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