Wicked, Wicked, Wicked, Wicked…Righteous


House of the wicked?The local community newspaper listed eight foreclosures in the last week, all residences. That’s just in one week.

I had a hard time reading that and not getting misty-eyed. Eight families, no home.

At that rate, we’ll have 416 foreclosures in 2009 in my locality. Frankly, given the trend of things around here, I’m thinking the real number will tally somewhere closer to 700.

I wish it were zero.

The dread of losing one’s home runs high in most people. In America, it’s the ultimate failure, the financial, social, moral, and intellectual  scarlet letter.

The Bible, in one of its more inscrutable verses, says this:

What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
—Proverbs 10:24

When I first started writing Cerulean Sanctum, I got a lot of emails from people with the gist of  “Who do you think you are,  some kind of spiritual brainiac with all the answers?” The letters didn’t last, though. I think enough truth came out in postings here that people realized that I don’t have all the answers, not even remotely.

I don’t know what to do with a verse like the one above. In the case of the righteous of the Old Covenant, one could argue that their end goals were earthly prosperity and a continuing lineage. Time and again, the Old Testament’s discussion of the payout for the righteous takes those two forms. You can’t ignore them.

The New Covenant changes it, at least as I see it, so that Christ is the goal for the righteous.

But it’s not the payout for the righteous that perplexes me, but the wicked’s. The wicked’s jagged little pill bothers me because their end is the same in both the Old and New Testaments. What they dread is what they receive.

So I struggle with this. Not because the wicked should not reap what they sow, but because the Bible seems to make it clear that people will see the practical outcomes of wickedness. They will be clearly visible. We will know who is wicked and who is righteous by what happens to them, not only in the life to come, but in life right now.

Which brings me back to Proverbs 10:24.

I think about those eight foreclosures in my locality, and I apply Proverbs 10:24. Those people who lost their homes received what they dreaded. The verse says it is the wicked who receive what they dread, not the righteous.

Therefore, it would appear that every one of those people who lost their homes to foreclosure were wicked. They could not be righteous.

So I struggle with that. I wonder if Proverbs 10:24 and dozens of verses that say the same essential thing elsewhere in the Scripture are proof-textable clarifications of who is wicked and who is righteous.

Then we come to the following passage and the water murks even more:

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
—Acts 28:3-5

The thought of the local people: Paul is wicked because of the misfortune that befell him. They seem to be referencing Proverbs 10:24 here.

How does this all fit with the dozens of OT passages that say that the wicked receive misfortune, while the righteous receive good? Hyperbole? Positive thinking? Rainbows and unicorns? Did the New Covenant wipe all those verses away?

So much for being a spiritual brainiac…

Any wise folks out there with some sage wisdom with regards to this topic? Please share. I think that many people in the days to come will be struggling with this same issue and will need to hear godly words.

32 thoughts on “Wicked, Wicked, Wicked, Wicked…Righteous

  1. David

    Think of it this way: “They have their reward in full.”

    For the righteous, the loss of a home is bad, but not as bad as the loss of eternity with God, simply because the righteous have had a glimpse of what that is like. For the wicked, though, the loss of their home is incomparable to anything else. Never having had a glimpse of glory, they don’t know what they are missing, and won’t until it’s too late.

    Sure, there are those righteous in the Old and New Testements who received good things on this Earth, and did so because they were righteous. But there were those who did not, too. “The righteous man perishes and no one notices” has it’s inverse in “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

    The wicked, whether they prosper or not, have received everything they ever will receive. The righteous, hopefully, know better.

    • David,

      Thank you for your answer. I always appreciate what you contribute.

      Let me turn this around and ask the more painful question, the one that may be at the core of all this: If a supposedly righteous family [dreadful event] loses its home to foreclosure [/dreadful event], does that, in fact, reveal that it is not really righteous at all, but wicked? The way these sorts of statements about the differing fates of the righteous and wicked in Scripture are phrased would imply wickedness in the face of receiving the dreaded outcome. I don’t see any other way to read these.

      You can sub in any dreadful event you wish in between the markers.

      • Elizabeth Anne

        No, of course not, because the bible refers to our ultimate fates, not our temporal ones.Remember Christ’s parable of the tower in Jerusalem?

        of course, I think the problem here is the Protestant use of proof-texts. But I’m biased that way.
        Crap happens. Some days you eat the bar, some days that b’ar eats you.
        Here, anyways.

        That’s why I tried to refer you to Seneca. His recurring argument is in line with Scripture: nothing Evil can truly befall the wise man.

        • Elizabeth Anne,

          I disagree. The Bible says much about our temporal fates. In fact, I suspect that the amount of text in the Bible about how to live this side of heaven far, far outweighs anything it says about the world to come, perhaps 100:1 or more.

        • Elizabeth Anne

          Dan, I meant in those passages, not in general.
          But let me put it another way. There was this guy, right? Got mistaken by the authorities for a member of a local terrorist group. Got tortured, beaten nearly to death, and nailed up on a cross.

          Pretty sure he fell into the “righteous” category.

      • David

        If a supposedly righteous family [dreadful event] loses its home to foreclosure [/dreadful event], does that, in fact, reveal that it is not really righteous at all, but wicked?

        Was Job wicked? (righteous indignation) How about Lot? (squirm factor) They lost their homes in the ultimate foreclosure. “There is none righteous, not even one.” Does God use [dreadful event] to pass judgement? “It rains on the righteous and well as the sinner.”

        I think it’s hard to separate the pain of living in a sinful world from the consequences of sin. Things happen. Jobs are lost, income drops, savings disappear, pretty soon, home is lost. Punishment, consequences, or simply Life: Red in checkbook and bank balance?

        The question that perhaps should be at the core of this is how the families respond to bad news. Is it with the anger of Cain, or do we say “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

        • Ah, David, mangling Thoreau. But such punny mangling…

          How people respond is a big issue. I’ve seen the following:

          1. Dead resignation
          2. Bizarre exuberance
          3. Quoting Bible verses to explain misfortune away
          4. Anger at God
          5. Anger at everyone else
          6. Self-loathing
          7. Depression
          8. “Always look on the bright side of life”
          9. Violence
          10. Combinations of the above

        • One other statement, David.

          When my son comes to me for something small and insignificant that he thinks will make his life, I am not usually one to cave to his pleading. He threw a fit at the grocery store the other day because I would not let him use his own money to buy a can of “slime/gakk” (or whatever it is called nowadays).

          It troubles me, though, when people go to God the Father for something that is NOT a complete waste of time, often with long prayers and tears, and come away lacking the thing they needed of Him. When I read these passages in the Old Testament then, I have no way to process them in light of that reality. What then do they mean? Do they apply to believers or not?

          These verses would have us believe a general condition for the righteous. But what to think when some righteous people seem to always be under assault while others coast? I’ve known solid Christians where tragedy haunts them constantly, yet others are always appearing to get what they pray for and hardship is far from them.

          Shouldn’t there be more of a leveling if all are in the house of God? In the typical family you don’t see one child in tatters and the other sporting the latest in Hanna Andersson, do you?

          Perhaps it’s the utopian in me, but that disparity eludes my understanding.

          • David

            I think that disparity points to a failure of the body rather than that of the Head. A dysfunctional family takes care of one child to the detriment of the other. But that is what I think we see every day. Failure, as you’ve pointed out before, is castigated in this country, while material success is praised.

            That’s wrong.

            God doesn’t punish failure. He corrects, He exhorts, He directs. So should we. If a family is in such dire straights that they might lose their home, then where is the body?

            But more important, has the Body created the atmosphere where people are not ashamed of weakness and failure?

            I don’t think so. And for that, we all suffer.

  2. I’ve no sage wisdom to offer, but doesn’t Ecclesiastes speak to this issue? I think of Ecclesiastes as somewhat of a counterpoint to Proverbs’ conventional wisdom…raining on the just and the unjust and such…almost post-modern in what might be perceived as its sense of relativism.

    IMHO, the lines between who in this world is righteous and who isn’t is often such a blurry one that I haven’t given the verses you quote above much thought in the last 10 years or so. Not to say they are unimportant, but that daily life makes it very difficult to arrive at a concrete interpretation/application of them.

  3. I agree with David, it would seem response would be the tell. Look at Israel: the entire nation suffered discipline, but the ones who responded with repentance were restored. A “righteous” man may need discipline, but he will profit from the experience and gain restoration. The “wicked” may not rise from the ashes of his downfall, if God so deems it.

    Great question, Dan! I love stuff like this.

  4. Nancy

    I wrote this for myself after reading your post. I needed to get some thoughts down.
    Since you provoked it, I thought I would send it along.
    I am wondering if verse 25 finishes the proverb?

    Pro 10:24 What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted.
    Pro 10:25 When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, But the righteous has an everlasting foundation.

    Is the real fear / dread of the wicked = being no more
    and the true desire of the righteous = an everlasting foundation


    Righteous – only in Christ…
    if in Christ, can you be Wicked????
    Maybe “in the flesh, deceived, little faith, disobedient”, or just living in a world that things and people are connected in more ways that we can see.

    are those too much for the Grace and Mercy of God……. ?
    Does God’s grace fail when we are ” failures”. Especially the world’s view of failure ( Paul and the snake)
    Even in our own real failures, can God no longer work?
    At what point does God give up on us?
    He gave up on us a long time ago. I think that is the point of Christ’s death and resurrection
    Paul doesn’t condemn himself for what the world sees as failures….

    Php 4:12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

    He learned the secret

    Php 4:13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

    Now I need to take this all to heart.

  5. Steve Myers

    “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?” (1 Cor 5:12) – it is not for us to judge and “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). Hurricane Katrina brought the same comments – the city was being judged for its sins!

    Is it not God’s place to judge? Is it not our place to bring God’s mercy to those who do not know him? God has relieved us of any obligation to judge outsiders and has given us the work of revealing Him to others.

  6. This an awful shame.

    Brought about (largely by the govt. sicking it’s big fat nose where it doesn’t belong. (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)

    Now, the same big govt, advocates that brought us this disaster will make it an even bigger disaster with more meddling and waste of taxpayer monies

    What a shame.

  7. I wonder if it’s all a matter of perspective. If all the Christians in your town lost their houses, and were scattered around the country, could that be the equivalent to the dispersion of the early Christians? Would they, then, go about sharing the gospel with those who might not otherwise have heard? Would this make losing your house a good thing?

  8. Dan, your comments belie your assertion that you’re not a sage. I think you (and your readers) are struggling with an issue that’s been around for a long, long time. Thanks for bring it up.

    And to really get a ‘handle’ on it one must go through it themselves. I pray you don’t have to go through what your neighbors are having to deal with.

    I’m facing something like this in the not too far distant future. In just a few months I may be among those “righteous” who have had the devastation of losing their homes. And, you know, I really don’t feel wicked although I do dread this eventuality.

    But I think about those five words that God told to Judah, “This thing is from Me” and I wonder what that will mean for me and my family.
    And what about the 4 years of cancer treatment and recovery my family endured? Was that “pay back” for my evil deeds in the past?

    I think that akaGaGa is pretty close to an understanding of this. Let’s just use the “if” for a moment. “If” your neighborhood had gathered together some years ago and decided to be “family” to each other, including accountability of financial matters, would that have made any difference? And “if” that had taken place, what would have been the reaction of your community to that? So, now you’re saying that in the next year there could be upwards of 700 families in your area who lose their homes. I wonder how many of those families are believers?

    Wow. This discussion is really making me think about all the possibilities that the body of believers in my own community has. I wonder what we can do in our area to forestall some of this tragedy from happening?

  9. Paul Maeder

    Dan, you have, of course, written about one of the deepest mysteries of our faith, so I’m sure you expected dozens and dozens of comments. Here’s my little bit.

    One of the most interesting bits in Job is that no one knew what transpired in Heaven before calamity struck. Job’s friends accuse him of wickedness, Job gets mad at everyone, including God, but God loves Job and is proud of him. Job’s misfortune is a blessing from God!

    We don’t know God’s reasoning in allowing what seems to be misfortune (that very word de-emphasizes God’s sovereignty), but how could we understand it if it were revealed to us. Our response (a difficult one to learn) is to give thanks in everything. And, of course, our response as Christians to those who have lost their homes is not to preach to them about their sin but is, as others have suggested, to relieve their suffering and to encourage them.

    I certainly don’t mean to suggest your discussion is idle. These are the deep things of God. They touch our hearts and are the building blocks of our faith.

  10. steven

    Dan, love your site. But on this one I think your exegesis is wrong. There are dozens of Proverbs that have real-life exceptions that we see frequently. “Train up a child …” is one of many that come to mind. Remember to interpret scripture in context, and remember above all that scripture interprets scripture. Take the sacred scriptures as a whole, then the parts become more meaningful.

    In this case I’m sorry for these people – whether they are professing believers or not. But their situation is temporal. Even if they must go to a small apartment in a public housing project, they will still live better – materially – than 95% of the people on the globe. Their hearts may be broken, but are they broken for the right reasons ? I have some measure of experience with this, having gone from a relatively high income to a very modest means. In the end, I learned that material things only made life more convenient, and had almost nothing to do with contentment.

  11. Steven,

    I don’t know how to process your “exceptions” comment.

    May God be true and every man a liar, as the Scriptures say. With that in mind, I don’t know what one can exegete incorrectly out of a statement like “It is raining.” It’s either raining or it’s not. It’s either true or not.

    The Proverbs fall into the same kind of truth statement. They are observations about the nature of life. They are either true or they are not. As Christians, we contend they are true because God is true.

    If the Proverbs do not align with real life, are we then questioning the proverb? It would seem we are, perhaps filing the proverb under the category of “hyperbole” or “wishful thinking” as we wink at each other.

    Shouldn’t we instead be questioning our ability to exegete life properly, and not the Scriptures?

    • steven

      Dan, I disagree. Observations about the nature of life inherently have exceptions, because life it self is full of exceptions and contradictions. We all know various Proverbs for which it is east to find exceptions. Proverbs aren’t meant to be a 100% slam-dunk this-happens-every-single-time sort of wisdom. Instead, they provide a broader context of how to live life. Also, I again point out that scripture interprets scripture. Take the Word as a whole.

      In those instances where Proverbs don’t align with real life, I never question the Proverb. They aren’t – and never were meant to be -ironclad guarantees.

  12. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Sometimes, especially when no immediate answers are forthcoming, this comfort can be enough to show us something of God’s love even in the midst of tragedy. Maybe such loss is the only way we can learn what it means to share in “the sufferings of Christ”. Maybe there’s a bond and comfort one experiences with Christ and each other when they are in that kind of crucible, one that can be experienced in no other way (as much as I wish there was another way)…. That’s all I got.

  13. Dan,
    I wanted to add that I’m aware that may sound guilty of committing offense #3 (quoting Bible verses), but It isn’t my intention to explain misfortune away, but hopefully direct us toward offering some real flesh and blood “spiritual” comfort to those who mourn. The misfortune is real, and so should the mourning be. Open, honest, sincere grief, acknowledged by a community. The comfort should also be real, fleshed out, incarnational. Christ offers real comfort, but he often provides it through open, honest, faithful and obedient believers, who themselves have learned how to comfort others because of the hardships they’ve endured. But even when we fail to offer such comfort, he’s still there with us, strengthening us, if we allow the misfortune to draw us to himself first and foremost.

  14. auntcasey

    Habakkuk 3:17-19
    Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
    though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
    though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
    YET I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I WILL be joyful in God my Saviour.
    The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights.

  15. Steorling

    There are moments when I hear the things that come out of the Christian community and just shake my head. It’s no wonder we’re known for who we revile more than for the love we’ve been shown. So, if I’ve understood the point so far….

    What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
    —Proverbs 10:24

    is troubling to us because of the reversal of the IF/THAN statement. We’re treating scripture like a geometry theorem, just for kicks. So, if you lose your home in this economic disaster, the scriptures must be saying your wicked. *looks at the passage again* Uh huh…yeah…see, I’m not getting that from this passage, or any other in scripture. Nope. Nada.

    As far as wicked and righteous goes, the scriptures pretty much says..”You’ll get what you ask for.” [I know, that’s a slim synopsis, but go with it for a moment.] Meaning, if you chose to live your life apart from God…you’ll get your wish…and all of its consequences both temporally and eternally. The “dread” of the wicked is simply that they might possibly be wrong about this whole “god thing” and that there may in fact be consequences. Now, as to the desire of the righteous… Yes, I’d like to live well, never suffer from the broken state of this world, or have any of the consequences of original sin touch my family and friends; but that’s just not going to happen. No where does Christ say “Join me and life’s a bed of roses”, quite the opposite in fact. Really, the only thing that I can point to that makes me one of the “righteous” in the first place isn’t my own goodness, holiness, etc….it’s my longing, my DESIRE to see God’s face and the choice I’ve made to follow Christ’s teaching in how that is possible.

    What I do see scripture saying about misfortune is that we can’t know God’s purposes … or what spiritual battles are being fought on what scale.

    His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parent, that he was born blind?”
    “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:2

    Having been “born” with conditions that made me feel cursed, I know this one for truth first hand. We are born for God’s glory, not our own idea of what life should look like.

    “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Luke 22:31

    You want a debate starter? Why didn’t Christ just say “NO” to the sifting if he thought Peter’s faith might fail? Why does God let Satan even make the request?

    And let’s not forget, when Daniel prayed it took three days for him to receive an answer and an apologetic angel explained that he’d been sent at once, but had to call Michael himself to remove whatever powers were keeping him out of Persia…the whole three days! 0.0 Yeah, I don’t know what that means or how it’s possible either, but THAT’S spiritual warfare.

    So, to sum up. Even hinting at judging someone “wicked” due to their misfortunes based on Proverbs 10 or any other scripture is ridiculous and I would greatly appreciate it if our community could agree on that one small thing long enough to face the growing crises in our country with wisdom and compassion….you know, like Jesus might handle it, since we’re suppose to be his hands and feet.

    • Steorling,

      Great thoughts. Love the reference to Luke 22:31. Have used the John 9:2 passage here before in the same way you did.

      Why do you believe some people suffer more than others?

  16. I think what makes this even more complicated is that we make a judgment about what is evil or good. We determine that the foreclosures are evil. Thus, we might conclude, with Proverbs in mind, that the people who “suffered” the evil result, were wicked. What if God, who knows all things, judges such things differently? What if for two of the 8 families, the foreclosures were good and for 6 they were bad?

    We should leave the judging of good and evil up to the one who has all the facts. That’s why we need not be eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, eh?

  17. Brad

    In regard to “righteousness”, remember the chapel we had at Wheaton, “We are all like sand on the beach arguing about who’s closer to the moon.” 🙂 I liked that one.

    But I sure struggled with this very thing while reading Psalms 44:9-16 the other day. “You have tossed us aside … no longer lead us… make us retreat… butchered us like sheep… scattered us… sold us for a pittance… made us the butt of their jokes…

    and then verse 17-18, “All this has happened though we have not forgotten you. We have not violated our covenant. Our hearts have not deserted you. We have not strayed from your path.”

    My first reading of this passage offended my sense of fairness (and of God, really) so that my assumption became, “You SAY you haven’t forsaken him, but have you really?”

    But then I remembered, this “accusation” was the same sin Job’s friends had. And Paul quotes verse 22 in the NT, “But for your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep” Surely Paul had not “turned away” yet God said I will show him how much he must suffer. And then as others have pointed out above, we don’t have to look any further than Jesus to find a righteous sufferer.

    The OT says, “Blessed is the man who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” Sometimes our righteousness causes us to suffer. Sometimes suffering makes it hard to obey. Suffering comes to us all and tests our faith. If it were always to our immediate benefit to obey God we would be hard pressed to know if we obeyed him for his “holy handout” or because we loved him.

    I still don’t like it. I think the only answer lies in understanding that God has not left us, but was willing to even participate in that suffering to show us his love. And I believe that in all things God ultimately works for the good of those who love him.

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