Prosperity Can Test Your Faith
PROSPERITY can test the faith of an upright person. Striving to become materially prosperous can lead to loss of faith. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) But prosperity can also test faith in another way. When someone righteous observes that many unrighteous people are prospering materially while he is suffering, he may be tempted to pursue an ungodly course. Why, this has led even some of Jehovah’s servants to doubt the value of pursuing an upright life!
This happened to the Levite musician Asaph during the reign of Israel’s king David. Asaph composed psalms that were used in public worship. Along with Heman and Jeduthun, he also prophesied, giving Jehovah God praise and thanks to musical accompaniment. (1 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 29:30) Privileged though Asaph was, Psalm 73 shows that the material prosperity of wicked people proved to be a great test of his faith.
Asaph’s Dangerous Attitude
“God is indeed good to Israel, to those clean in heart. As for me, my feet had almost turned aside, my steps had nearly been made to slip.” (Psalm 73:1, 2) By these words, Asaph acknowledged that Jehovah was good to the nation of Israel. Specifically that was so to those “clean in heart,” for it was their desire to give God exclusive devotion and contribute to the sanctification of his holy name. If we have that attitude, we will bless Jehovah by speaking well of him even if we are sorely tried by the prosperity of the wicked or by any other situation.—Psalm 145:1, 2.
Though Asaph was aware of Jehovah’s goodness, his feet almost turned aside from a righteous path. It was as if they were slipping on icy ground during a tiring marathon. Why had his faith become so weak? He explained: “For I became envious of the boasters, when I would see the very peace of wicked people. For they have no deathly pangs; and their paunch is fat. They are not even in the trouble of mortal man, and they are not plagued the same as other men.”—Psalm 73:3-5.
The material prosperity of unrighteous people made Asaph envy them. Peace seemed to be their lot, even though they accumulated wealth by fraudulent means. (Compare Psalm 37:1.) Despite their evil deeds, from outward appearances they were secure. Why, their life seemed to end without terrible death pangs! They sometimes died peacefully and self-assured, with no awareness of a spiritual need. (Matthew 5:3) On the other hand, some of God’s servants suffer painful illness and death, but he sustains them, and they have the wonderful resurrection hope.—Psalm 43:1-3; John 5:28, 29.
Many wicked people have no health problems that prevent them from enjoying their plentiful supply of food. “Their paunch is fat,” their bellies protruding. Moreover, they are not “in the trouble of mortal man,” for unlike the masses of mankind, they need not struggle to obtain life’s necessities. Asaph concluded that the wicked “are not plagued the same as other men.” Especially do they escape trials that godly people experience because the latter adhere to Jehovah’s righteous standards in Satan’s wicked world.—1 John 5:19.
Because the wicked prosper, Asaph went on to say of them: “Therefore haughtiness has served as a necklace to them; violence envelops them as a garment. Their eye has bulged from fatness; they have exceeded the imaginations of the heart. They scoff and speak about what is bad; about defrauding they speak in an elevated style. They have put their mouth in the very heavens, and their tongue itself walks about in the earth.”—Psalm 73:6-9.
Evildoers wear pride as “a necklace,” and so numerous are their violent deeds that they are ‘covered with them as with a garment.’ Determined to have their own way, they browbeat others. The eyes of the wicked are not sunken from lack of nourishment but ‘bulge from fatness,’ standing out because of obesity resulting from gluttony. (Proverbs 23:20) So successful is their scheming that they even ‘surpass the imaginations of their hearts.’ They speak of their fraud in a proud, “elevated style.” Why, ‘they put their mouth in the heavens, and their tongue walks about in the earth’! Lacking respect for anyone in heaven or on earth, they blaspheme God and malign humans.
Apparently, Asaph was not alone in being adversely affected by what he saw. Said he: “Therefore he brings his people back hither, and the waters of what is full are drained out for them. And they have said: ‘How has God come to know? And does there exist knowledge in the Most High?’” (Psalm 73:10, 11) The Hebrew text may mean that because the wicked seem to prosper, some among God’s people adopt a wrong view and are brought to the same state as the lawless, saying: ‘God does not know what is happening and will not act against lawlessness.’ On the other hand, seeing bad people practice lawlessness with seeming impunity is like having to drink a bitter potion, which moves the upright to ask: ‘How can God tolerate these things? Does he not see what is happening?’
Comparing his circumstances with those of the wicked, Asaph said: “Look! These are the wicked, who are at ease indefinitely. They have increased their means of maintenance. Surely it is in vain that I have cleansed my heart and that I wash my hands in innocence itself. And I came to be plagued all day long, and my correction is every morning.” (Psalm 73:12-14) Asaph felt that it was useless to lead an upright life. Wicked people prospered, likely ‘increasing their means of maintenance’ by fraudulent means. They seemed to escape penalty for the worst wrongdoing, but Asaph was plagued “all day long”—from when he awoke until he retired at night. He felt that Jehovah was correcting him every morning. Since this did not seem fair, it tested Asaph’s faith.
A Readjustment in Thinking
Finally realizing that his thinking was wrong, Asaph stated: “If I had said: ‘I will tell a story like that,’ look! against the generation of your sons I should have acted treacherously. And I kept considering so as to know this; it was a trouble in my eyes, until I proceeded to come into the grand sanctuary of God. I wanted to discern their future. Surely on slippery ground is where you place them. You have made them fall to ruins. O how they have become an object of astonishment as in a moment! How they have reached their end, have been brought to their finish through sudden terrors! Like a dream after awaking, O Jehovah, so when arousing yourself you will despise their very image.”—Psalm 73:15-20.
It was good that Asaph did not voice a complaint, for publicly saying that it is useless to serve Jehovah might have discouraged members of his family of worshipers or might have undermined their faith. How much better to remain silent and do what Asaph did! To see why wicked ones seem to get away with wrongdoing while the upright suffer, he went to God’s sanctuary. That setting allowed Asaph to meditate calmly among Jehovah’s worshipers, and his thinking was readjusted. So today, if we are perplexed by what we see, let us likewise seek answers to our questions by associating with God’s people instead of isolating ourselves.—Proverbs 18:1.
Asaph came to realize that God had placed the wicked “on slippery ground.” Because their lives revolve around material things, they are in danger of experiencing a sudden crash. At the latest, death will overtake them in old age, and their ill-gotten wealth will not secure a longer life for them. (Psalm 49:6-12) Their prosperity will be like a quickly passing dream. Justice may even catch up with them before they reach old age as they reap what they are sowing. (Galatians 6:7) Since they have turned their back on the only One able to help them, they are left helpless, without hope. When Jehovah acts against them, he will view their “image”—their pomp and position—with contempt.
Guard Your Reaction
Not having reacted well to what he saw, Asaph admitted: “For my heart was soured and in my kidneys I was sharply pained, and I was unreasoning and I could not know; I became as mere beasts from your standpoint. But I am constantly with you; you have taken hold of my right hand. With your counsel you will lead me, and afterward you will take me even to glory.”—Psalm 73:21-24.
Dwelling on the material prosperity of the wicked and on the suffering of the upright can sour a person’s heart or embitter him. Deep inside—in his kidneys—Asaph’s turmoil over this situation caused him great pain. From Jehovah’s standpoint, he became like an unreasoning animal reacting on the basis of mere sensations. Yet, Asaph ‘was constantly with God, who had taken hold of his right hand.’ If we err in our thinking but seek Jehovah’s counsel as Asaph did, God will take us by the hand, to support and lead us. (Compare Jeremiah 10:23.) Only by applying his counsel can we be led into a happy future. We may suffer humiliation for a time, but Jehovah will bring about a reversal, ‘taking us to glory,’ or honor.
Appreciating the need for reliance on Jehovah, Asaph added: “Whom do I have in the heavens? And besides you I do have no other delight on the earth. My organism and my heart have failed. God is the rock of my heart and my share to time indefinite. For, look! the very ones keeping away from you will perish. You will certainly silence every one immorally leaving you. But as for me, the drawing near to God is good for me. In the Sovereign Lord Jehovah I have placed my refuge, to declare all your works.”—Psalm 73:25-28.
Like Asaph, we have no one but Jehovah on whom to rely for true security and comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) So instead of coveting anyone’s earthly riches, let us serve God and store up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19, 20) Having an approved standing with Jehovah should be our greatest delight. Even if our organism and heart should fail, he will strengthen us and give stability to our heart so that we do not lose hope and courage amid adversities. Intimacy with Jehovah is a priceless possession. Letting it go would spell calamity for us along with all who abandon him. Like Asaph, therefore, let us draw close to God and throw all our anxiety upon him. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) This promotes our spiritual welfare and moves us to tell others about Jehovah’s wonderful works.
Remain Loyal to Jehovah
Asaph was troubled because he saw evildoers prospering in Israel, his homeland. In among Jehovah’s loyal servants, there were “wicked people” guilty of boasting, haughtiness, violence, scoffing, and fraud, and who denied that God knew what they were doing. (Psalm 73:1-11) What a warning! To please Jehovah God, we must refrain from displaying such traits as pride, violence, scoffing, and dishonesty. Like Asaph, let all servants of Jehovah ‘come into God’s grand sanctuary’ by assembling regularly with His loyal worshipers. Indeed, let all who love Jehovah ‘draw near to God,’ relying on him to sustain them amid sufferings, regardless of what others may say or do.—Psalm 73:12-28; 3 John 1-10.
True, the material prosperity of evildoers may test our faith, as it did that of Asaph. Yet, we can endure this trial if we center our life on Jehovah’s service. We will be rewarded for doing this because ‘God is not unrighteous so as to forget our work and the love we show for his name.’ (Hebrews 6:10) Our trials will be “momentary and light” in comparison with our reward. (2 Corinthians 4:17) Even some 70 or 80 years of suffering are like a mere breath passing our lips in a whisper when compared with the eternal happy life Jehovah promises his loyal servants.—Psalm 90:9, 10.
May we never permit the material prosperity of evildoers in contrast with our sufferings for righteousness’ sake prevent us from displaying the faith that is a fruit of God’s holy spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23; 1 Peter 3:13, 14) Satan would be pleased if we copied the wicked, who often prosper because they are unscrupulous. Instead, let us honor Jehovah’s name by resisting temptations to abandon his righteous standards. (Zephaniah 2:3) Let us not be distressed over the success of evildoers, for, at most, they can achieve only material prosperity. And of what value is that? It does not even begin to compare with the spiritual prosperity enjoyed by those exercising faith in the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.