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Question from a reader: You might have noticed that people we consider to be ungodly are thriving in all their undertakings. They hold high positions in societies, have more than enough money in their bank accounts, etc. while the ‘God-fearing’ ones are wallowing in abject poverty. In your opinion:
- What is behind the success of ‘ungodly’ people?
- Do you think God has any merit for loving such people?
- What should the ‘God-fearing’ people do to earn the Creator’s grace such as what is being lavished on ‘bad’ people?
Answer: First, I’d like to explain that God does not favor the ungodly. However, there are times when we who are followers of Christ feel let down by God. We expect to be favored more than sinners. We assume that if we are good, if we are obedient to God, if we follow Christ, if we pray for help, then of course God should reward us with the answers to our prayers and with prosperity and other good things. But we cannot manipulate God. No one can earn God’s favor nor his help. It is a sin to try, because it’s thinking of ourselves as “better” than God. It’s treating God as if we should be able to manipulate him by our good deeds.
What happens when we seek God’s help but it doesn’t work out the way we expect? When we see non-believers having more success than us in the same things we were hoping God would help us with? We feel like God is treating us less favorably than others. That’s a very limited view of what’s really happening. I learned this lesson many years ago, and I tell that story here: wordbytes.org/suffering/god-why-have-you-abandoned-me.
What I learned in that story is still only a limited view of what’s really happening. When we look past our expectations and disappointments, we can begin to see the bigger picture. Consider these facts about the spiritual life:
- When we hope for prosperity while entrusting our lives to God, and then don’t get it, God is actually favoring us with his protection. Unbelievers do not get this protection, because they do not choose to have it. We do choose it when we entrust our lives to God. How can a lack of prosperity be a good thing? What is God protecting us from? Prosperity can lead to a lot of problems, such as the sin of greed, or the sin of relying on wealth instead of on God, or the non-sinful but significant mistake of doing something different with our lives than what God knows is really better for us. The same is true for anything we hope for but do not get; God is saying “no” to us because he has something better in mind for us, and if we cooperate with that instead of wallowing in jealousy over how easily sinners seem to thrive better than us, we always find ourselves in situations that make us glad that God said no.
- Oftentimes, God’s “no” is really, “Just wait. I will help you mature during the wait. My timing is always perfect and always what is best for you. My timing will bring you better results if you trust Me and let Me lead you.” Meanwhile, non-believers are losing out on this wonderful opportunity.
- It is not true that the ungodly thrive in all their undertakings. Some do but only for a season, never eternally, and usually not even long enough to satisfy them. We see only a small portion of what is going on in their lives. They might be thriving financially but losing their marriages and families. What emptiness causes them to yearn for more money and more success in their undertakings? It is God they are yearning for, without knowing so! Their yearning is never satisfied, because they do not turn to the only true source of the goodness they instinctively seek. They are quite unhappy deep inside and – very often – not just deep inside but they are fully aware that they are unhappy, so they anesthetize themselves against the pain of feeling unhappy by addictions such as drinking, sexual affairs, and striving to make even more money. Meanwhile, whether we who are followers of Christ are rich or poor, thriving in our undertakings or dealing with failures, we are favored with the peace of Christ, the comfort of his Holy Spirit, and his guidance on how to grow in and from our problems.
- It is not true that followers of Christ are less successful than the ungodly. Many Christians are thriving, wealthy, and successful.
Now I will address your three questions specifically.
1. What is behind the success of ‘ungodly’ people? We have all been created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). We are all God’s children. Therefore, all have talents that, when put to use, help us become successful. Those non-believers who are very prosperous have been using the talents that God gave them. The same principle is available to believers as much as to non-believers. God wants us to use the talents he gave us, regardless of whether or not we recognize him as the Father of our talents. Of course he wants us to glorify him with our talents, because then we become his partner in making the world into a better place. But when someone fails to glorify him, he doesn’t make the sinner talent-less. Some of the things they do with their talents will inadvertently glorify him!
2. Do you think God has any merit for loving such people? God is love, and it is impossible for God to be unloving. It is impossible for God to stop loving anyone. Love is not love if it withholds itself from anyone. And therefore, God is not God if he withholds himself from anyone. See? It is quite impossible for God to not love such people!
It’s not about “merit”. God is not trying to earn anyone’s approval – not the sinner’s nor ours. If by the word “merit” you mean “reason” or “purpose”, then yes, he has a purpose: His reason for loving sinners is to be true to himself. He loves because he is love. Beyond that, he loves because love can heal, love can promote change, love can convert hearts. No one is converted – truly changed – without love influencing them. No one embraces God and his ways out of fear of God and fear of going to hell. Fear can stop a person in his tracks, but it doesn’t turn him toward love.
3. What should the ‘God-fearing’ people do to earn the Creator’s grace such as that being lavished on ‘bad’ people? It cannot be earned! Grace is – by its very nature – a freely given gift by God that helps us grow closer to him. It is withheld from no one, but in fact, followers of Christ are more aware of the grace that he makes available and therefore live in the Creator’s grace more than non-believers do.
Your questions reveal two misconceptions that many people have: (1) that we should be able earn God’s help by being “good”, and (2) that “bad” people are “bad people.” God created everyone as good (Genesis 1:31). Everyone does bad things. We all sin, even the holiest amongst us here on earth. And we all do good things, even those who do the most evil. We must stop labeling ourselves and others as “good” or “bad”. That is judgmental, and Jesus said we must not judge (Matthew 7:1), because only God knows the heart, the motives, and the true condition of the soul. So oops! As soon as we say that someone is “bad”, we are committing the sin of judgmentalism. The truth is, people do bad things, and it is the sin we can judge – never the sinner.
More subtly embedded in your questions is a judgment about God: that he lavishes more favors on one type of person than another. It is simply and completely not true. God treats everyone equally, because it is impossible for love to not love. It is impossible for love to be less than what it is; therefore God does not love anyone more than another.
We, however, very often fail to favor God with our very best. Rather than try to excel using our talents, we hope to ride on God’s goodness, expecting him to do the work for us. Some non-believers (certainly not all!) become successful – thrive, as you put it – because they work hard to excel. We who are followers of Christ are called to excel – we are called to be like Christ, using our talents to their fullest. When we don’t, oops we are sinning again!
So rather than spend any more time being jealous of the ungodly who thrive in ways we wish we would thrive, let us strive to give God our best efforts. Let us avail ourselves of his grace, which is completely surrounding us like an ocean that stretches far beyond what we can see. Let us recognize Who is the source of our talents, and let us trust that God sees a far bigger picture than we do when we ask for his help, realizing that even his “no” is a big help.
© 2014 by Terry A. Modica
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