Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.”

Declares the Lord…”My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”

-Jeremiah 12:1-2; 16:16-17

Haven’t you already asked the question? Doesn’t it really drive you crazy that the dishonest, the deceitful, the selfish, and manipulative always seem to win? This is one of the Old Testament writers’ recurring complaints: “Why do the wicked prosper?”

Jeremiah is saying to God, “Lord, I know you’re just and righteous, but I have this little question in my mind about how you bring about your justice. How is it that you allow wicked and faithless people to prosper and live in such ease so much of the time?”

What honest person hasn’t made the same observation? We look around and see that crime apparently does pay and that evil, selfishness, greed, avarice, and deceit produce lavish rewards. On the other hand, goodness, honesty, self-sacrifice, and all the rest lead too often to the good and the innocent being steamrolled over and being pushed to the back seat of the bus.

When we pray for justice, it seems painfully slow in coming, if it comes at all. Then we wonder, does God really see all this? Does it actually bother him? How long does it take for him to take action and set things right?

Yet, if we look at the long haul, the centuries it took for the history of Israel and the church to unfold, and observe all that happened over those hundreds of years, we can see both in the Bible and history books that judgment of evil did occur—and it occurred fairly often. If we follow the events and the proclamations in the books of the prophets, we can see clearly that when they predicted judgment for evil, it took place just the way it was promised. Check the prophecies pertaining to the ancient world’s various cities and then turn to the archaeologists’ findings and compare them.

God may seem slow to judge, but he’s never late. Jeremiah includes answering his question about God’s justice just a few chapters later, “Declares the Lord…’My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.’”

So he’s never unaware or indifferent when it comes to evil happening in his world. If he seems slow to us, it’s because of his long-suffering. He’s far more patient than we would recommend, but there comes a time when his patience reaches its limits. Even then, in most cases of judgment in the Bible, there is a redemptive side to it. God chooses to use his judgments more as discipline than merely punishment. Of course, we should never presume upon his patience, but it’s there for our welfare. So let’s be happy that he doesn’t judge too quickly (exactly when we want it to happen), but let him work it out in his time, for he has purposes and goals that go far beyond our measure of things.

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

John I. Snyder