The Prosperity of the Ungodly

“Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1)

One of the perennial theological problems is the apparent prosperity of the ungodly along with the suffering of the righteous. Why would God seem to endorse such a system?

It has been this way for ages. Some 2,000 or more years before Christ, Job asked essentially the same question as did the prophet Jeremiah in our text above. “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? . . . They spend their days in wealth, and . . . say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways” (Job 21:7, 13-14). Likewise, the psalmist Asaph complained, “I was envious . . . when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:3).

The real solution to this paradox is not in this present world, but in the world to come, where hell awaits the ungodly, and heaven awaits those whom God has redeemed through faith in Christ. The fact that a man may prosper materially is not necessarily a measure of God’s approval. The previous economic boom in this country made many men very wealthy, and most of them seem either indifferent or hostile to God, but their wealth is very ephemeral. As David said in another psalm, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not” (Psalm 37:35-36).

If God does give a few believers material wealth, it is so that they may use it for the Lord and for others, not to pamper themselves. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but . . . that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to [share]” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). HMM

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