And they say, “How could God know, and is there knowledge with the Most High?” Psalm 73:11 (Robert Alter translation)
Know – Put this verse into the ancient near-Eastern world. Is there any doubt that God knows? Of course not. God knows everything that happens. But in the ancient near-East, God (and the gods) doesn’t really care. That’s the conclusion of the wicked. So what if God apprehends all that happens on earth. He doesn’t really care about all that. He is busy in heaven being God. On earth, He is an absentee landlord.
The conclusion of the wicked is more than justified. Think about the evidence. Wicked men are not immediately punished. In fact, sometimes they aren’t punished at all. Lying, cheating, adultery, murder and all the other mortal sins continue unabated. Money buys immunity. And miracles? Well, they are explained by science. Only the weak-minded hold on to the idea of God’s involvement in the lives of men. Step back a few feet and you will not see any evidence for God in human history. You will see cause and effect, natural law, human will and fate. Nothing more.
Do you object? Do you still want to claim God is presently active? Then explain to me how a God of perfect goodness can allow so much human suffering. Explain to me why innocent children are tortured and die. Explain life’s injustices. Where is God? Explain to me how it is that even I can commit sin after sin, day after day, and nothing happens. I can shake my fist at heaven, proclaim my own sovereignty and there is no reprisal. Where is God now?
Ancient near-Eastern religions absolutely believed that the gods existed and that they were responsible for life on earth. But the gods were fickle and self-absorbed. They didn’t care what men did as long as it didn’t interfere with their contentment. The wicked operated on the belief that God didn’t pay attention to the tiny matters of human existence. Therefore, they were immune from prosecution, not because they were righteous but because there was no judgment. It is exactly the same today. Men still operate as if God doesn’t care. How else can we explain the actions of the wicked? If divine judgment were instantaneous, no wicked act would even be contemplated. But since judgment doesn’t seem to be in the cards at all, the only way to live in the world successfully is to get away with as much as you can – and then buy your way out of the rest.
This raises a question for believers: How do we know that God desires righteousness and punishes wickedness? Most of the time we can’t point to tangible evidence. So how do we know? The answer is a paradigm shift. We trust what God says, even if we don’t see the immediate evidence. That is the same as saying we have faith in Him. The statement that God cares about the actions of human beings is a statement of faith, not a conclusion from the evidence. It takes a change in paradigm to see the world this way. Perhaps that’s why it is so difficult to explain to an outsider. “Come in and look at the world from my point of view. You will see it differently.” Until the invitation is accepted, the wicked seem justified. Perhaps evangelism should begin with despair over the lack of judgment instead of the offer of a wonderful plan.
Topical Index: know, yada’, judgment, wicked, Psalm 73:11