomon wrote late in his life. In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon said, “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” before the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” Solomon described old age as a time when “the strong men stoop” and “the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the window grow dim” and “the sound of grinding fades.” It is true that we lose strength as we age. We may lose our teeth. Our eyesight may dim and our hearing may fade. But even in old age, there is strength and beauty and joy.

Instead of complaining about how awful it is to grow old, my pastor began a recent sermon on aging by quoting from Proverbs 16:31: Gray hair is a crown of splendor. He then gave some advice to the old folks in the congregation.

††††††1. Choose to enjoy life

However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.

Ecclesiastes 11:8

What is the secret to enjoying life in old age? Would you believe that it is as simple as giving thanks? Count your blessings. Appreciate the simple pleasures of life – art, music, books, nature, spending time with friends and family. Choose to have a positive outlook.

My pastor didn’t mention this, but a lot of people reach old age with baggage and it gets in the way of enjoying life. They carry the weight of regrets and resentments. My advice is don’t let your anger over past hurts mature into bitterness. Forgive and let go. Don’t waste the years you have left.

2. Look forward, not backwards

Although my pastor said to look forward, not backwards, there is value in looking backwards. When I turned 50, I looked back at my life and realized that despite the struggles, life has been good. In retrospect, I can see how God used challenges to build my character. Through struggles and failures, I learned self-discipline, perseverance, humility and empathy.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. 

 Søren Kierkegaard

Whoever believes in the Son, has been promised eternal life. When you are old, you are that much closer to being with the Lord. How wonderful it will be to go home to Jesus!

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

Philippians 3:20-21 (The Message)

3. Share your life experience and leave a legacy

Alanis Morisette sings a powerful truth about life: You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn. You bleed, you learn. You scream, you learn. Long life brings understanding and wisdom.

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Tell the younger generations about all the wonderful things the Lord has done! Share your joys but also share your struggles and the lessons learned from falling and failing.

I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:2-4

4. Focus on becoming beautiful on the inside

What happens on the inside as our hair turns gray? In Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey shares J. Robertson McQuilkin’s response to an old woman who asked him why God lets us get old and weak.

I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of old age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty that is forever. It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!

J. Robertson McQuilkin

When we accept the inevitability of aging, we are free to focus our attention on gaining the strength and beauty that lasts forever. The inner disposition of a beautiful heart is unfading and it is precious in God’s sight! The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair or gold jewelry or fine clothes, but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:4

A Bright Sadness

My pastor gave some great scriptural advice about aging. But there’s a benefit to aging that he didn’t address, a level of spiritual strength and maturity that eludes many people. In Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr describes wonderful older people he has met who have a “kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness.” What Rohr calls a bright sadness is contentment in the midst of suffering. It is hope and fearlessness in the midst of darkness. Think of the apostle Paul who “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” The secret of his strength was the Lord (Philippians 4:11-13).

The beauty and strength of aging well is in the increased capacity to love and accept people without thinking you need to change them. Wise people of any age understand that we are all in this together. As Rohr says, “This is human life in its crowning, and all else has been preparation and prelude for creating such a human work of art.”

You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn.

*****

Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash

5 Life Lessons from Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord can be frustrating. Sometimes I get impatient waiting on God to answer my prayers and wonder why he seems to be unresponsive. Why is he taking so long to answer? Is he even listening? Does he really care? Waiting on God is difficult but God has good reasons for making us wait. In a recent sermon on difficult spiritual lessons, my pastor discussed the reasons that are listed in Eric Speir’s article, 5 Reasons God Makes Us Wait.

Waiting can be difficult because we don’t always have the capacity to tolerate delays. We want what we want now! But God is not in a hurry like we are. God’s timing is always right.

My pastor started out his sermon by reminding us that Jesus also had to wait on God. He knows our struggles and He is with us in our struggles. God does not ask us to wait alone.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2

1. Waiting reveals our true motives

††††According to Speir, people who do not have good motives or intentions are not willing to wait because they don’t have the commitment to see it through. They’re too interested in short-term rewards to wait.

Being unwilling to wait doesn’t necessarily mean that our motives are bad. But if we are not willing to wait for something, it demonstrates that we don’t value it enough to wait. I will not wait in line for hours to buy tickets to a concert but I will wait for years to go on a nice vacation.

2. Waiting builds patience in our lives

Speir says that waiting for small things teaches us to have the patience to wait for bigger things. This brings to mind the concept of deferred or delayed gratification. Those who lack self-control give in to the desire for instant gratification even when much greater rewards come to those who wait.

Patience is a virtue and it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. An article on iBelieve.com offers what it calls 6 Ways to Grow in this Fruit of the Spirit.

  1. Patience is waiting quietly, without complaint
  2. Patience is waiting eagerly, with longing
  3. Patience is waiting to the end, i.e. seeing it through
  4. Patience is waiting expectantly for God to finish what he starts
  5. Patience is waiting joyfully when you face trials because we know that God uses trials to build character
  6. Patience is waiting with grace for yourself, that is, not beating yourself up for being imperfect. The Spirit will help you in your weakness.

3. Waiting builds anticipation

Speir mentioned how excited kids are about Christmas; waiting for presents builds up their anticipation so much that they can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. The good news is that the joy of anticipation doesn’t have to stop when you grow up.

Waiting for something we really want builds anticipation. Deprivation heightens our desire for the thing we’re missing out on. The joy doesn’t have to stop when we get what we’ve been waiting for. When we wait a long time for something we really want, we treasure it even more when we get it.

4. Waiting transforms our character

We all have flaws. Waiting is one way that God smooths off our rough edges. In his comments on patience, Speir noted that our perspective on life is often wrong; our values are often wrong. We tend to think that money and possessions are important. But material things are not important to God. His purpose is to change us, to transform our hearts.

Moses was a flawed character. As a young man, when he saw an Egyptian beating one of his people, he impetuously beat him to death. When God sent Moses to speak to Pharaoh, Moses resisted because he was not an eloquent speaker. God used 40 years in the wilderness to transform Moses into a great leader.

Waiting renews our strength. It builds up our ability to persevere. It builds up our endurance.

but those who wait upon the Lord
    shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles,
    they shall run and not be weary,
    and they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

5. Waiting builds intimacy and dependence on God

Last but not least, waiting leads to greater intimacy with and dependence on God. There are some who say that religion is a crutch for the weak. I agree. I am not ashamed to say that I am weak. I am also not ashamed to say that I need God. I make many mistakes. If I’ve learned anything in my 55 years, it is that don’t know everything and I need help.

God is my best friend. He loves me more than I can fathom. He is always with me. I am His and He is mine. He has my back. He will never forsake me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Waiting on the Lord builds trust. When God doesn’t do what I expect Him to do, I trust that he is working in ways that I cannot see. I know that his ways are always higher; his plans are always good.

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Trust In You, Lauren Daigle

How should we wait on the Lord? Quietly, eagerly, expectantly, joyfully, trustingly.

One Incident Commander

My pastor recently started a new sermon series on spiritual disciplines we did not choose. Topics will include persecution and suffering, aging, God’s silence, difficult people, rejection and loneliness. Pastor Brad had planned to talk about aging on Mother’s Day but a couple of things happened during the week that caused him to change his mind. A friend of his passed away and there was yet another school shooting in our community.

At the time of the Columbine High School shooting, my pastor was serving as a chaplain for the county sheriff’s department. He got a call to go to the elementary school to be with the parents who were waiting for their kids. After the Aurora theater shooting, he spent hours in the waiting room and at the bedside of a survivor from our church. About five years ago, there was a school shooting at the high school his daughters attended so again, it hit close to home. Last week, there was a school shooting at the STEM charter school in our community.

I can understand why my pastor had too much on his mind to talk about aging. It is hard enough to deal with the grief of losing a friend. But once again, Brad had to counsel parents who feel sad and helpless about school safety and to try to find something positive and encouraging to say to mothers.

So he spoke about trouble instead.

Jesus did not tell us that life would be easy. No, he said you will have trouble. Trouble comes in many ways. The Greek word thlipsis means pressure, affliction, tribulation, anguish, persecution.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Timothy wrote that there would be terrible times in the last days. Every time I read this scripture, it strikes me that the last days sound a lot like now. People today are just like Timothy described – self-centered, greedy, brutal.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Pastor Brad told us that police have learned a couple of important lessons from Columbine. Too many people tried to take charge at Columbine and the response was not well directed and coordinated. In an active shooter situation, police used to set up a secure perimeter around the building and wait for SWAT to arrive. Now police officers know that there must be one and only one incident commander and it doesn’t have to be the highest ranking person. Now, instead of waiting, the first officer on the scene acts immediately to get to the shooter.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how messed up this world is. Jesus wanted us to be prepared for trials and tribulation. But he also wanted us to be at peace. He wanted us to take heart. He was not defeated by this world and he has equipped his followers to be overcomers.

God is the first incident commander. He is with you. Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid. Put on his armor. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-15). In good times and bad times, commit yourself to him and continue to do the right thing.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:19