Why do the wicked prosper?


Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jeremiah 12:1)

“Why me, Lord?” is a common question, but not a good one if left as is. The prophet Jeremiah and many of the Psalms ask the same question, but in every instance the author thought it through and finished with glorifying God. Jeremiah takes a slightly different tack, beginning with verse fourteen: Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.” By aiding his people Israel, God glorified himself.

That’s well and good, but it doesn’t answer the original question. Apostle Paul, writing by God’s Holy Spirit, dealt with that issue’s root cause: Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– (3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. The “sons of disobedience” are the greedy, the prideful, the deceivers, the lustful, and the violent, who gain worldly wealth while foregoing the infinitely greater inheritance God has in store for us.

God’s people — that’s us, if we faithfully follow Christ — still ask why misfortune plagues us, while nonbelievers are showered with what seem to be blessings. But God grants us grace, even when we plague him with such questions; he knows they are only natural, stuck as we are, albeit temporarily, in this mortal existence. Why, even Jesus questioned his Father at the end of his earthly life.

Calvary holds at least three crucial lessons for us, including the one I mentioned above. The two criminals who occupied the crosses straddling Jesus show us two truths: First, though they thrived for a while on ill-gotten gain, they paid the ultimate price. Second, the thief who became convicted by the righteous Jesus sharing his punishment, called out to him in his agony. Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (40) But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? (41) And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (42) And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (43) And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The truth is, the wicked never prosper in the long run, and by envying their prosperity we stand in danger of sharing their fate.


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