Jeremiah’s Lament, By Proxy


Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
—Jeremiah 12:1b

It’s a good question to ask concerning those who wickedly prospered at the expense of others, knowing they were doing wrong but letting expediency and the lure of a quick buck be their guides. Righteous or wicked?The present economic disaster rests largely on the shoulders of the treacherous and deceitful, doesn’t it?

What makes it all the worse is that those who made millions selling derivatives of derivatives of derivatives, who knew it was all a house of cards that would doom other people,  are off enjoying the beaches of Nice on the Riviera while you’re in tears because you can’t find your tattered box of grocery coupons.

Monday was one of those days that amounts to a troika of tragedy, bad news coming in threes, one of those days that has you questioning everything, especially a verse like this one:

No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.
—Proverbs 12:21

When it seems to be nothing but ill for the supposedly righteous, while the supposedly wicked prosper, well that’s one of those theologically low days, isn’t it? Makes you wonder just where you stand on the righteousness-wickedness scale.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who said to me that it sure seemed to him that people who are closer to God appear to have more trouble in life than those who could care less about the Almighty.

Do those righteous folks always end up like Joseph, who went from the bowels of Pharaoh’s dungeon to the seat at his right hand, along the way becoming the savior of Egypt? Or are they more likely to be like this fellow:

There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man.
—Ecclesiastes 9:14-15

Starting the week off on heavy topics may be par for the course around this blog, but I’m holding onto hope anyway.

What is your take on this? Is it true that people who are more devout seem to suffer more than the clueless pagans around them? Regardless of how you answer that, why do you believe that way?

16 thoughts on “Jeremiah’s Lament, By Proxy

  1. David

    Yet no one remembered that poor man.

    This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him And saved him out of all his troubles. Psalm 34:6

    Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

    Sometimes, we just have to live by faith. Do the devout suffer more as a result of that faith? I suppose it depends on one’s point of view. Do the devout consider their life to be one of suffering? Paul apparently did, but when he measured it against what he knew was coming, the suffering became nothing.

    Suffering is supposed to be alleviated by the body. And there, more than from the unbeliever, comes the cruelest cuts, I think. That a fellow believer lives in comfort while even one of the body suffers through no fault of their own, is a travesty.

    • David,

      You raise an interesting paradox in the faith. The Scriptures warn us not to be preoccupied with the future but to live sober lives in the here and now. The paradox comes when difficulty arrives. Then we are told not to consider this present life but the life to come.

      When I think about that, I don’t know how to adequately work out the dichotomy in a practical way.

      • Elizabeth Anne

        Yup. Seneca the Younger, to be precise. Not a Christian text, but a foundational work nonetheless. In fact early Christians spent a lot of time trying to read Christianity into his work. Not all that difficult, since Stoicism was essentially a monotheistic philosophy.

        Google “Seneca on Providence” – there are several translations online.

        “Why do many adversities befall good men? No evil can happen to a good man; contraries do not unite. Just as so many rivers, so many showers of rain pouring from the heavens, so great a number of medicinal fountains, do not change the taste of the sea, nor even modify it, so the shock of adversity does not affect the mind of a brave man. He remains ready for action, and whatever happens, he gives to it his own color, for he is more powerful than all external circumstances. I do not say that he does not feel them, but he overcomes them and even quietly and calmly rises superior to their assaults. He looks upon all his adversities as experience. Moreover, who is there who, if only he be a man and intent on honesty, is not desirous of lawful employment and eager for services accompanied with danger? To what industrious man is idleness not a punishment? We see athletes, who care for their strength, contend with the strongest and demand of those by whom they are trained for the contest, that they should use all their strength against them; they allow themselves to be beaten and bruised and, if they do not find any single man who is their equal, they encounter several at the same time. Strength weakens without an adversary: how great and how powerful it is appears when it shows what it can endure. You should know that the same thing ought to be done by good men, not to shun hard and difficult things, nor to complain of fate: whatever happens, let good men be contented with it and turn it to good account. It matters not what you bear, but how you bear it.”

  2. I think it’s an illusion. I’ve known plenty who have nothing at all to do with God who suffer incredibly– disease, birth defects, tragic accidents and their aftermaths, being at the wrong place at the wrong time (or should it be stated “at a place at an unfortunate time”?). The way of suffering doesn’t seem to choose, so in the midst life bad things happen to good people who often die young.

    Those of us who believe, who embrace the wonderful stories of God’s interventions for his people, his promises of blessing, his attending love often have a different expectation. Generally, most of us do fairly well most of the time, but some of us experience what appears to be the purposeful frustration of any hope we had for good. Sometimes in my minor league frustrations at this, I end up shouting at the ceiling, into the air, to the God I know has keen ears, “can’t something go right one time?!”

    Victory, I’ve discovered, doesn’t often come from a hail Mary pass, but is much more likely when one does not give in when things are not going well, by huddling up and trying once more even though they’re not going well now. Winning doesn’t have to be pretty. Sometimes, many times it seems to me, it’s a stumbling, bumbling, witless determination to get to the end.

  3. What seems to be is not always true. In one of their operettas, Rogers and Hammerstein wrote, “Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream. etc., etc.”

    I’d rather have God guide my steps through trial and tribulation than for the enemy to guide them through peace and plenty. I know what I getting with God but would have to keep on looking over my shoulder in the other case.

    I felt totally secure all through the 4 years of cancer surgery and treatment although I couldn’t eat solid food for a year and couldn’t talk for several months. Did I pray for relief? You bet I did. Was I mad because I didn’t get my way? Once again, yes! Did I feel abandoned? Not at all, except for one brief ‘dark night of the soul.’
    I don’t know how I knew that I was to recover, but I did know it. Now I still have ‘issues’ that were brought on by the therapy but I’m praising God every day for each breath and for how He brought me through this “trial.”

  4. Dan,

    I think part of the “issue” if you will with us as believers is found also in Ecclesiastes.

    And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain. –Ecclesiastes 1:17-18

    We have the ability to see what is happening in our world from God’s perspective, so in that sense, we don’t have to worry about tomorrow because we know tomorrow will have troubles of its own (Matt 6:34). But by the same token, we know what God’s plan of redemption is for all of us and we know the great rewards that await the believer so that gives us the comfort to get through the trials we may be experiencing in the “now.”

    If we did not know the plans of God, we could just go blindly on and think we’re living in Disneyland, all things being equal, and just grab all that this life has to offer. But we know better: this is just vanity and striving after wind! The believer is burdened with the knowledge that unless Jesus is Lord of your life, you’ll be spending eternity apart from God.

  5. “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled” (Psalm 30:6-7 KJV).

    “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19 KJV).

    “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah” (Psalm 49:11-13 KJV).

    “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Psalm 73:16-17 KJV).

    “I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted….Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15 KJV).

    “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?” (Proverbs 27:23-24 KJV).

    I could quote more, but some thoughts: our afflictions often bring us to the Lord. If you had all the money you needed all the time, then why would you need to pray, ever, for God’s help? This, of course, seems to make light of Christians’ real sufferings.

    They don’t need lots of money. Most don’t even want lots of money. They want to get by, but some fall farther and farther behind while others struggle to make it. I think, though, if you asked the average Christian, they would make a Great Unconfession: what most really want is a reliable means of support that does not require constant prayer and miracles.

    “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26 KJV).

    I think a lot of believers struggle with this. I read about half of God’s Harvard, a book about Patrick Henry College, which has a specific mission to raise up homeschooled Christians into elected office. But the author noted how Michael Farris was disappointed that those students who seemed to cling closer to God did not do as well in school as those who were more ambitious and got better grades. It did not surprise me too much, because not many of those kinds are called. Period. You’re playing against the odds when you play like that.

    Not many of the called know how to run a business. They don’t know how to get management positions. They don’t know how to get a recession-proof job. They don’t know how to invest money. (And truth be told, they can’t be taught in most cases, either!) Out of eleven sons Jacob begat, only one was promoted second to Pharaoh. And he had the worst adolescent experience of all his brethren. Only one of the sons became the Levitical priesthood. Their chief example, Moses, suffered great. Only one of the sons became the messianic line. And we know what happened to Jesus!

    I belong to a writers’ group. Out of all of those who attend, one stands the best chance of becoming a professional writer. And she leads the group. Those writers I know who are serious about their careers and probably also stand a chance do not come to the group, unless they speak. They don’t have time to come. It can be painful to watch these Christians timidly go about the craft, hoping one day to make it. They are not wise after the flesh. They are not noble. And they probably have no chance in a market of J.K. Rowling and Joel Osteen.

    Yes, it is hard to watch people, Christians included, throw their cash away on ungodliness when you and I have a hard time making a living. It is hard to watch the captains of industry take the only lifeboats after they run their ships aground. But whaddya gonna do, eh?

    • Michael,

      There’s a very fine line between having so much that you have no need for God and feeling that while your heavenly Father may indeed have the cattle on a thousand hills, it would be nice if He was a little more liberal in doling out the beef when one is crying out for it. I think that’s the struggle some have. Perhaps it’s all greed and lack of contentment, but sometimes I wonder how anyone manages to live through a day. Know what I mean?

      Being “wise after the flesh” doesn’t always help, either, because if you’re stuck on the beach when a hundred-foot wall of water comes surging in, you’re getting wet. And you’re likely to get killed, wise or not. Being able to see the water first won’t help you unless you’re fast enough to respond. And it’s not the brainy folks who are fastest of foot.

      • Yeah, I know what you mean. Where’s the beef? To touch on your beach analogy, well, I was privy to a conversation by a pastor who was talking to another person about building a house at the beach. When asked about the foundation, he talked about the huge pile-ons driven down into the sand, but which had no other support. I was astounded. Here was a man who, all of his spiritual life, I suppose, had heard about how the wise man would not build on the sand. Yet he was building his beach house on the sand! Amazing.

        (Yeah, I can hear you now. A pastor could afford to build a beach house? And this guy was not even the senior pastor.)

        Of course, we wouldn’t have whole towns built on sand bars, except that the federal government insures the houses there.

  6. I don’t think people who are more devout suffer more than those who don’t believe in God. But I do think there is a difference in the meaning of their suffering.

    Looking at the New Testament it seems like the closer you get to God the more challenges / problems you face. Jesus was as close to God as any human will ever get (obviously), and he ended up dying for us. So certainly being close to God doesn’t mean you’ll live to a ripe old age with no problems.

    I think that often God calls us into dangerous situations on purpose. He did that with virtually everyone in the Bible. Christians aren’t supposed to be sitting in their living rooms 24/7, safe and sound. We’re supposed to be on the front lines, doing radical and dangerous things.

    So in that sense, we suffer more †“ but it’s a suffering out of love and faith and obedience.

    On the other hand, since the world is ravaged by sin, everyone is impacted. Just because you don’t believe in god doesn’t mean his moral order doesn’t apply to you. God designed us to live in a certain way, and when we reject that we open ourselves up to pain and suffering. But this pain and suffering is almost always pointless. In an “ideal situation, Christians won’t be touched by those kinds of problems (although we know that’s not always true).

    • e. barrett,

      I struggle personally with the flavors of suffering.

      I clearly understand suffering on account of the Gospel.

      I clearly understand suffering because we live in a sinful world.

      Yet I seem to be alone in my thinking because I draw distinctions between the two, whereas many Christians do not. I, however, don’t understand why some Christians lump them both together. If my house is burned down by an angry mob because they just want to randomly burn something, that’s quite different from the angry mob burning down my house because they hate Christ and anyone associated with Him. One result is misfortune and the other is a blessing for suffering for the name of Christ. Those seem, to me at least, to be starkly different kinds of suffering. The one just stinks, while the other should be welcome.

      • Dan, I think your stuggle gets into the harder sayings of the Word, sayings we often may not consider:

        “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5 KJV emphasis added).

        A steward of the mysteries of God must remain faithful, no matter whether his house was burned down at random or out of persecution. A church-owned house I helped refurbish where inner-city missionaries could stay (mainly, I just tore up the old guts with a crowbar; others did the main work) burned down soon after it was completed. I don’t think someone from the ghetto torched it. It was an electrical problem. The house was dedicated to the Lord’s work. Yet “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5 KJV).

        Two instances in my own life: I wanted to find a certain shelf to mount on my wall to display some things a friend had given me. I knew what kind of shelf I wanted, but I did not know where to find it. After I went to one store and did not find it, I complained to the Lord. Why do I need to waste my time when He knew where this thing was? At the next store, I found it. But I never mounted the thing on the wall. Lesson learned.

        In the other instance, I entered three poems in a contest. As the days went by, I remembered how the young people from my current and past churches had won so many things and gotten so many honors. Why can’t I win anything? I complained to the Lord. Well, I won. The judge said my three poems surpassed everyone else’s. Yet he printed the one poem that mentioned nothing about the Gospel. I had written two very Biblical poems and then tossed in a good one I had already written because I did not feel like taking the time to write a third Biblical one. Lesson learned.

        Read The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun. He preached the Gospel in China. He and his family suffered mightily for it. Paul also suffered mightily. When real persecution comes to America, it may make our lack of decent health care, housing, and other things seem like happy memories (if we are not rejoicing in our persecutions). Yun and his wife kept a normal family life as much as they could. Yun even admitted that some of his problems came on him because the Lord wanted him to take a break, and he would not.

        Yes, I understand your essential question: Why is this happening to me? I don’t mean you are asking in the sense that you are crying like a spoiled child, “That’s not fair!” You ask in the same way I have asked before: “Why did this happen to me, Lord? All things work together for good for those who love You, but what was the point to this? Why am I supposed to learn from this???”

      • I don’t think we are in much disagreement then. There’s no doubt that because we live in a fallen world, bad things happen. Christians aren’t immune to their children dying from disease or accident. That kind of suffering just stinks.

        Without having any kind of statistics to back me up, my belief is that the closer you are to God, the more your suffering is due to obedience (e.g., tithing is a burden non-believers never have to face).

        When I look around at the people in my life it seems that suffering is pretty common in both christians and non-christians. I’m just not sure I can say one group suffers more than another. I just know that the meaning of that suffering is different.

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