Summary: We can't know the mind of God, but we can know the heart of God through the cross.
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TWO PERPLEXING QUESTIONS
“Perplexing” questions of life:
• Why do people say they slept like a baby when babies wake up every two hours?
• How do deer know to cross at those yellow deer crossing signs?
• Why do they call it Grape Nuts cereal? It has no grapes or nuts.
• What was the greatest thing before sliced bread?
• Is there any difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny?
In my vain [brief] life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing (v. 15).
The Preacher says in verse 14 that God has made both “the day of prosperity” and “the day of adversity.” In a world ruled by God, shouldn’t we expect a “righteous man” to experience only days of prosperity and a “wicked man” only days of adversity? Isn’t this what God promised? “You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV).
But what about Abel? He was the first person to die, murdered by his older brother Cain. He was righteous, yet he died at an early age. And Cain, who was wicked, lived many more years. How is that fair?
Consider the suffering of Job. Job didn’t suffer because he was a wicked man. “Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). However, Job’s “friends” assumed that his suffering was caused by personal sin. Eliphaz said to Job, “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8). In the end, we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), but, in this life, that’s not always true.
Suffering is not always directly related to wickedness, and prosperity is not always directly related to righteousness. Sometimes wicked people prosper, and righteous people suffer.
So we are faced with two perplexing questions:
• Why do BAD things happen to GOOD people?
• Why do GOOD things happen to BAD people?
Even the authors of Scripture struggled with these questions. “Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jeremiah 12:1). “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallow up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning” (Psalm 73:12-14).
AVOIDING TWO EXTREMES
Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? ...the one who fears God shall come out from both of them (vv. 16-18).
As we struggle with the perplexing questions of suffering and prosperity, we are danger of falling into one of two extremes: (1) trying harder in an attempt to force God’s hand (“super righteousness”) or (2) giving up and pursuing wickedness. “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (NIV).
• Don’t be ARROGANT in your righteousness.
• Don’t be DELIBERATE in your wickedness.
THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins (v. 20).
See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes (v. 29).
• God’s SOVEREIGNTY is not the problem.
• Our SINFULNESS is the problem.
Adam and Eve were created “upright.” But they believed Satan’s scheme to disobey God’s command, so that they could become “like God.” Satan said to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). This scheme failed miserably. Adam and Eve’s sin brought pain, suffering, and death into the world. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
God is not to blame for the wickedness in the world. However, this does not solve the problem of v. 15. When a righteous person dies, it’s not because he was a worse sinner than others.