Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither- whatever they do prospers
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
One of the most popular questions among skeptics is this: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
One of the greatest theologians of the modern Christian era, R.C. Sproul, responded to this question in a Q&A panel at a Ligonier conference over a decade ago; or less… I’m rather young and didn’t discover reformed theology until later in life.
The response Sproul had would shock many today, yet leave a hopeful reverberating cry for the believer: “Why do bad things happen to good people? There was only one good person in the history of the world, and he died.”
While the playful tact of Dr. Sproul made the group chuckle, the sentiment would leave the modern “theologian” offended and looking for nuance in the sentiment.
Defining what it means to be or to “exist” as a good person can have many different interpretations in our modern culture. Some would define a good person as “an individual who only takes things x distance.” An example would be, “well, I haven’t murdered anybody, therefore I’m a good person.” Or, “I’m engaging in unbiblical sexual relations outside and inside of marriage, but I haven’t raped anybody.”
Both of these examples, in my estimation, are simply swept under the rug of the bad and the ugly, so that the good can be all that we see on the floor whilst the rug of depravity climbs higher than Mount Everest.
For the Psalmist, a “good person” or somebody that will be blessed, is an individual who finds themselves in full submission to the law of the Lord. The imagery of a tree planted by streams of water indicates that the blessed individual finds their disposition as blessed because their very grounding of reality and flourishing is found within the created order instituted by God. The very fabric of reality, the dirt, remains stable because it was fashioned after the purposes of God. The creator is the one who determines the basis which we can determine as “good.”
The discussion around the philosophy of goodness certainly cannot be resolved in a simple seminarian blog post. However, a question that might help us answer the tension: What if I am faithful to the Lord and the circumstances in my life are less than fortunate? The answer, while complicated, is more simple than we may think.
While it is clear that no life solutions or prosperity are necessarily a+b = c, for the Psalmist, the end is in view: the growth and fruit of the righteous person is life under the oversight of the living God. Such sentiments as Romans 8:28 indicate that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him…” meaning not that the objects of life are awaiting a response for God’s intervention, but that God through the disaster of life and everything involved with it was under the command of the one who created the world. So the question shouldn’t be, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but instead be, “How long must the saint endure the broken world that surrounds them?”
And then the follow up questions: what becomes of the wicked person when they disrupt the righteous intentions God has for His world? What happens when the world perverts God’s created order? What happens when we act out of our sinful desires and submit to the bondage of the flesh rather than the liberty of Christ by His spirit?
The Christian faith isn’t a faith for those longing for instant gratification, but is rather as Eugene Peterson puts it: “a long obedience in the same direction.”