In Job 21, Job pushes back in the last statement of round 2. He says in essence “You’re full of nonsense. Look around you! The wicked often prosper their whole lives. Trying to convince me I’ve sinned is a useless comfort.
Notice the opening. There is an air of resignation. The least you can do is listen, that’s how you can comfort me, after that, go ahead and “mock on.”
But second, notice that the heart of his response is to hold up the prosperity of the wicked for examination. He says, look, the wicked live to a ripe old age, “and grow mighty in power”. Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes… Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them…They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol…They say to God, 'Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. Things are good for them. It’s rare that they are snuffed out. “Behold, is not their prosperity in their hand? The counsel of the wicked is far from me. How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out? That their calamity comes upon them? That God distributes pains in his anger?” Three times he pushes back on contemporary wisdom, asking how often? He says, they need to drink the wrath of the almighty, but it’s not what usually happens. Job asks ironically “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him? He sees none. He quotes a proverb, 'God stores up their iniquity for their children' and says, I don’t see it “Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it”. Furthermore, the wicked don’t care if their families are miserable, as long as they are happy “For what do they care for their houses after them, when the number of their months is cut off?” Jobs point is, they don’t get what they have coming, and you know it. He sees almost no reward for following God, or rejecting God. In this, Job doesn’t want to deny God’s knowledge and righteousness “Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those who are on high?” But it seems to him, the wicked don’t get theirs. Where is the justice in that?
This is worth pondering, and mulling. D.A. Carson notes that “The heart of Job’s response is thought-provoking to anyone concerned with morality and justice: Not only is there no obvious pattern of temporal judgment on the transparently wicked, but all too frequently the reverse is the case: the wicked may be the most prosperous of the lot.” This feels unjust. Carson goes on “Even allowing for Job’s exaggerations—after all, some wicked people do suffer temporal judgments—his point should not be dismissed. If the tallies of blessing and punishment are calculated solely on the basis of what takes place in this life, this is a grossly unfair world. Millions of relatively good people die in suffering, poverty, and degradation; millions of relatively evil people live full lives and die in their sleep. We can all tell the stories that demonstrate God’s justice in this life, but what about the rest of the stories?
Ultimately, the mechanical morality system of Job’s three friends can’t stand up to the millions of hard cases. Job, like his friends, does not want to point the finger at God’s justice, but, the reality is that it is not a virtue, even in the cause of defending God’s justice, to distort the truth and twist things to fit your framework. In this life, it seems like the wicked do escape. But, scripture makes clear (see Psalm 37 and 73), that the wicked get theirs. In the end, justice will be done, after death. But that’s not the end, because scripture makes clear, ultimately, justice was done… ultimate justice was done, as the God of the universe dies the death we should have died, experiencing the ultimate injustice on the dark day at Calvary, so that the sins of the world might be justly dealt with.