Who among us has never wondered why it seems that the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? I certainly have and I am sure that you have also. We are in good company. The psalmists complained about that regularly, asking God first of all why He allows that, second asking how long will He let it continue. It is a vexing question. It is often a very personal question, which we have difficulty examining logically without bias. In the majority of the times that we ask the question, we have cast ourselves in the position of the “righteous one who is suffering unjustly”. It hurts, but usually, or should I say always, we are nowhere close to being as righteous as we would like to think. Sadly, much of what I think is persecution toward me, is really only the natural consequences of my own failures. It is a hard thing to face, but maybe the unrighteous is me or you.
Solomon, The Teacher/Preacher of Ecclesiastes, addresses this problem in chapter seven. From a Jewish perspective, one would believe that the righteous should prosper and the wicked should suffer punishment. In fact, the Old Testament is full of warnings for disobedience to God’s commands and the promises of blessings for obeying those same commands. Thus, it would seem that we should expect the righteous to prosper and the wicked to fail. It seems to me that many of the Old Testament warnings and promises are corporate instructions. It appears that the blessings and curses are directed toward nations, societies, communities. I am convinced that God punishes and rewards “individuals” in the next life. Even though I do believe that some of that occurs in this life, that most of it is reserved for the next life. On the other hand, I read of much in the Bible, which clearly shows God to be punishing and rewarding nations here and now. That seems logical to me, as I do not believe that nations will exist in the next life. Thus, I think maybe we have mistakenly tried to apply some corporate blessings and curses to individuals, when they are really meant for nations. I am speaking generally because I do believe that God can and does apply this to individuals on occasion.
There is another interesting perspective on this. Francis Bacon, the English philosopher of the 1500s, wrote this, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.” That is a very Biblical idea and it will really rearrange your thinking on the apparent dilemma of why sometimes the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Christ said we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us, and lie about us to hurt us. He also said that they would hand us over to the courts and we would be scourged. He told us that what they did to Him, they would do to us. It is more comforting to think that following Christ will lead to prosperity and comfort and being treated well, but that is not the picture of the New Testament. He warned us and the recorded experience of the early Christians bears out His warning.
We get discouraged when we fall into the trap of taking the short view of things. We must remember that this life is very, very, very, very short when compared to eternity. Paul explains it well in Romans 8:16-18, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” NASU When we take the long view, we see that the righteous really do prosper. Hallelujah and Amen! Who would trade being eternally glorified with Christ for temporary worldly prosperity?