Solomon, The Teacher/Preacher of Ecclesiastes, addresses this problem in chapter seven. From a Jewish perspective, one would believe that the righteous should prosper and the wicked should suffer punishment. In fact, the Old Testament is full of warnings for disobedience to God’s commands and the promises of blessings for obeying those same commands. Thus, it would seem that we should expect the righteous to prosper and the wicked to fail. It seems to me that many of the Old Testament warnings and promises are corporate instructions. It appears that the blessings and curses are directed toward nations, societies, communities. I am convinced that God punishes and rewards “individuals” in the next life. Even though I do believe that some of that occurs in this life, that most of it is reserved for the next life. On the other hand, I read of much in the Bible, which clearly shows God to be punishing and rewarding nations here and now. That seems logical to me, as I do not believe that nations will exist in the next life. Thus, I think maybe we have mistakenly tried to apply some corporate blessings and curses to individuals, when they are really meant for nations. I am speaking generally because I do believe that God can and does apply this to individuals on occasion.
There is another interesting perspective on this. Francis Bacon, the English philosopher of the 1500s, wrote this, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New.” That is a very Biblical idea and it will really rearrange your thinking on the apparent dilemma of why sometimes the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Christ said we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us, and lie about us to hurt us. He also said that they would hand us over to the courts and we would be scourged. He told us that what they did to Him, they would do to us. It is more comforting to think that following Christ will lead to prosperity and comfort and being treated well, but that is not the picture of the New Testament. He warned us and the recorded experience of the early Christians bears out His warning.
We get discouraged when we fall into the trap of taking the short view of things. We must remember that this life is very, very, very, very short when compared to eternity. Paul explains it well in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” NASU When we take the long view, we see that the righteous really do prosper. Hallelujah and Amen! Who would trade being eternally glorified with Christ for temporary worldly prosperity?
Steve Ellison is pastor of Harvey’s Chapel Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Ark.