Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

I've been working on my dissertation all evening. I'm tired of writing about theoretical things, so this post is going to be something different.

I was driving home from the library late this afternoon, and I heard myself say, out loud, "God has blessed me with so many things I do not deserve." I don't really know where it came from, other than that it is an idea that is built into the tenets of the religion in which I was raised. Somehow there are still so many remnants of that religion, both good and bad, in my consciousness. I tend to be a person who is always surrounded by some trauma, disaster, or catastrophe of some kind. Somehow, though, I never feel sorry for myself, because I always have a crazy story to tell.

The latest catastrophe was me falling on the ice and crushing my dog's foot--not one broken bone, but countless broken bones. It's so my style to go extreme, all the way. But there have been a few really great things that have happened for me over the past couple of weeks as well. And so tonight, without realizing it, I was reflecting on them in a rare moment of positive thinking; I say "rare," since I tend to be a "my glass is two thirds empty" kind of person.

But as soon as the word "blessed" came out my mouth, it was crushed with the resounding biblical lament of King David: "Why do the wicked prosper?" And I thought to myself, how would one know if she was blessed? Then it occurred to me, that perhaps I am not blessed. Perhaps I am downright wicked, and that is why I prosper--a chilling thought.


myshkin2 said...

How about chucking David (stepping on your pup surely doesn't match sending your mistress's husband to death in battle) and jumping a few biblical books ahead to Job. The end of your post sounds a bit like one of Job's accusers--so here you've been "colonized" by them. (I know it's so hard for all of us to give up the Deuteromonistic view of the moral universe.) But doesn't Job learn the hard way that the universe is a mess--that both good and wicked prosper (and suffer!) and that we still have to be good, just because, and not for any external reason or hope? Oh, and congratulations on the post-doc!!!

kcwc said...

See, I tend to think that "blessings" and "desert" have nothing to do with one another, and that's actually the point of the "why the wicked?" complaint. You can't win "blessings," and you can't lose them either.
Illusions of control.
(btw, too bad you will be coming our direction, just when we're leaving)

Monica said...


Thanks!! Now there's a crazy thought--the idea of being colonized by one of Job's accusers! Interesting that you brought up the book of Job--the connection makes sense. Then again, the creepy possibility that the "good" can be tested and purposely afflicted is unsettling--a very disburbing "explanation" for suffering, though in the end that's not the point of Job at all.


You're right. It's just so strange how I, sometimes, slide into that default mode of thinking--it's especially strange considering the fact that so much of my own work has to do with dispelling the notion of theodicy.

Casey said...

Monica, I just want to say "amen" or whatever -- this question often perplexes me. And it only gets worse with the NT, where Jesus is obviously a sandal wearing hippie on the fringes of a material culture, and Pharisees are obviously Republican country-clubbers who have been "blessed" up the wazoo.

I know this makes me a little Jeremiah Wrightish or whatever, but at some level it resonates. Over break I found myself talking to my mom about Hillary Clinton and she said, "None of my lady-friends would vote for her!" And when I asked her, "Mom, do you even know any women over 50 who aren't college educated?," it stopped her in her tracks... I saw that look of realization--that "maybe I'm a hypocritical pharisee" feeling flash across her face.

Like you said, chilling.

Mxrk said...

Perhaps you're wicked?

But seriously, this is one of the key concepts in my mother's articulation of Atheism: that God, in order to be God, must be all good and all powerful, so when bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) one or the other of those principles isn't working.

Of course you could go the "moves in mysterious ways" route, or "he's testing us," or "you get what you deserve in the end," and so on. It's rote.

My question is, if the wicked (like us) prosper, how can you tell the difference between a universe with a God and one without? Is there a difference, on the everyday level?

Monica said...

Mxrk--you know me too well. But, seriously, good question. I don't know how we can tell. I guess it depends who you ask. My parents see God everywhere--for them, even the fact that I got a good job is a miracle from God, rather than evidence of how hard I have worked to earn it. But ask someone living on the streets, or in Darfur, or in a Nazi death camp, and I think they would have a hard time seeing God anywhere.

I guess it's all about us, at the end of the day.

Casey--I like your Jesus analogy. Jesus is what redeems (no pun intended) Christianity for me; it's Paul who screws everything up in my estimation. I guess if Jesus is supposed to be this iconic example of a good person, well, he doesn't end up being so "blessed," now does he?