WHY do the WICKED ‘PROSPER’ on this EARTH? "Why do the wicked live and become old, yes, become mighty in power? Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them." (Job 21:7-9)
If there is one truth that can be distilled from the book of Job, it is this one: why do the wicked prosper on this earth while the righteous suffer? Is God unjust in His dealings with humankind? Even though on the surface, this book is the story of the righteous Job and his sufferings; as we dig deeper into the discussions of Job with his friends, we are confronted with a theological debate on the assumption by Job’s three friends that the wicked are judged and the righteous are rewarded by God while they live on this earth. This theological debate is even alive today, and many Christian Pastors and Church leaders are trying to promote the ‘prosperity gospel’ that God will bless us materially and financially if we just have faith in God and change our thinking to the positive things that God has declared through His Word.
However, Job refutes this popular thinking as he looks at life objectively, and makes the following observations: the wicked do not appear to know fear in their family circle (21:7–9); the children of the wicked are well established (21:8); the houses of the wicked appear to be safe (21:9); the cattle and livestock of the wicked reproduce and they prosper financially (21:10). The wicked enjoy a rich and happy social life (21:11–13) even as they openly defy and reject God (21:14–16). In essence, the wicked seem to live prosperously without God and they rarely suffer in this life (21:17–18), and they even receive honorable burials (21:32-33). Thus, Job’s experience does not confirm his friends’ claim that the wicked prosper only briefly or, are punished by God!
Job was trying to prove that the wicked often prosper in every area of life and die without suffering, even if they have had no place for God in their life. How often, Job asks, do the wicked reap the reward of their sins in their own lifetime? The answer to this is that it is very possible that the wicked do not reap any punishment for their sins on this earth, but God will judge and punish them according to His righteous standards one day in the future!
In Psalms 73, the poet Asaph had a similar problem as he became envious when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (vs. 3). However, Asaph understood the ultimate fate of the wicked when he went into the presence of God (vs. 17). This is what Asaph tells God when he understands what is going to happen to wicked people finally: "Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors." (vv. 18-19) So, Asaph reaffirms God’s ultimate judgment upon the wicked that is awaiting them in eternity!
The prophet Jeremiah also went through a similar thought process when he argued with God regarding the fate of the wicked: "Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; they grow, yes, they bear fruit. You are near in their mouth but far from their mind...pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter" (Jer. 12:1-3). Jeremiah was inferring that the wicked is now being prepared like the sheep for the day of their slaughter. They are being fattened up now, but very soon they will reap the gruesome harvest for the wickedness that they have sown in the lives of other people!
Let us be clear that the wicked people do prosper on this earth, but their prosperity is only a temporary phase. We are living in an age of grace today, and God does not want anyone (even the wicked) to perish forever: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). However, just like God closed the door of the ark during Noah’s time (Gen. 7:16) and every wicked person alive on the earth at that time died in the flood, God will close up this period of grace and every wicked person will be duly judged by the righteous God one day. In the meantime, God is controlling everything to accomplish His good purposes in our lives (see Rom. 8:28).