I may forget his name, but I’m not likely to forget his dour expressions and gloomy outlook. Imagine a face with no laugh lines. Cheeks never dimpled by a smile. He was old by the time I knew him, and had long since retired, but I could imagine him on the job. His features had been sculpted by his somber employ, and frozen in place by the long, cold nights of his labor. The old brother had worn himself out as a grave-digger in the pick-and-shovel days before graves were dug mechanically. For decades he had worked the ‘grave-yard-shift,’ digging graves while the world slept. I never succeeded in my attempts to cheer him. Whatever means I used to establish a positive tone to our visits, our time together always went the same, sad way. Eventually the old, gray-faced grave-digger would inquire: “Why do the bad people prosper and live long, but the good people struggle and die young?” He couldn’t see that he himself had lived long, mentioning his age seemed only to deepen his depression.
Most of us have pondered life’s inequities, and lamented its frequent unfairness. Many of us have sung, “Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder, Why it should be thus, all the day long. While there are others, living about us, never molested though in the wrong.” The Psalmists of old were also troubled by similar thoughts at times. Psalm 73 reads in part:
“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; …” (73:2-6).
But that’s not the whole story. If we can’t understand why at times the wicked prosper, and why the righteous must sometimes suffer, we can recall that God is loving and powerful. He who created the world still rules the universe. Sin has corrupted His masterpiece. Satan has deceived those made in God’s image, but the end of the story has not been written. God has promised and proven His ability to bring about great reversals.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood this (Luke 1:50-55), as did Hannah, the mother of Samuel, long before (I Samuel 2:3-10). Mary rejoiced in God,
He has been mindful of the humble estate of His servant. Hannah exclaimed,
I delight in Your deliverance. They knew — God makes things right! Though sometimes we must wait, God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. The psalmist acknowledged,
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their destiny (Psalm 73:16-17). Jesus’ experience of vindicating exaltation is available for all. As He repeatedly affirmed,
Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11; 18:14, etc.).
The 19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
“The world is upside down, and therefore, the first are last and the last first. … Haman is in the court, while Mordecai sits in the gate; David wanders on the mountains, while Saul reigns in state; Elijah is complaining in the cave while Jezebel is boasting in the palace; yet who would wish to take the places of the proud rebels? and who, on the other hand, might not envy the despised saints? When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time.”