A Polly-Anna Proverb?
“No harm comes to the godly, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.” – Proverbs 12:21 NLT
As I read through the Book of Proverbs, I inevitably run across verses that sound really good, but that don’t appear to be realistic about life. They seem to make sweeping promises that aren’t necessarily true. But then I have to remind myself that these proverbs are not actually promises. They aren’t even necessarily principles for life. They are truths. They reflect how the world should operate. The picture how things were designed by God to be, but because of the fall and the presence of sin, things are not always pristine and clear. When we read “No harm comes to the godly,” it isn’t hard to think of instances in our own lives, as believers, when we may have experienced harm or hurt. We can come up with countless examples of godly people who have suffered and even been martyred for their faith. So what is this passage really telling us? Is it a lie or simply wishful thinking?
As is typical in the rest of the book, what we have here is a contrast between godly living and wickedness. The individual who loves God and seeks to live his life according to God’s will and way, is juxtaposed with that individual who has determined to live in rebellion to God. And this verse tells us there are benefits to godliness and consequences for wickedness. This isn’t a promise for a trouble-free life. It isn’t a guarantee of protection from harm. I think it is telling us that a life of godliness will never be the cause or root of our pain or problems. In other words, if I follow God’s way and walk according to His will for my life, it will not result in trouble. Think about this carefully. As a Christian, I may suffer because of my faith. In fact, Jesus told me I would. But when others attack me or cause me pain because of my relationship with Christ, it is because of their own hatred, bigotry and sin, NOT because of anything I have done to them. Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of men because He claimed to be the Son of God. He was accused of blasphemy. The Jewish religious leadership demanded His death. But even Pilot could find no fault in Jesus. He was innocent of all wrong-doing. His crime was that He was telling the truth and they simply did not want to hear it or accept it. Yes, Jesus faced trouble. But He was not the cause of it. Godliness does not result in harm. Wickedness does. The two men hanging on the crosses next to Jesus deserved to be there. Their lives had determined their fate. They were guilty as charged and worthy of their punishment, as cruel as it may have been. One of them even admitted, “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong” *(Luke 23:41 NLT).
When we suffer pain or undergo persecution in our lives, it is NEVER because of our faith in Christ. It is not a result of godly living. It is because we live in a godless world. People may attack us because of our Christianity, but what they do to us will never be justifiable because of our Christianity. Godliness does not produce pain and suffering. Yes, we will suffer pain and suffering, but those things are the byproduct of wickedness. Jesus’ death on the cross was not caused by His righteous, sinless life, but because of the wickedness of men.
So what do we do with all this? It should be a reminder to us in times of difficulty, that any pain and suffering we encounter are not the result of our faith in Christ. At no time do we have the right or are we justified to shake our fist in the face of God and complain that our faithfulness to Him is causing us harm. We may be suffering because of the sinfulness of others or even because of our own sin, but not because we did things God’s way. And we must remember that God can and will always use our pain and suffering for our good and His glory. When Joseph looked back on his life, a life filled with all kinds of setbacks and disappointments, including his own brothers selling him into slavery, he was able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT). The life of godliness or faithfulness to God, never results in harm. It will never be the cause of our troubles. It is the presence of wickedness in our own lives and the lives of others that will always be the culprit. “The way of the godly leads to life; that path does not lead to death” (Proverbs 12:28 NLT).
Father, living my life according to Your terms and in faithful submission to Your will is right where I need to be. It results in life. It will produce pain or result in harm. But I know there will be pain and suffering. Help me to realize the source and recognize that it is not because of my faith in You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men