1 Then Job answered and said:
2 “Keep listening to my words,
and let this be your comfort.
3 Bear with me, and I will speak,
and after I have spoken, mock on.
4 As for me, is my complaint against man?
Why should I not be impatient?
5 Look at me and be appalled,
and lay your hand over your mouth.
6 When I remember, I am dismayed,
and shuddering seizes my flesh.
7 Why do the wicked live,
reach old age, and grow mighty in power?
8 Their offspring are established in their presence,
and their descendants before their eyes.
9 Their houses are safe from fear,
and no rod of God is upon them.
10 Their bull breeds without fail;
their cow calves and does not miscarry.
11 They send out their little boys like a flock,
and their children dance.
12 They sing to the tambourine and the lyre
and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.
13 They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
14 They say to God, ‘Depart from us!
We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.
15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’
16 Behold, is not their prosperity in their hand?
The counsel of the wicked is far from me.” – Job 21:1-16 ESV
Job’s friends have a theology of consequences. Their arguments are based on their belief that Job’s circumstances are the obvious result of his sinful behavior. He is suffering the consequences of pursuing wickedness. They take a look at the recent events of his life and conclude that God must be punishing him.
All of their speeches are based on this assumption and, the truth is, we can easily find ourselves doing the same thing. When we see someone suffering, we can easily jump to the conclusion that they’ve done something wrong and are being punished by God in some way. Many of us have the same you-reap-what-you-sow mentality as Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad. It creeps into our thinking and influences our views on life. For instance, if something negative happens in our day, we can quickly find ourselves asking the question, “What did I do wrong?”
We can easily assume that we are suffering the consequences of some past action or thought. God must be punishing us for something we’ve done. And, if we’re not careful, we can just as easily view the sufferings or trials of others in the same simplistic way.
But Job points out a very logical argument against this sin-has-consequences theology. He asks his accusers to take a look at the world around them and explain why it is that most wicked people don’t ever suffer the way he has. In fact, they seem to thrive.
“Why do the wicked prosper,
growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT
Great question, Job.
Life is not as black and white as it sometimes appears. Not everything fits into a neat and clean cause-and-effect paradigm.
Job points out that they tend to grow old and rich, and their kids grow up to enjoy the wealth they leave behind. From all appearances, there doesn’t seem to be any punishment from God on their lives. These very same people openly dismiss God and deny any need for his help or his forgiveness. They mockingly portray God as useless and totally unnecessary because they view their success or failure as completely up to them alone. Job argues that these wicked individuals don’t suffer, despite their dishonoring treatment of the Almighty.
“Go away. We want no part of you and your ways. Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him? What good will it do us to pray?” – Job 21:14-15 NLT
Job points out that these people show no fear or respect for God, but they don’t seem to suffer for it. The truth is that they actually prosper, and “they think their prosperity is of their own doing” (Job 21:16 NLT).
And Job is not alone in his outlook on the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah also voiced his confusion over the seeming success of those who dishonor God.
Lord, you always give me justice
when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
Why are evil people so happy?
You have planted them,
and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:1-2 NLT
The prophet Malachi had to address the growing consternation of the people of God who were questioning whether it was worth it to remain faithful. From their perspective, it seemed that the wicked were better off.
“You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.’” – Malachi 3:14-15 NLT
An honest and objective look at the world would seem to indicate that the wicked don’t always suffer for their actions. Good doesn’t always win out over evil. The righteous don’t always come out on top. After all, Jesus Christ Himself died at the hands of wicked and unrighteous men. Most, if not all, of the disciples suffered martyrdom. History tends to validate Job’s conclusion.
This beleaguered man understood that life was not always easily explainable. We don’t know why some suffer and others do not. We can’t explain why a massive earthquake strikes one nation and not another. Sure, science can provide geological explanations, but no one can fully comprehend the moral implications of such devastating natural disasters.
We don’t know why one person suffers from cancer while another doesn’t. We don’t know why one couple loses their child in a car accident while another couple is allowed to watch their child grow up and live a long life. The fact is, there are things we do not know. There are mysteries to life that we can’t explain.
That is where faith comes in. That is where trust in a holy, mighty, all-knowing God comes in. Rather than turning to our conclusions, we must turn to Him. Even God Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT).
When it comes to the egocentric ramblings of self-made men who claim that their prosperity is their own doing, Job simply states, “I will have nothing to do with that kind of thinking” (Job 21:16 NLT). He refuses to take credit for his success but he also refuses to take ownership for his seeming failure. Just because things have not turned out the way he had envisioned, that doesn’t mean he is wicked and reaping the righteous judgment of God. Job refused to draw that pessimistic conclusion.
What he needed and greatly desired was for his friends to comfort and console him in his time of need. He didn’t need correction or caustic comments concerning his guilt. He could have used the heart-warming words of
Don’t worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires. – Psalm 37:1-4 NLT
These words were written by a man who had experienced his fair share of suffering and sorrow. He had spent years running for his life, attempting to escape the bounty that King Saul had placed on his head. He had been anointed by the prophet of God to become the next king of Israel and yet he was forced to live like a fugitive and was treated like a convicted felon. Yet, he was able to pen the following words.
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes. – Psalm 37:7 NLT
Life can be difficult to understand because things don’t always turn out the way we expect. Even the psalmist, Asaph, expressed his confusion and frustration with the incongruities of living in a fallen and sin-damaged world.
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. – Psalm 73:1-5 NLT
But Asaph came to his senses and recognized the futility of his faulty thinking.
Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever. – Psalm 73:21-26 NLT
Job was not there yet. He had not reached the same conclusion as Asaph, but that time would come. He would eventually understand and appreciate the ways of God. But in the moment of his distress what he really needed was friends who would stand beside him and not gloat over him. He could have used a few encouraging words from a David or an Asaph. But he was stuck with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
The question we must ask ourselves is what kind of friends are we? Do we reach conclusions about the suffering of others based on conjecture and solely on our examination of the consequences? Are we too quick to question the wickedness of others or to doubt the goodness of God? May the following prayer reflect the desire of our hearts as we live our lives in this fallen and sometimes confusing world.
Father, forgive me for reaching conclusions about You that are based solely on conjecture and poor conclusions based on consequences and nothing more. You are inexplicable and Your ways are always unquestionably right and good. Help me to look for You in any and all circumstances of life. Help me to see the good You are bringing about in my life and the lives of others – in spite of what I may see. Your ways are not my ways. Your plans are beyond my knowledge and understanding, but they are always right and true. Thank You for that reminder and assurance. Amen.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.