You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jeremiah 12:1)
This is the way we should ask when we approach God about what troubles us. Jeremiah had a question about God’s justice, but he did not approach as if God’s justice was open to question. It was an established truth that God is righteous. God has revealed himself as one who is righteous, all-powerful, all-knowing, and so on. When we wish to better understand a doctrine, event, or situation, we bring these divine attributes and apply them to the question. It is God’s nature that explains everything else, and never the other way around. Since God is the one who defines, creates, causes, and controls all things, we interpret all things in the light of his divine nature.
God replied, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (v. 5). He did not sympathize with the man’s attitude. He did not express understanding for the man’s frustration. He did not indulge the man’s doubt, self-pity, and indignation. Instead, he faulted the man for these things and challenged him to rise above them.
This is the way we should answer when people approach us about what troubles them. We must never indulge their doubt, self-pity, and indignation. We must never agree that they might have reason to waver about God’s goodness and justice. Rather, we hold as established and nonnegotiable the things that God has revealed about himself, and we confront and rebuke those who ask questions that challenge them. We must never commend their questions, no matter how much they are suffering. If we show any sympathy toward unbelief and blasphemy, then we are already defeated, and we have disqualified ourselves from providing real help to those who stumble.
We must hold constant the nature of God and explain all things by it. Christians often fail to think this way. For example, they would say that God is sovereign, and this appears to make him the author of sin. But since he is righteous, this means that he cannot be the author of sin. Instead of explaining all things by the nature of God, they have allowed their interpretation of the effects and circumstances in this world to determine the meanings and implications of the divine attributes. They have defined God by the creation. This is the essence of idolatry. Instead, we must hold constant the nature of God, that he is sovereign and righteous. The fact that he is sovereign must mean that he is the author of all things, including sin and evil. And the fact that he is righteous must mean that it is righteous for him to be the author of sin and evil.
Why do the wicked prosper? If we hold constant the truth that God is just, then this means that it is just of him that the wicked prosper. Even if we do not know how that could be, this must be the answer. And since God is the one who defines justice, there is no higher definition of justice by which to challenge this. But the Bible indeed tells us how God is just in the prosperity of the wicked. As Psalm 73 teaches, he prospers the wicked in order to ensnare them in their wickedness, to increase their guilt, so that they would slip into damnation and suffer torture in hell forever.
Some questions should no longer be asked, because the Bible has given definitive answers to them. As a Christian, I should never ask how a person could be saved as if I have never read the Bible’s answer or as if its answer is inconclusive. I know that a person is saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Likewise, no one should complain about the prosperity of the wicked and demand an explanation from God. In the first place, no one can demand an answer from him. But he has answered this question, as well as many others. Our task is to study his answers and to challenge others to accept them.