Why Doesn’t God Punish Evil People?

Across the street from where I grew up lived the president of a moderately large international oil company. After a healthy business year and, I’m sure, a sizable bonus, the man decided he to build a swimming pool in his backyard. Unfortunately, his yard was too small, so he waited until his next door neighbor left on a two week vacation—then he called in the work crews who built the pool, partly on his neighbor’s lawn. The oil company president was confident that his pockets were deeper than his neighbor’s if he was taken to court.

Do you ever get frustrated when evil people flourish? Take North Korea, for instance. The country’s long line of narcissistic dictator’s have strangled the life out of their people. Joseph Stalin was responsible for killing more people in the Soviet Union than Adolf Hitler killed Jews, yet he died of natural causes.

Do you ever find the prosperity of the evil unsettling? I do. Especially when they impinge upon my life.

So why doesn’t God punish them?

That, my friends, is our topic of discussion in our daily Bible conversation. Please join us.

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 42:1-47:7
2 Timothy 2:1-3:17
Psalm 92:1-94:23
Proverbs 26:3-8

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 42:1-47:7. The beginning of our reading continues the narrative following the destruction of Jerusalem. After mocking him and punishing him, the people approached Jeremiah for a word from the Lord. I’m sure Jeremiah was thinking, Finally! The people are listening! But notice: Jeremiah waited 10 days before God finally spoke to him. God isn’t in a hurry.

So how did the people respond to Jeremiah’s words? They accused him of lying. How often do we reject anything we don’t want to hear—even if it’s from God? After Jeremiah told them NOT to go to Egypt, they went anyway and took him with them.

So what happens? Like Jeremiah said, King Nebuchadnezzar invades Egypt.

2 Timothy 2:1-3:17. Following Friday’s theme about the importance of mentoring, Paul instructs Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul was a leadership genius. He was constantly looking for ways to multiply himself. Paul instructed Timothy to lead in such a way that the people learning from him would be able to pass it on to others. So Paul was speaking to the fourth generation beyond himself. Note to self: when training leaders, right from the beginning train them to train others.

Second Timothy 2:13 has carried me through many hardships: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” The fact is, Jesus can’t reject us when he lives in us. It’s like rejecting himself! But also, I so often convince myself that I’m holding on to Jesus when he, in fact, is holding on to me.

Proverbs 26:3-8. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4–5). These two verses have always confused me because they seem to contradict each other. So which one is right? They both are. As a general rule, answering a fool according to his folly (i.e. “No you didn’t!” “Yes you did”) will make you the fool too. But at times, engaging the fool is important, for example, when someone might be harmed.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

The running theme in today’s reading accentuates the prosperity and success of the evil. Johanan sought Jeremiah’s help in hearing from God and then rejected it. Then he transported Jeremiah down to Egypt against his wishes. The psalmist complains about evil people in Psalm 94: “How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Psalm 94:3)

Yet two passages in Psalms 92 and 94 bring things into perspective:

  1. The end of this life is not the end. The psalmist writes, “For surely your enemies, O Lord…will perish; all evildoers will be scattered” (Psalm 92:9). Evil people may flourish. Criminals may still get away with their crimes. Dishonest employers may experience financial success without getting caught. Philanderers may continue to cheat on their spouses. But the end of this life is not the end. In fact, this life pales in comparison to eternity—and judgment will come.
  2. Discipline is a sign of God’s love. It might seem that evil people who go unpunished in this life are the ones whom God blesses. But the psalmist reminds us, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord” (Psalm 94:12). Getting caught is a blessing from God because it gives us an opportunity to change and make restitution for our deeds. Unrestrained evil, on the other hand, can be interpreted as a sign of the lack of God’s blessing.

If you’re experiencing pain or frustration at the hands of an evil person, you can find encouragement in Paul’s words: “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Working hard and persevering will bring a harvest…but it requires a waiting period before we get to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

After building the swimming pool, the wealthy family across the street began experiencing a host of health problems, including a cancer diagnosis which eventually took the oil company president’s life. But before he died, he lost his job through a hostile takeover of his company. Their next five years were fraught with hardship, pain, and poverty. The family quietly moved out of their house with hardly a penny to their names. I wouldn’t want to make a direct correlation between the man’s decision to take advantage of his neighbor and his multitude of problems, but the timing seemed pretty peculiar.

All that to say: the last chapter hasn’t been written. And remember that this life isn’t the last chapter. In the end, evil will be vanquished and God’s righteousness will prevail!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. To what extent do you live in the knowledge that the end of this life is not the end?
  3. Do you believe that evil will be vanquished and righteousness will prevail? Why or why not?

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www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Why Doesn’t God Punish Evil People?

  1. Jeanna Frye

    I do believe evil will be vanquished and righteousness will prevail. The law of sowing and reaping is also at work and although sometimes, as you said, evil seems to prevail, eventually-as with the guy who built the swimming pool-there is a reaping of the seeds sown. Sin will always lead to death – physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way – But through God’s plan of repentance and forgiveness we have life – we sow to the spirit and not to the flesh – Satan is also at work to blind people’s eyes and to accuse God – Love triumphs over evil.

  2. elna

    2 Tim 3:12 say that everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. According to legend the only prophet to die naturally was John of Revelation. Jeremiah was stoned by the Jews in Egypt. We need to hold fast to the knowledge that God is righteous and loving. Do we get our reward now on earth or eternally?
    Can God trust the honour of His name with me? If I am not under attack from satan or the world, I need to ask myself :Why not? Am I deceived as in 2 Tim as to the real state of my soul?

  3. The confidence we have is that God will mete out justice. Sometimes, however, evil people don’t experience it until the day of judgment. I have to remind myself of that when I see the evil flourish without any retribution.
    Elna, that’s where your point applies. Sometimes we must wait for our reward until we get to heaven.
    Regarding persecution: Paul’s comment in 2 Timothy 3:12 isn’t very popular among Christians. Here in the United States, Christians want to be nice, which isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. We want everyone to like us, so we try not to offend people by living our faith out in the open. God has called us to be gentle and kind, but he hasn’t called us to live safe by always being nice.

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