I enjoy your podcast and have read your book Thou Shall Prosper.
I was visiting with a group of friends talking about wealth and the purpose of it, and wound up with a question we started to dissect but didn’t come up with a great answer. I wonder what your thoughts are.
The question is:
Why does God bless both evil and Godly with wealth?
Why do people who don’t know God have God’s blessing of wealth?
Some thoughts we had:
Following God’s principles for the world works for both Godly and wicked.
“Wealth” can be just money or could more—peace, prosperity, wealth, joy, eternal life.
What about REALLY wicked endeavors, people, industries who seem to be making lots of money and living lavishly?
Your question is a variation on, “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things to good people?” An offshoot of that question is, “Why is life not fair?” (Presuming for the purpose of this Ask the Rabbi that there is such a concept.)
It is a question asked since Biblical times and repeated in every generation. You specify money, but we could substitute health or any number of other concepts and the idea would be the same.
One of the answers you and your friends came up with hits home to the following truth. As you say, “Following God’s principles for the world works for both Godly and wicked.” For instance, if a saintly man and a wicked man both step off the roof of a twenty-floor building, both will plummet to their deaths. It is quite possible that the saint will ask, “Lord, why didn’t you rescue me?” And God will wearily explain that you were supposed to know not to step off tall buildings.
Similarly, just as you correctly observed, there are specific things to do in order to gain money and there are specific things to avoid. This information is available to anyone, saint or sinner. When the sinner learns how money works and prospers, many will ask, “How can such a rotten human be so blessed?” The answer is that the question is really no question.
That this is the way that God built the world is an overarching truth. When it poses a crisis of faith, it is usually because it hits home emotionally, not because the principle was not evident in any reading of history or through awareness of the real world. The healthy eater and exerciser may die young while the person who smoked and indulged his physical appetites may live to be 100. The heir to a fortune may live an immoral life and his bank account will still be larger than the upright woman he abuses. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia died with 15,000 lavish dresses in her closet. A peasant of her time may have died of starvation, even if she lived a blameless life.
When it comes to individuals, we have to balance between our own necessary efforts and the realization that we are not in complete control of the outcome of anything we do.
The ideas you and your friends threw out are all topics for interesting conversations, but the bottom line is that the question is rather irrelevant for any individual. Individually, we should look for God’s blessings in our lives; the more we seek them out, the more of them we will see. Individuals who live with integrity and according to God’s word will reap many rewards from doing so, some of which may not be readily evident. However, many of the promises that God makes are on the macro level.
A society that follows God’s guidance will prosper more than a society that doesn’t do so. Statistically, more individuals in that society will do well than will thrive in other cultures. For example, when God promises rain in its proper time allowing crops to grow (Leviticus 26:4), we do not expect it to rain on our field but not our misbehaving neighbor’s or vice-versa. The blessing is for a community or nation.
Pornography and damaging drugs are both billion dollar industries that prey on people’s weaknesses. If bad behavior and choices automatically led to poverty while righteousness led to wealth, there would be no element of free choice, would there? Our reactions would be Pavlovian, responding only for the consequences of our actions rather than making our own decisions of what to do.
Josiah, we’d like to gently suggest that when you and your friends get together you keep your questions more to the practical than the philosophical. What can you learn together or what actions can you take together that will form you into greater people? While questions such as the one you asked have their place (especially for teenagers who see life in black and white), when they are focused on too much, they can sap willpower and lead to endless talking instead of doing.
Live right and leave the rest to God,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
10 thoughts on “Wicked and Rich”
Tonight while saying the Bedtime Shema to my children, I remembered this post of yours, more or less dealing with why bad things happen to good people. Where do passages like Psalm 91 and 23 fit into this discussion? As I read to them, “Therefore no evil shall befall him…“ I wondered internally, “How will I explain to my children that God is good, and his promises can be trusted, if things get to the point in this country where people are being removed from their homes for breaking this or that arbitrary ‘law’ that our government passes more and more of each day?” Especially, as practices of faith become more and more at odds with government edicts, and we are forced to choose between obeying our God, and obeying our government? I want so much to believe these passages, and to teach them that if we “make God our refuge”, we will be able to avoid the “punishment of the wicked”, but my reading of history teaches me that the righteous suffer with the wicked in times of national judgement. What do I teach them?
I see you did not answer my question, but maybe it was an impudent question, because now see a faint hint of arrogance in it. For who am I to say that I am one of the righteous in our country, who does not deserve judgement? And yet you did answer my question, in a different way.
When I wrote this last Monday, I was just frozen in terror, allowing my highly imaginative mind to think of the hypothetical concentration camps Biden, with the help of the Chinese Communist Party, was going to build for me, and other conservatives like me, after taking my children away to learn unholy, godless things. I heard, on video, a PBS executive say that is what he wished for me, and others like me, and I froze. I could not get through my day. But that night, after the children were in bed, I listened to your recent podcast, The World Ended, So What Happens Now. I was inspired to stay up until 3 in the morning, to completely redo my homeschooling schedule to something more manageable. I have had the very best, almost 2 weeks now, of homeschooling since I started my homeschooling journey several years ago. Not only that though, but I was able to laugh, and sing, and play with my children in a way I haven’t been able to in a long time. So thank you for answering my question, and God bless you and Mrs. Lapin for all the work you do. Several times in the last few years you and she have said just the right thing, to help me along in this often scary journey called life. Thank you.
Chava, I could have written this myself, right down to the same podcast experience. It’s an odd comfort to know someone else went through the same motions/emotions. Thank you Rabbi Lapin for your voice of sound wisdom!!!!!! Appreciate you and your wife Susan.
Hi my dear Rabbi,
I’ve had a good evening having listened to your excellent podcast (recorded Friday 1/8/21) and catching up on your TT & you and Susan’s ATR posts.
As usual, the comments and associated responses provide for some of the most fascinating reading and deepest insight.
There is a Christian parable that is so well known that I’d be surprised if most non-Christians aren’t familiar with it. I think it’s applicable here. It’s the one where a man built his house on sand, then later when the storm blew, his house was destroyed and washed away. Then there was another man who built his house on solid rock. The storm came to him as well and though it huffed and puffed, this man’s house was still standing after the storm passed. (Oops – I think I just mixed in the three little pigs “parable” too 😉
I believe these two “storm” incidents happen to one and the same man. The reason I say this is that I am that man. I’ve had to learn from having been “victimized” by that “evil storm”. I’ve had to learn to smarten up. I’ve had to learn to move to higher, more solid ground. I’ve taken the advice of those sometimes older, sometimes younger than me who’ve offered wisdom that I needed. I had to listen and learn from them.
The good news is . . . I did! Today, my family and I are thriving Happy Warriors. We’re not sitting around as “victims” dwelling on the mistakes (and associated losses) of the past. We can’t. We’re too busy moving ahead with building our faith, family, friendships, finances and fitness. Storms will come and storms will go.
While the past keeps getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, the lessons learned stay with us. They are valuable lessons which protect us while we move forward. After all, we learned these lessons in that most expensive of schools. That would be the school of hard knocks, the school with some of the highest tuition. And while we can warn our children and grandchildren to beware of being similarly “victimized”, we are ever mindful that it is we, ourselves who are ultimately responsible for making wise choices.
And it sure does help having a wonderful rabbi like you! Thank you and Susan for all that you do.
John, you are telling my story!
Josiah asked two questions that have been asked in some form or other since the beginning of man.
1) Why does God bless both evil and Godly with wealth.
2) Why do people who don’t know God have God’s blessing of wealth?
Both of these questions assume that wealth equals blessing. This is just wrong thinking. We can all give examples of situations where an abundance of wealth was a direct contributor to disaster. We can also name any number of wealthy individuals who are miserable, angry, selfish, unloving and any number of poor individuals who are happy, giving, loving and wise. It’s been my experience to witness different people who are “blessed” with wealth and watch some grow and become a blessing to others and watch some become diminished and even destroyed by the same “blessing”. Even, so called, Godly men, when confronted with wealth, have gone from kind to wicked in a short period of time. It’s a mistake to assume that wealth is a blessing and a bigger mistake to assume it’s a blessing from God. Wealth in any form is nothing to God but a tool to teach and to reach those He loves. To some it’s a blessing and to some it’s a curse. He has at His disposal any number of tools to work with. I believe what He wants from His children is to bring us to the realization that TRUE joy is found in the person of God and not in the blessings of God. Read Habakkuk 3:17,18.
Wow, I love the last paragraph. I’ve never heard that said before, or if so, not quite so plainly.
With all due respect Rabbi, I vehemently disagree.
I like you and I enjoy reading your pieces…usually. But this one is full of questionable (to put it charitably) arguments. The stuff about stepping off a tall building is particularly unworthy.
You give the standard clergyman answer that boils down to: “It’s God’s will. So stop with asking unworthy, silly questions.”
Many of us try to live righteous lives. We do our best to use our talents honorably. We watch as dishonest people overcome us effortlessly, and often crush us for their own gain.
I can be grateful for what I have, but I FOR SURE have the right to ask God, why are you letting this person destroy me as I strive to do your will.
My own belief is that God blesses evil people and deeds precisely so the righteous will suffer, for reasons known only to Him. And I think it’s contemptible.
It sounds as if you’re enduring very tough times and I am really sad to hear it. I may have been unclear on my analogy; I was saying that God set up a world with certain rules such as those in physics, chemistry and others. If a sweet innocent child opens a bottle of potassium and throws the contents into a tub of water, there is going to be an explosion which will burn the child. Meanwhile, a mean horrible kid is enjoying a trip to Disneyland. That’s not God trying to oppress the righteous, that is God saying, “Look after your little children”. But also He is saying accidents do happen. I have written extensively on why it appears that hurricanes disproportionately impact non-Christian countries. Again, that is not so. If a repugnant human being knows and follows the rules about mountain-climbing, finance, and dangerous chemicals, he will most likely (but not always inevitably) end up safer, richer, and unburned than a saint who knows nothing of those rules but counts on God rewarding his goodness by bringing him safely down the mountain, or giving him money, and preventing chemical burns. It sounds as if someone has acquired the power over you to torment you and there are repugnant people who enjoy doing that. But there are also ways (legal, economic, political, social, etc.) to diminish their ability to exert power over you and I’d truly love to see you explore those possibilities rather than endure the suffering you are undergoing. If you can possibly try to rise above your pain for just a few minutes and ask yourself whether God is ‘letting’ this person destroy you and whether while you are striving to do God’s will as you say you are doing, you are truly correct that the course of action you have selected is really God’s will. I personally don’t think God is trying to inflict suffering upon you in response to your righteousness. Could it possibly be that maybe you have a tiny role in it as well? Could there be really effective practical things you should be doing to render yourself immune to the depravations of your enemy?
I hope so and I pray for your deliverance.
Recalling what is dad annually: “He being merciful. ….
A 10th grade class assigned The Book of Job to be read, and in print, to be commented upon. I was taken aback. The Reality Page ! Thank you for prompting memory. An education more than text book. A good conscience better than a deep wallet. (paraphrase of a prov.)
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