The prosperity of the wicked

The Standard September 30, 2021

The chasm is wide between those who attain a measure of wealth through hard work and honesty versus others who do so by crossing ethical lines. Many in the latter group gain riches dishonestly without close friends or family members even realizing it. Perhaps they lead exemplary, upright lives other than a few questionable financial dealings per year. On occasion, smooth charismatic figures who bribe or use insider information behind closed doors win over a band of followers, as some enjoy being in close proximity to prestige, power and influence. At times the guilty parties will share part of their ill-gotten gains, especially if it brings them publicity or curries favor. These people might sit on boards and in church pews, hiding their money-making methods.  

For those of us who recognize the building up of riches by selfish, unfair schemes it is natural to wonder how God could allow these folks to prosper. It can be discouraging to watch unethical practices result in organizations bestowing honor on individuals who often are quick to ensure that their generosity or good deeds are publicly noted. The truth is that popularity with the world and riches gained through exploiting advantages result in lives that should not be envied. They run counter to the life of Jesus and create a barrier from God. Far more pleasant is it to live in a household with fewer material possessions and more integrity than the opposite.

The psalmists express similar sentiments in Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret- it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.  (Psalm 37:1-11)

“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.”  (Psalm 73:2-12) “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.” (Psalm 73: 16-19a)

19th century preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon in his commentary on Psalm 73 wrote about the one who saw the prosperity of the wicked and was envious. “His eye was fixed too much on one thing; he saw their present, and forgot their future, saw their outward display, and overlooked their soul’s discomfort.” “Yet some poor afflicted saint has been sorely tempted to grudge the ungodly sinner his temporary plenty.”  

Spurgeon continued in discussing verse 6 where pride is described as a necklace or chain for the wicked. “They are as great in their own esteem as if they were the aldermen of the New Jerusalem; they want no other ornament than their own pomposity. No jeweller could sufficiently adorn them; they wear their own pride as a better ornament than a gold chain. Violence covereth them as a garment. In their boastful arrogance they array themselves; they wear the livery of the devil, and are fond of it. As soon as you see them, you perceive that room must be made for them, for, regardless of the feelings and rights of others, they intend to have their way, and achieve their own ends. They brag and bully, bluster and browbeat, as if they had taken out license to ride roughshod over all mankind.” Plenty of honest, affluent people are generous and good-hearted Christians. For those who are not, it is never too late to allow God’s Holy Spirit to change your heart and then your habits.

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