Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The wicked flourish and prosper: Job 21

The debate between Job and his friends centered around this idea, how does God treat the wicked in this life. Job's friends believe that God universally rewards, in this life, the righteous with good and the wicked with evil. In their way of thinking, God would never let the wicked go to the grave in peace. His wrath would be pored out on them and they would suffer the punishment for their sins. While Job may have at one time believed this, his recent experience with suffering caused him to rethink the idea. He begins to ask some very probing questions:
"Why do the wicked still live? How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, or does their calamity fall on them? Are they as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the storm carries away?" (Job 21:7, 17-18)
Job looks around and observes that, sometimes, the wicked are not punished while, at other times, the righteous suffer unbearable affliction. Job himself is suffering intense hardship and, while he longs for death, only day after day of suffering are his. Yet, he sees that, even in death, the wicked are blessed, "They spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol." (Job 21:13)

Job sees life on this earth as futile. The wicked are blessed, the righteous suffer, and in their end, they are both together in death. Speaking of the wicked, Job says "While he is carried to the grave, men will keep watch over his tomb. The clods of the valley will gently cover him; moreover, all men will follow after him, while countless ones go before him." (Job 21:32-33) Not only does God not harass the wicked, but even in his death he finds peace, comfort, and rest.
"One dies in his full strength, being wholly at ease and satisfied; his sides are filled out with fat, and the marrow of his bones is moist, while another dies with a bitter soul, never even tasting anything good. Together they lie down in the dust, and worms cover them." (Job 21:23-26)
The truth of the mater is, that good things happen to wicked people and evil things happen to the righteous. But what Job did not understand is that, while the wicked may escape judgment in this life, they cannot escape it in the life to come. This life is a vapor and what matters is not our rewards in this life, but rather our rewards in the life to come. Jesus told a parable that teaches us this very fact. In the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus tells about two men who both died. One, the Rich Man, enjoyed abundance in his life while the other, Lazarus, suffered from poverty and disease. However, when they died, their state was reversed.
"Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.' " (Luke 16:22-25)
Paul reminds us that "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after." (1 Timothy 5:24) The point is, that we must not judge someone's "righteousness" by the state of their present conditions. Just because someone prospers, does not mean that they are righteous nor that they will prosper in the life to come. We need to live, not for the momentary (and fleeting) blessings of this life, but for the reward that is to come in the life after death.

Job thought that we received all our rewards, and punishments, from God in this life. Yet the truth is that the greatest of rewards (and punishments) are left for the life to come. Job may be suffering now, but one day, when he stands before Jesus, he will receive his true reward. No reward we can ever receive in this life will ever be able to compare to the rewards yet to come. The following story always helps me to keep this all in perspective:
When General Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to the United States after destroying the German army in Europe, he was given a hero's welcome. When his plane arrived, signs saying "Welcome Home Ike" greeted him. A ticket tape parade in New York City gave him a grand reception. At the same time that General Eisenhower came home, a missionary returned from Africa. He had spent many years there. His wife died and was buried in Africa. Now, because of broken health, the missionary society would not send him back to Africa.

"Boy," he said to a friend, feeling a little sorry for himself, "when I came from Africa no one greeted me." Then his friend turned and said, "Yes, but you're not home yet!"
We may feel like we are being short changed in this life, but the truth is that we are not home yet. When we are finally at home with the Lord, all things will be made right and we will share in the abundance of our Father.

David Robison

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