Why do good things happen to bad people? Yes, you read that right. Why do good things happen to bad people? It may sound a little bitter, but I think it’s something we legitimately struggle with. Why is it that people who are wicked and cheat and lie and steal and hurt and break God’s laws make it to the top and live happy, successful lives. Do we have some flawed, “What goes around comes around.” karma-type of idealism that isn’t actually Biblical?
…Or is it biblical?
What about passages like Proverbs 11. Here’s a snippet:
“19 Godly people find life;
evil people find death.
20 The Lord detests people with crooked hearts,
but he delights in those with integrity.
21 Evil people will surely be punished,
but the children of the godly will go free.”
Or one’s like Galatians 6:7-8 (NLT):
“7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”
How do we reconcile verses and themes like that, that go throughout the whole Bible, with the way things seem to be in our everyday world? There is an overwhelming theme throughout the Bible that says, “The wicked will not prosper, they will be punished and things won’t work out for them in their wicked scheming. But the righteous will live long, prosperous lives and be rewarded for their goodness.” (That’s obviously not a verse, just my own little interpretation of a Biblical theme.)
Well, if it helps, there are many Bible authors (they human-vessel part) who wondered the same thing. Take a look:
“But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.” Malachi 3:15 (NLT)
“LORD, you always give me justice when I bring a case before you. So let me bring you this complaint: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” Jeremiah 12:1 (NLT)
So what’s the answer?
Let’s look again at Proverbs 11, this time verse 18.
“Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.”
While people who act in evil ways may prosper in this world, they will receive the consequences for their actions. Even if it’s not here on earth. But to be honest? That doesn’t really make me feel better. I don’t really desire that someone who lies to get ahead goes to hell, I just want to know that they aren’t going to profit from that lie. And that I will receive some kind of benefit for doing the right thing. Are these reasonable desires? Yeah, in a sense. But in another way, they are… just worldly. Yes, we should desire justice and fairness. But Jesus who was perfect died, when we sinners got our debt of sin paid in full while we were sinners. Tell me how that is fair. It’s not. It’s grace.
Psalm 73 is one of my favourite passages on this subject. A man named Asaph is describing his experience with this struggle here:
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
3 For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
4 They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
5 They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.
6 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace
and clothe themselves with cruelty.
7 These fat cats have everything
their hearts could ever wish for!
8 They scoff and speak only evil;
in their pride they seek to crush others.
9 They boast against the very heavens,
and their words strut throughout the earth.
10 And so the people are dismayed and confused,
drinking in all their words.
11 “What does God know?” they ask.
“Does the Most High even know what’s happening?”
12 Look at these wicked people—
enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?
Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?
14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain.
Basically, Asaph is telling us that he almost lost his footing. He started contemplating how these evil wicked people prosper and how that appears to reflect on God. He says his feet were slipping because this was such a spiritual battle/issue for him. He explains in verses 13 and 14 his struggle with his own morality. He is caught up with the way that people who are doing evil things are living such great lives and in his service of God and good behavior he suffers constantly. Verse 13 is one of my favourites. It’s just so relatable. When something bad happens to us when we are doing what’s right, we look around at those who have it easier and seem to not try as hard and say, “God, can you not be as good to me as you are to that God-less person over there?” or even worse, “I try way harder than that other Christian… And look how easy you made it for them. We both serve you God! Why not me?” Can you feel what I’m saying here?
Watch what he goes on to say:
15 If I had really spoken this way to others,
I would have been a traitor to your people.
16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.
But what a difficult task it is!
He has the guts to say to God his truest deepest feelings. You know, the things that I think we all feel and are afraid to acknowledge. We try to be better than that. Better than to fret over what is and isn’t fair. So we just ignore the problem because we want to be bigger than it. But you now who IS bigger than it? Than any problem? God. Asaph knew he didn’t need to talk like this to other people. He knew that this was an issue he need to solve without dragging someone else down with him. Not that it’s bad to seek wise counsel, but sometimes we need to use discretion about the things we discuss, and some things we can just tell need to be taken straight to God. Asaph realized this wasn’t something to discuss publicly, either that, or maybe he was embarrassed he didn’t have the answer. Maybe he didn’t have any friends that he felt cared about God enough to give him a good answer. But regardless, he knew he needed to “try to understand why the wicked prosper”. And you know what? He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t grasp it. So look at what he did next:
17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
He went and met with God about it. And the best part?
This is what Asaph figured out:
18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path
and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.
19 In an instant they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors.
20 When you arise, O Lord,
you will laugh at their silly ideas
as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.
Their perfect carefree lives are just like a silly dream. When they “wake up” to their judgement, God will be glorified. He isn’t sitting on the sidelines being unfair. He is going to keep on being just. But these evil people won’t get to know Him until it’s too late. (Unless they turn from their ways, in which case their sorrow and repentance should be something we rejoice in.) Realizing this, Asaph felt sorry for those people, and realized that a hard life on earth with God and with God for eternity far outweighs what the evil will get. Sure they may have it “easy” in some ways, but they live life here without God. And they spend eternity without Him too. And here we are still wondering why we get the “shorter end of the stick”. What Asaph learned is that actually we don’t. WE are the ones with the better end of the deal.
21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
22 I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Asaph realized that he was bitter towards these people and torn up inside over worldly things, when he was the one with the treasure that they needed. Look at his language of repentance. When God turns the lights on, our humanity seems so foolish. This passage hits me hard. That’s me. I am foolish and ignorant. I act so senseless that I’m sure God looks at me like I look at a crazy animal that can’t understand what I’m doing. I get bitter. Bitterness hardens our hearts to those we are sent and commanded to love and show Jesus to. But wait! It gets better:
23 Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
Did you hear that? Yet I still belong to you. God loves us even in our senseless, small-minded humanity. He cares for us. He guides us and counsels us and leads. He does not abandon us just because we are too stupid to understand Him. He doesn’t walk away when we complain about stupid things. He explains what we need to know and gives us grace to cover our mistakes. God is okay with our human-ness.
After the ground shattering statement in verse 23, Asaph begins to detail the ways that God is faithful to Him. And then he praises God and tells Him that He is the most wonderful thing, all that he has, all that he wants. Then he wraps up with this great little summary:
27 Those who desert him will perish,
for you destroy those who abandon you.
28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.
We can take refuge in God when the questions get to big. When we feel our feet slipping as the world presents questions trying to discredit our God. We can take shelter in Him and He will give us the truth we need to fight back.
And then we tell the world.
I hope this helps you wherever you are in your life today. When I found this passage, dripping with grace and humility and healing, divine answers, and love, it really cleared up alot of questions I had. I hope it also inspires you to seek God out and not be afraid to walk out on the stormy waters to Him. No question is too big or too foolish. Don’t be embarrassed by your humanity. Be honest about it.
He’s big enough. And no matter what you are facing, what questions you are wrestling with, you can run into Him and let Him shelter you. You can say, “How good it is to be near God.” Because no matter the issue, the question, the doubt, the fear, the trust issues, the brokenness, the foolishness and ignorance… It is better to take it to God. To go into His sanctuary and say, “Look at this crazy mess…” and hear Him whisper, “And yet you still belong to Me.”
Just whisper back, “Yes, and yet I still belong to You.”
Much love my friends,