Why don’t good people get justice? Why are bad people successful?

Last updated on September 19, 2023

The question of why bad people (the “wicked”) prosper while good people (the “righteous”) suffer, is one that is addressed frequently throughout the Bible. Several of the Psalms openly question God about this issue. Among many others, Psalms 10, Psalm 35, and Psalm 94 ask God why He allows the wicked to thrive or to afflict the righteous. “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?” (Psalm 94:3).

Several Proverbs also acknowledge unjust situations, and encourage us not to envy the prosperity of the wicked: “Do not fret because of evildoers, or be envious of the wicked” (Proverbs 24:19). See also Proverbs 3:31; 23:17; 24:1. The entire book of Job questions the suffering of the apparently righteous Job.

God will bring justice in due time

The most fundamental Biblical teaching on the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous is that God sees, cares, and will correct injustice (see for example 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8) — but not necessarily when we want Him to. Two illustrations of this are found in Psalm 73 and in Hebrews 11.

In Psalm 73, we see a man who struggled with this very question and came to the conclusion that he could trust God for ultimate justice. He was frustrated with the apparent injustice of the “prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:3) who “increased in riches” (Psalm 73:12) and wondered if his own righteousness was “all in vain” (Psalm 73:13).

However, when he thought about who God was, he realized that in due time, God would bring justice: “…It was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!” (Psalm 73:16-20). The psalmist was able to set aside his struggle and put his trust in God. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). When he grasped the eternal perspective of God, his heart found peace.

Remember God’s eternal perspective

Hebrews 11 lists many people who were considered to be excellent for their faith. The chapter tells of the sufferings of these righteous people. In their suffering, they were looking beyond their experience on earth to their future life with God in heaven, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Again, we see that remembering God’s eternal perspective and character brings trust, hope, and a measure of comfort in the midst of unjust suffering. And our comfort is not all in the future. In our relationship with God, as we walk in faith, we are comforted now when we are distressed (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Isaiah 30:18-19).

These and many other examples are included in the Bible because God understands our struggles with injustice. We are not unreasonable when we struggle, but when we consider the character of God – His everlasting love for us, His eternal power, His concern for justice – we can have peace that “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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