Job once, in answering one of his foolish friends who had come to shut down the questions of his suffering, asked this question, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7) And Jeremiah also asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the treacherous thrive?” (Jer 12:1)
It’s been a mystery that has bothered me my entire life.
My childhood was spent assuming that when I became an adult, things would get better. A painful and abusive family situation topped with school life which nearly always included bullies left me with the impression that I was pretty much always dealing with mean people.
Kids, of course, can be relentlessly cruel. I remember that they would often bully one another and turn on one another. I have seen them cliquishly team up with one another to play a game for the sole purpose of isolating another, whom they’ve picked to be the runt. I’ve seen them lie to a child to make them think they are friends, only to be playing a cruel joke. I’ve seen them antagonize a kid to tears or to anger, only to manipulate the nearest supervising adult into getting that kid in trouble. Most of the time that behavior was about self-promotion. Sometimes it was just mean. It always, always hurt.
I never could figure out why people had to be mean and do hurtful things. So, I always assumed that, one day, they’d probably stop. I’d tell myself, “Well, that’s just kids. I’m sure it will be better when we’re all grown up.”
That lasted until my first job. I soon discovered that many people do not grow out of their cruelty. The same tricks, the same hurtful things happened there. So I thought, “Well, I just need to get a different job. I’m sure it will be better somewhere else.”
Well…you know where this is going. Many jobs and a couple of major career changes later…and I’m still left thinking, “I just need a healthy work environment where there aren’t people jockeying for power and position, or who aren’t making lies or believing lies.”
Well, everywhere I’ve been, there have been selfish, manipulative, mean people. They’re everywhere. They have no conscience. They’ll stoop to anything. Nothing is beneath them.
And, often, they’re the person who says they’re your friend.
I guess my problem is I’m an idealist. My first wife always thought I was a pessimist, but I’ve always considered myself an idealist. I’ve always thought, “It doesn’t have to be this way. The right thing can be done. People can make the right decision. Those in leadership can stand up for what’s right.” I’m not talking about mistakes here…we all make mistakes. I screw up plenty. I’m talking about the mean things. The cruel things. The heartless, power-maneuvers. The times when people turn on someone, isolate them, cast them out…
I’m 43 now, reflecting on this now and thinking, “I’ve been waiting my whole life trying to find a situation in which it didn’t feel like there was someone purposely trying to cause pain to others…or to me.” But I haven’t found that place yet. And it occurs to me, I won’t. It seems there is always someone who, either because of an agenda or just complete social ignorance, is just relentlessly cruel. Who is just going to cause problems…just going to try to make someone else’s life difficult. And, most of the time, there will be leaders, teachers, overseers who will look the other way. Or worse, side with the bully.
So, like many in the Bible seem to ask, why does God let the wicked people keep getting away with it? Why doesn’t he stop it? Why doesn’t he step in?
I mean, aside from the fact that he’s trying to give your boss a chance to; he’s trying to get us to make the right thing happen. But, until then people suffer when the right thing isn’t done. How is that possible?
- Jesus is God experiencing the worst that cruel humanity has to offer. He experienced it…lived it. Part of what he was doing in his life and on the cross was showing us how to do crucifixion. He seemed to tell his disciples things like, “When they persecute you…do this.” In other words, “This is how you handle being treated like dirt. It’s going to happen because people are going to keep doing it.” In fact, Matthew 10 is exactly that, “If it’s good enough for me to be persecuted,” says Jesus, “it’s good enough for my followers.” Why?Jesus was trying to teach those of us who would follow him with our lives how to experience the cross that we’d be nailed on by those of us who don’t follow him or, worse, claim to follow him but haven’t got the foggiest idea that it includes acting like him.But my point is, I guess, that God gets it. When Jesus said, “Eloi eloi lema sabacthani,” that was God experiencing Job’s and Jeremiah’s moments and saying, “Yeah, where IS God?” But it was also God answering that question. God is here. He is in it with you.
- I take great comfort in the notion that God is going to set everything right again. God cares, deeply, that things that were once wrong will be made right again—he wants justice. Granted, God’s justice is restorative rather than retributive, I think. But I do think we can rest assured that God intends to right every wrong. In the same chapter from Matthew that I mentioned above, Jesus also says, “Don’t be afraid of them. There isn’t anything hidden that won’t be revealed.” (26)
In other words, all the secret meetings…the rendezvous…the affairs…the alliances…the gossip sessions…the schemes…all of it will someday come out into the light. God will reveal everything and everyone for what and who they were. “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 22:11-13)We are promised that someday Jesus is going to return. He is going to put everything in its proper place. He is going to “repay,” whatever that means. Part of what evil does, though, is confuse what is good and evil. The evil who have power do evil but put a nice face on it—they spin it because they have the power to do so, the power to cause harm with impunity. But they will not always. Jesus is going to make it right.Perhaps this is why John the Revelator closes his book with, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”
With John, I say it almost every day now. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly to us and soon. Because I’m tired of evil…tired of the evil that is here. We are powerless to change those who don’t want to change—those who choose power and cruelty over love and righteousness.”
But I find I must also pray, “Until then, Lord, give me the patience to continue on. Give me the will to follow you as best as I can. Give me the steadfastness required to endure as you did for so long on that cross while those who had lied and connived and schemed to put you there gloated in victory. Help me trust you enough to be crucified with the dignity you had.”
“Until you return…and make all things better.”