When the Wicked Prosper
Regardless of what you believe, I’m sure we can all agree that we live in a world where the wicked sometimes flourish and the righteous sometimes suffer. False teachers become rich enough to have private jets, abusers and cheaters amass wealth in the entertainment industry, and people who behave dishonorably at work get promoted. To many of us, this isn’t just unfair—It’s mind-boggling! Thankfully, Psalm 73 gives us some insight into this perceived disparity, so I’ve broken this down into four actions that you can take to heart as you strive to remain faithful in a world where that faithfulness isn’t always rewarded.
Focus on their eternal fate, not their current state.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. (Psalm 73: 27)
No matter how many accolades, likes, promotions, dates, or raises someone gets, all of those worldly gains will vanish the moment they die if they don’t repent and believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose on the third day. The judgment that they receive for their lifetime of sin will last far longer than the ease and success they experienced on earth. Similarly, the fullness of joy you experience in God’s presence will last into eternity and the suffering your unfulfilled desires you dealt with on earth will seem like vapor in comparison.
Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 illustrates this great reversal of fate.
“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’” (Luke 16:25)
In light of remembering your differing eternal fates, commit to praying for their repentance and salvation so they can enjoy the true riches that come from knowing God.
Check your heart for bitterness and self-righteousness.
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. (Psalm 73:21-22)
I think a lot of us would be shocked if we had a front row seat to witnessing a flagrantly immoral person being rewarded for their bad behavior, but sitting in that shock and indignation for too long could hurt is in the end. The more we dwell on their prosperity, the more we dwell on our desires for what they’ve received, and the more we focus on their immorality, the more we magnify our righteousness and minimize our depravity.
We start thinking that they don’t deserve what they have because they are so evil. Then, we focus upward in an unhealthy way and start questioning or even being angry with God for not giving us what we think we deserve. It’s a vicious cycle that only God can pull us out of. When your mind starts drifting in that direction, remind yourself that there is nothing good in you (Romans 7:18), that you deserve death for your sin (Romans 6:23), and that your best works are like polluted garments to God (Isaiah 64:6). You are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), so stop internally or externally boasting in them and being bitter because you didn’t receive an earthly return on your investment.
God’s moral standard is perfection, not relative righteousness, which puts you and the wicked person you’re glowering at in the same category: Sinners who deserve judgment. The only difference is that you’ve accepted God’s grace, so He is now working in you, which means that your purpose is to glorify Him not yourself (Philippians 2:12-15).
Refine your desires.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
Are you looking for affirmation? Facebook and Instagram can supply you with an endless stream of likes and comments to affirm your beauty and wit and drain your phone’s battery. Do you want wealth? You can work your way up the corporate ladder through honorable or dishonorable means and experience the raises and bonuses that come with it. Starving for companionship? You can manipulate or seduce your way into having someone at the dinner table and in your bed every night. The world has a lot to offer, but there’s one question that matters more than those.
Do you want God?
God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1). People who fear him have no lack (Psalm 34:9). He is near to us and comforts us (Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He shows us the path of life and lets us experience fullness of joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11). The Father also sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinning (Romans 5:8). I could go on and on with verses that proclaim who God is and what He has done for us, but I think I’ve made my point.
When we rely on God and seek Him wholeheartedly, we will experience peace that surpasses understanding and contentment in every circumstance (Philippians 4:5-13). Does this mean that we never desire anything else or that having other desires is a sin? Not at all! The point is that our desire for God should eclipse our worldly desires, and we should pursue Him more diligently than anything else. If you feel earthly desires catching up with or overtaking your desire for God, seek the Lord for discernment about how to handle that idolatrous desire whether it’s inherently sinful or good but inordinate.
Finding balance in light of this can be pretty difficult. It’s okay to desire things that are good by God’s standards, but it’s a sin to desire sinful things or do desire good things more than God. Similarly, it’s good to be able to identify sin in others, but it’s not good to focus on their sins so greatly that you minimize your own. There is some serious tension there, and it requires discernment and abiding with Christ to not fall into sin. With that in mind, I’m going to wrap up by suggesting that you pray for something else that requires tension.
Waiting and Hastening
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3:9-12)
That passage ramps up from zero to 100 pretty quickly by shifting from God being patient to the heavens being set on fire and dissolved. And the shift from living in this sinful world to facing the beginning of eternity could happen even faster. None of us know how long we have on this earth or God’s timeline from redeeming the world, so we should live as verse 12 describes: “waiting for and hastening the coming day of God.”
While you wait for that glorious day, commit to being faithful and doing the good works God created for you (Ephesians 2:10) without grumbling or disputing and without letting self-righteousness or entitlement taint your heart. And when your eyes are opened to the wickedness around you, pray for the people sinning against God and hope—as God does—that they would reach repentance.
As you hasten the coming of the day of God, reflect on what it will be like to be in God’s presence. Imagine a world without sin’s and Satan’s influence where God dwells with His people. And what will He do? Wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). We won’t need manmade lights or the sun because God will be our light. If none of that sounds familiar to you, I suggest reading Revelation 21 and 22 for a sneak peak at what the New Heaven and New Earth will be like. And the beautiful thing is that you can invite the very people who vex you to partake in this paradise with you by sharing the gospel. It’s a simple act that can change someone’s life in an instant and their eternity forever.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25)
Kristen Reed, a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, is an artist, filmmaker, and author from Dallas, Texas. As a Christian, her faith heavily influences her writing and is the driving force in her life. Visit Amazon to discover her books!