How often have we said this? A person narrowly escapes injury in a close call, or they suddenly enjoys unexpected good fortune, and we say "Well, he must be living right!". I know that we do so jokingly, but it indicates a wrong idea concerning trials and blessings.
It reveals that we and many others seem to have an idea lurking in the back of our minds that the good prosper, while the evil suffer. In all honesty, much of what we see in life and some passages of Scripture seem to bear this out. We see that poverty often overtakes the sluggard, sickness the one who lives life carelessly, and imprisonment the criminal.
The Scriptures declare, "The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15). Also, "Evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him" (Ps. 140:11). We are all acquainted with men and women whose selfishness and greed cost them the love of family and friends and left them in despair. Generosity and concern for others would certainly have won these sad souls more happiness and true prosperity.
But, we would be foolish, however, to expect that an upright life will guarantee continuous peace and happiness.
The Bible never teaches this. Nor does it imply that the wicked will invariably suffer here on earth. David confessed to having seen the wicked prosper. "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree" (Ps. 37:35)
Scripture and history prove that many righteous men have been grievously afflicted. In spite of this evidence, the thinking remains that sinners will suffer more than saints. People seem to draw comfort or security from finding in those who suffer the cause of their grief -a flaw, a misdeed-which brought about the calamity. This was the attitude of these who brought the question to Jesus concerning those Galileans who died at Pilate's hand.
There were those present at Christ's crucifixion, months later, who saw His terrible suffering as the final evidence of His guilt, and the vindication of their rejection of Him. Their idea of God's justice held no place for the possibility that God could allow the innocent to suffer. They overlooked the many wise and good among their ancestors who had suffered. They misunderstood their own prophet Isaiah, who had foretold in detail how the Messiah would be afflicted.
If the Lord Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died so brutally, surely we can understand that suffering may be consistent with innocence.
Note the danger of self-righteous thinking. In Luke 15 we find the account of the prodigal son.
a. In v20, his father saw him with eyes of compassion and was thrilled that he had returned.
b. In v28, his brother saw him with jealous, angry, self-righteous eyes.
The father and the brother in Jesus' well known story of the Prodigal Son seem to illustrate the kinds of attitudes people may adopt concerning another's misfortune.
a. The older brother displayed the same spirit as the Jerusalem gossips whom Jesus rebuked: judgmental, insensitive, and self-righteous.
b. The father, on the other hand, acted to restore and comfort the sufferer.
c. The brother overestimated his own goodness and enlarged his brother's sin.
Rather than seeing in another's suffering a lesson for his own life, the self-righteous person concentrates on the possible guilt that may have brought on a brother's disaster. (Note v30). Remember, Jesus told them, "...except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
We must be careful, when we see others suffer, that we do not magnify their guilt and comfort ourselves with thoughts of our comparative innocence. None of us are exempt from grief; all are deserving of punishment. Such afflictions can serve as warnings to us, calling us from carnal ways and leading us to repentance.
Besides robbing us of a valuable lesson, a self-righteous attitude also prevents us from being of service to others in their need. The angry brother could not find it in his heart to furnish a warm welcome. Perhaps he and the men in Luke 13 reasoned, "If God thought these men so sinful as to be worthy of punishment, why should I involve myself in helping them?"
Having first condemned, they could not readily be compassionate. These men would have done better to hasten to the families of those who were killed, to comfort and help them in any way they could. Among these families there must have been little children left homeless, without care.
Instead of badgering Jesus, these citizens of the city could have been engaged in acts of charity toward those who were victims of Pilate's cruelty.
So we see two dangers we risk when we rashly ascribe another's suffering to his guilt. One is that, in the pride and deceitfulness of our heart, which is forever tempting us to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, we will fail to examine our lives and find the message God has for us in our brother's pain; the other is that, having judged our brother guilty, we shall soon cease to sympathize with him in his sorrow.
We shall become like the proud men denounced in Isaiah 65:5 who said, "Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou." We shall build a barrier between ourselves and the brother who needs us, and sadder still, between ourselves and God.