Good people prosper; bad people suffer.
That's a very attractive proposition. And you and I believe it, to some extent. We WANT the good to succeed and the bad to fail. And we hope that's the case. Sometimes, we even make the mistake of thinking it must always be the case.
I was in Los Angeles in 1977, at the opening of a little movie called Star Wars. You may have heard of it. Three things I remember about that day. One was waiting in a long line to get into the theater. Another was my cousin having had too much popcorn and coke and throwing up through his nose.
The third was the crowd's reaction when the evil Death Star blew up. The theatre exploded! People stood up, clapping and shouting. We were giddy with joy and deep satisfaction.
Can you think of any Hollywood movie where the hero dies a failure, and the villain lives and faces no comeuppance for his villainy?
No. Only the Europeans make films like that. Hollywood wouldn't let such a movie go into production. Because most people wouldn't go see it. And that's partly because it goes against our deeply engrained sense of how the universe ought to be.
What's more, that deeply engrained sense is deeply engrained in us exactly because we are made in the image of God. God created the universe and ordered it so that good people should prosper, and bad people should not prosper.
In other words, it is meet and right that those who live in alignment with God's gracious will and who are opened to his grace should prosper and enjoy great blessings. And it is equally meet and right that those who turn their backs on God's will and live only for themselves should be thwarted and not enjoy peace.
When we long for this order (the Bible calls it "justice"), we are in tune with the heart of God.
The trouble is: The cosmos just ain't what it used to be. Sometimes the good guys go down and stay down. And sometimes the bad guys win and walk away. And that's the end of the story.
So when we overlay the "good, blessed; bad, suffer" grid onto this disordered world, too often it doesn't match up. If we try to force it to match up, we can cause a lot more sorrow and suffering than is necessary.
To put it another way, when we take the true statement that "good people should prosper, and bad people should not" and turn it around and say "those who prosper must be righteous (since they're prospering), and those who suffer must be sinners (since they're suffering)"--we have said way more than we are allowed to say.
The Book of Job holds up a big, fat question mark to that distorted idea. It's an idea which has been around for a long time, and is with us still.
Job's story also helps us to remember that, in a fallen world, sometimes tears are the more fitting response to reality....