DOES GOD WANT THE WICKED TO PROSPER AND THE RIGHTEOUS TO SUFFER?
Sermonette 1-18-03 Ann Arbor, UCG Eric V. Snow
Recently, on New Yearís Day, I saw the movie, ďCatch Me If You Can.Ē Normally donít see movies, but had gotten gift certificate for a particular theatre chain from a drawing at work some months ago.
Basic plot: Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale Jr., an imposter who as a TEENAGER, from 17-19, was able to successfully fake being a Pan Am pilot, a Harvard medical school doctor, and a lawyer. Had faked being a substitute French teacher in a public high school after just being transferred from a private high school after the IRS had come after his father for income tax evasion. Check forger: brilliant at creating and passing bad checks, and taking advantage of young womenís sense of physical attraction to him to do so. The Tom Hanks character, the FBI agent chasing after him named Carl Hanratty, is a total drudge who lives to work. No flashes of glamour or wealth here. Laundry room sceneís contrast with partying, consorting with a high level prostitute. Eventually caught up with Abagnale in Europe after had escaped from his grasp three times.
I was amazed at what this man pulled off, especially at so young of an age. That night, I opened up my Bible rather randomly to read, and my eyes fell upon a text which was an implicit rebuke of my thinking.
The career of the check forger and imposter in ďCatch Me If You CanĒ leads me to this question: Does God want the wicked and sinful to prosper and the righteous and faithful to suffer? Are we, like Job, complaining about others being blessed as we seem to be cursed? Do we doubt that God cares for us? Do we use our level of material prosperity to judge whether God cares for us? Simply put, do we ever feel that life is unfair, that God is unfair?
S.P.S. We should not envy the evil man. True, it the sinful may prosper in this life, at least for a while. But we Christians should remember the Eternal is a God of justice, and if the sinful neither repent nor are punished in this life, they will have to admit the error of their ways at the second resurrection, or otherwise face the lake of fire.
Do we wish we could live like the sinful? But does the sinful way of life really bring benefits, at least in the long run, even in this life? Do they really have mental peace? They may have money, material possessions, status, success with the opposite sex, but are they REALLY happy? For example, the check forger and imposter in ďCatch Me If You CanĒ is portrayed as calling the FBI agent, his nemesis, on Xmas Eve, partially to ridicule him, but also partly out of loneliness. He was not at ease with himself, despite all his brilliant success at fraud.
The partying lifestyle, of drugs, excessive drinking, sex, and late night carousing, often looks attractive & exciting to the young, especially when raised in the church. But after experiencing it, many find it emotionally unsatisfying, and even dangerous (risk of arrest & jail, blackouts from drugs/alcohol, diseases and unwanted pregnancies from sex, etc.) Life only has significance in the context of a relationship with God since thatís the only way weíll be allowed to live forever.
Do we ever feel like Job does here? Do we have the faith to endure trials? Is it a trial if someone has more than us, even when we really arenít suffering? So many in the past often lacked enough food to live healthy lives, and were malnourished. This is something which the industrial revolution eventually ended for the masses in the Western world. The trap then is to compare ourselves with others here. Itís not that weíre suffering; rather, itís that we donít have as much as the next guy.
Furthermore, how much of the wickedís prosperity is merely due to them making better financial decisions than we have? We are the weak of the world, right? Self-inflicted misery is often the main source of our trials, especially in this country at this time, since c. 1983. Much of poverty self-inflicted: Example of how a woman can avoid poverty: 1. graduate from high school. 2. Donít have a baby out of wedlock. 3. Get a job, any job, even if minimum wage. Divorce, illegitimacy, lack of marketable skills not exactly Godís fault, now are they?
Do we have the faith to prioritize the next life over this one? Are we willing, for example, to tithe even if we get nothing material or physical for doing so? We may get spiritual blessings instead, or simply have would-be material losses prevented without us perceiving it clearly. For example, how many near car accidents has God prevented among us?
Mort Crim, column: ďLife is hard, and when we come to terms with that, it no longer matters.Ē
But is life really hard, if itís merely a matter of differential levels of prosperity way above the subsistence levels? How many of us live in homes with electricity, indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water, furnaces that warm our houses without us having to fill them, cars that allows to drive hundreds of miles at high speeds, various electronic media gadgets, etc.? How about being literate, and being able to read and own books, even computers? We become discontent by looking at what others have when itís more than ours, rather than be appreciative for what we do have which is so much more than most in the past enjoyed or much of the world even today has.
Do the wicked REALLY always get away with it? The Tom Hanks character, the FBI agent, warned the imposter and check forger he was chasing after that eventually his luck would run out, that the odds were he would get caught. Thatís what happened, eventually, in France to him, after eluding capture for several more years. The prisons of this country are full of people who thought they would get away with something, but didnít.
The current issue of the Good News has an article entitled: ďComing Calamities: Does God Offer Protection?Ē It reminds us that those who seem to be getting away with it now may not for very much longer anyway, even during their physical lifetimes.
But the real issue is that this life is merely preparation for the next life. The unrepentant sinner is not preparing for it. He may often seem to enjoy life for the present, but during the time of trouble to come or during the second resurrection, heíll have to change how he lives if he wishes to live with God for all eternity.
The rest of the world might complain that life is unfair that we in the church have the opportunity to be in the first resurrection and they didnít; our response may be (if it fits their situation personally) was that they had more enjoyment than we did in their physical lifetimes.
Conclusion: So we should learn not to envy the evil man. We should be more content with what blessings we have been given. We shouldnít be constantly wishing we had more like some other guy who doesnít try to obey God at all. We should admit the amount of self-inflicted misery that may be the cause of our trials. Many of the unrepentant wicked do get caught, later on in this life. Most will be swept up in the great calamities of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord to come. All of them will face the impartial court of the Eternal when the second resurrection happens, and they have to repent or perish. So letís not think that the wicked really get away with it, for thatís a mirage and a deception. Frank Abagnale Jr. discovered that a life of deception and crime didnít pay; will we Christians have the faith to realize that a life of obedience and faith will be rewarded?