Anxiety when unscrupulous people succeed (Psalms 49, 50, 52, 62)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

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In this daily reflection from The High Calling, Mark Roberts reminds us that according to Psalm 49, true life is not to be found in the accumulation of goods, but in using what we have been given for good.

Sometimes the godly have a skewed perspective on how God governs, and this causes them needless anxiety. They think that the righteous should obviously do well in life while the wicked just as obviously fall into ruin. But things don’t always follow this script. When the wicked thrive, Christians feel that the world has turned upside down and that their faith has proven vain. Psalm 49:16–17 answers this: “Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them.” Godliness does not ensure commercial success, and impiety does not ensure failure. Those who devote their lives to making money must finally fail, for they have made a treasure of something they must lose (Luke 12:16–21). See "Concern for the Wealthy (Luke 6:25; 12:13-21; 18:18-30)" in Luke and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.

It is not merely a matter of the wicked having to face God’s judgment after death. When someone who is evil but successful finally falls into ruin, people notice. They understand the connection between how that person lived and the calamity that ultimately swamped him or her. Psalm 52:7 describes such a situation: “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!” For this reason, Psalm 62:10 tells us not to seek security by following the path of the wicked or in the acquisition of wealth: “Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” In hard times we are apt to look to those who have prospered by corrupt practices or by cronyism and believe that we must do the same if we are to escape poverty. But we in fact only guarantee that we will share in their disgrace before people and their condemnation before God.

On the other hand, if we do decide to make God our trust, we must do so fully and not superficially. Psalm 50:16 declares, “But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?’” It is a bad thing for someone to use fraud in order to gain wealth. It is a terrible thing to do this while feigning allegiance to God.

We would do well to ask what others see when they observe our work and the way we do it. Do we justify taking ethical shortcuts, or discrimination, or treating people badly by babbling about “blessing” or “God’s will” or “favor?” Perhaps we should be more reluctant to ascribe our apparent successes to God’s will and be more ready to say simply, “I don’t deserve it.” 



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