Job calls attention to a reality even we don’t want to face – that the scales of justice do not balance themselves in this world. Bad things happen to “good” people and good things happen to “bad” people. (It’s worth mentioning here a reminder that I don’t believe there are “good” or “bad” people – just people who make some good choices and some bad. Some people choose well more often, and some people choose poorly more often. But in God’s eyes the difference between people is miniscule.)
It’s hard for us to face the reality that the people we perceive as wicked sometimes live out lives that appear to be blessed. We want to believe the wicked are punished and the good are blessed. And we want to believe we are the good that should be blessed. On one hand, do we really want bad to be punishable? I certainly wouldn’t want to be punished for all the bad choices I’ve made! On the other hand, it is so difficult to watch people we think are worse than us be blessed with riches, love, and good health!
My husband and I had to face this harsh reality very young. When my first baby was 16 months old he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. No one will ever convince me he had made enough bad choices by the age of 16 months to warrant a punishment of lifelong blood tests, shots, and hospital stays. No way. At the same time as his diagnosis, I was also on my internship to become a pastor. I will never forget one of the first women I consoled on the death of her husband. They had spent a lifetime together and I assumed her grief was for the loss of her dear husband. The couple seemed to have everything – a great marriage, plenty of money to live comfortably, a high status in the community. But in a raw, honest moment she revealed to me that he had cheated on her repeatedly and she was unable to leave because he was abusive. Her grief was over her own life that she lost because of his poor choices and behavior. It was an abrasive lesson I never forgot – the scales of justice will never be balanced in this world. The sooner I learned to let go of my expectations that justice will balance itself, the sooner I was able to adjust to the reality of the imbalance. I have found a strange peace in the knowledge that the imbalance exists. My expectations of other people and of God have shifted and I am more at peace expecting less and enjoying the surprises that come when justice does prevail.
Then Job answered: “Listen carefully to my words, and let this be your consolation. Bear with me, and I will speak; then after I have spoken, mock on. As for me, is my complaint addressed to mortals? Why should I not be impatient? Look at me, and be appalled, and lay your hand upon your mouth. When I think of it I am dismayed, and shuddering seizes my flesh.
Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their children are established in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. Their bull breeds without fail; their cow calves and never miscarries. They send out their little ones like a flock, and their children dance around. They sing to the tambourine and the lyre, and rejoice to the sound of the pipe. They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We do not desire to know your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ Is not their prosperity indeed their own achievement? The plans of the wicked are repugnant to me.
“How often is the lamp of the wicked put out? How often does calamity come upon them? How often does God distribute pains in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, and like chaff that the storm carries away? You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’ Let it be paid back to them, so that they may know it. Let their own eyes see their destruction, and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty. For what do they care for their household after them, when the number of their months is cut off? Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those that are on high? One dies in full prosperity, being wholly at ease and secure, his loins full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of good. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them.
“Oh, I know your thoughts, and your schemes to wrong me. For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince? Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’ Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony, that the wicked are spared in the day of calamity, and are rescued in the day of wrath? Who declares their way to their face, and who repays them for what they have done? When they are carried to the grave, a watch is kept over their tomb. The clods of the valley are sweet to them; everyone will follow after, and those who went before are innumerable. How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”