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.

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?

Watching the Wicked Prosper


Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, ‘How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?’
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
—Psalm 73:1-14 ESV

Last week was good. I commented to my wife that for the first time in an exceedingly long time, life felt normal. She smiled and the sky grew bluer. Today it was 73 degrees outside. The crocuses were shouting.

But a late afternoon bluster blew in gloom, and our souls were disquieted by more bad news. We’d had our week, however fleeting. Time for more tears.

Will it be another season of loss? One wet finger in the wind cannot tell me.

I don’t know why some prosper and some don’t. That person over there mints money with every breath, but that broken fellow propped up against a crumbling brownstone…wasn’t he there last year, too? His crime? He was a decent person who only tried to do what was right, but someone took advantage of his kindness. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that at least he doesn’t have dogs licking his sores.

We in America love the rags to riches story. American Idol taps into this nation’s consciousness like an epidural. Celebrity is its own reward. We simply adore our celebrities. Look at how many were troubled by Brad and Jen’s split last year: All those homes! How will they ever divvy them up fairly?

On the other hand, the people who stay in rags or who find themselves moving in that direction, well, we don’t reserve as much affection for them. Houses on BoardwalkNone of them make it to the cover of the highest-circulating magazine in the country, People. Didn’t Jesus Himself say we would always have folks like that? They’re a dime a dozen, aren’t they?

A friend who was a missionary told of being dropped off in the middle of Africa, but his scheduled ride never materialized. After a day left stranded out in the bush, he started walking, only to eventually come to a village. In that village, he was welcomed by a Christian family. They put all the food they had in front of him, and even that wasn’t much. Just some goat intestines—not fully emptied. Those folks were destitute, but they welcomed this fellow believer with glad hearts. My friend said he was so blessed by that family that he would never forget them.

Here in America, though, we have a sense of entitlement that never quite goes away. We deserve to keep up with our neighbors, even if it’s killing us to do so. And when someone eventually tanks, when a family has their breadwinner taken out, we too often look the other way. It’s as if we’re watching a real-life monster movie. We’re at the head of the pack, but the crippled girl who prays for everyone nightly can’t keep up with the rest of the group. When a grue swallows her in the darkness, we dispel our own guilt with a simple “There but for the grace of God go I.”

It makes me wonder sometimes if we’re the wicked of Psalm 73. We don’t think about that enough here in this country. We don’t like to be distracted from the goal of a five bedroom home, a Hummer in the driveway, and a kid at Harvard.

Our not wanting the distraction doesn’t make the indigent go away, though.

When I hear Christians in this country talk about how easy it would be if they lost everything, I can’t help but wonder if they truly mean it. I’ve known godly friendships that have dissolved because one person was on the way up while the other was headed down. The tendency in a few churches is to assign blame to the downwardly mobile; those poor had their past sins come home to roost. Heads get shaken and words muttered—and then the room clears.

Misfortune seems to haunt some people. I’ve seen cases of families that kept on getting hit with one misery after another. One day they’re no longer in church. Perhaps their rusted-out hulk of a car didn’t fit in with the new SUVs in the church parking lot. Maybe one of the teens in the youth group made a disparaging remark one too many times about the out-of-fashion threads worn by the kids. Or a husband didn’t fit in with the men’s group consisting of CEOs, what with him being the night clerk at a convenience store and all. Not that any of those CEOs would offer him a job anyway.

So they slink away. Some drop out of church altogether. Others find a church parking lot filled with rusted-out cars just like theirs, and they’re happy—for a while.

We talk about being destitute for the Lord, but I don’t think we truly want to be. We hear some megachurch pastor give a sermon about how Mother Theresa died with only a pair of shoes and a couple habits to her name, and we may even get a tear or two welling in the old eyes, but we dab it away. Then we pack the family into our late model Toyota Sequoia and head out for an all-you-can-eat dinner and a movie—or two. We may aspire to be destitute, but only if we can look good and have fun doing it. Blessed are the poor in spirit. It’s the spirit of the thing, isn’t it?

Are we the wicked? All of us? Some of us?

I confess that I really don’t want to continue to be downwardly mobile. It’s more stressful than people imagine. I wonder why some people live a life of ease and luxury, while others work so hard and yet get so little for all their hard work. Doesn’t square with the American mantra, does it?

Yet here we are in America complaining. Downwardly mobile here beats a life of eating goat intestines, right?. Try to convince the rich of that, though. Actually, try to convince anyone here of that.

How can I say I know the Lord when I am so ungrateful?