Believers suffering and atheists enjoying
In our lives we continually see that, as Ecc 8: 14 states, there are wicked people who seem to live happy lives; meanwhile, there are also believers who suffer. There are two explanations for this apparent contradiction: a) if God were to immediately execute anyone who commits a sin, nobody, or very few people would dare to do bad deeds, but their wicked feelings would still stay in their souls; b) both, pro-God and anti-God do good deeds and commit sins, and both require retribution. Let's explain.
From what is said in Ecc 8: 14 and from the observation of daily life, we realize that God loving people suffer what we deem God's enemies should suffer, and vice versa. This same idea we can get from Psalms 17: 13-14; 73: 2-5 and 12-14. Let's read them.
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous; I said that this also is vanity. ( Ecc 8: 14 )
Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down, deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword. From men which are thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure; they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. ( Ps 17: 13-14 )
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
( Ps 73: 2-5 )
Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. ( Ps 73: 12-14 )
There are several reasons for this to happen.
First, not everything that an anti God person does is negative; nor everything a God loving does is positive. God is just He won't fail to punish what is wrong nor will He fail to reward what is good. This reward and this punishment have two phases: the physical and the eternal; or better said, the earthly or temporary, and the spiritual or eternal. This concept is something that can be observed and also can be read in the Bible.
When David committed adultery ( II Sam 12: 13 ), God forgave the eternal consequences of his sins when Nathan said The LORD also hath put away thy sin ; but God kept on David, the earthly and temporary consequences of his actions, which were prophesied in II Sam 12: 10-11 and 14.
We can draw this same conclusion from our observation of life around us. A man murders another, and because of this we know he will receive eternal condemnation; but he could also suffer earthly consequences: maybe he'll go to jail, or be hated by the murdered man's relatives and friends, or if he can escape, he will always live in anxiety, etc.. It is to say that he will have eternal and earthly consequences. The same thing with a thief: persecuted and despised, in addition to his eternal condemnation. The adulterer, besides the eternal punishment in hell, will get the betrayed husband's hate, and maybe even aggression. The whoremonger will also have an eternal condemnation and earthly consequences, like venereal diseases. No more examples are necessary in order to demonstrate that the punishment of sins has two phases: earthly and eternal. But remember, God is just; He won't fail to punish wrongdoings nor to reward good deeds.
Now, let's apply all this knowledge, taking into consideration life after death. Those who love God will eternally live without suffering. Therefore, where will they receive the chastisement for their sins? Only in this present life. God won't permit his debts to pass over after death. The retribution for all sins that a Christian committed, commits, and will commit, has to be done here, in this life. That's why to the pro-God people happeneth according to the work of the wicked. They have to pay at least a percentage of what they have done.
Just the contrary happens to the anti-God people. All of their good deeds have to be rewarded here, in this very life. God won't permit that their good deeds are not rewarded now, because after death they will receive nothing. That is why there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.
Also, there are wicked men that work in favor of God's will, for some reason or another. God rewards those people now, in this life. A good biblical example is found in Ezk 29: 17-20 where we see God rewarding Nebuchadrezzar for his effort in destroying Tyrus. Another good example is in Second Kings 10: 28-31, where we see that God rewards Jehu even though the context clearly tells us that he was not a pro-God man.
And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying: Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled, yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it. Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD. ( Ezk 29: 17-20 )
As we saw in the former passage, Nebuchadrezzar served a great service destroying Tyrus, and because of that, God awarded him the honor of becoming the conqueror of Egypt. Something similar happened to Jehu.
Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan. And the LORD said unto Jehu: Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel. But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin. ( Second Kings 10: 28-31 )
As we have read, even though Jehu was not a follower of God, even though he kept the worshiping of the calves, God rewarded him because he destroyed Ahab's family, and Baal, out of Israel. Letting him have the honor of establishing his own dynasty rewarded him. Here we find again a wicked man, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.
Another reason not to punish or reward immediately and evidently what the creatures do, is that if God did so all wicked men would fake to be good, for self conservation instinct sake. This would add confusion in many creatures, which would see people going to hell that behaved while in the flesh.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil ( Ecc 8: 11 )
In this way, because a sentence is not imposed on the wicked immediately, he keeps showing his wicked feelings, he does not hide them. That's why it is good that doubt remains about if God really punishes or not. Because human beings always tend to believe what they like, in that way those who believe in Jesus are those who wish that God had provided a system of salvation only dependent of Himself that helps us to change our evil feelings and desires. On the contrary, those who want to save themselves, because they do not want their evil feelings and desires to be changed, won't believe in Jesus.
Nevertheless, though it is true that immediate and evident reward or punishment is very rare, it is my personal experience in the 51 years I have lived, after having lived an intense public and private life, and having observed the events in which I was actor or observer, that God never ever forsakes his own. He punishes and rebukes them, to provoke them to think, to abandon their evil deeds or thoughts, but after the person repents and consolidates his faith, all those bad things cease in a miraculous way, and good things start happening. ( This was written 22 years ago when I was 51 years old ).
Another reason why prosperity and success exists in anti-God lives, is that they endeavor to reach their goals. If a person sets bricks, he builds a wall; it does not matter whether he is good or evil, the wall will grow. Why? Because the world is constituted on laws and fundamentals that God established. These are immutable, except in very few occasions in which a miracle takes place.
It is the same case as if two people, a good one and a bad one, who have climbed high up, fall down. The good one is not going to stay floating in the air nor fall slowly. Why? Because though it is sad that the good one gets hurt, it is also true that before he climbed up there, God had already established his immutable law of gravity. If the good one defied the law, or he did not have it well into consideration when he performed his maneuvers up there, he falls the same way the bad one does. It is great haughtiness to expect that God suspend His laws effects in honor of our stupidity, stubbornness, arrogance, carelessness, lack of obedience to the preexisting rules, or even our sin. To do so would spoil creatures, they would get use to being foolish, careless, arrogant, etc..
He who endeavors and uses the established rules in a smart way, will get to his goal much easier and faster, no matter whether he is good or evil. He who sets bricks builds a wall. He who gets money from several sources and keeps it, gets rich, no mater how he is. He who uses all kind of means good or evil, to get money will become richer faster than the one who only uses honest methods. Therefore, it is only logical that the crook is going to get to his goal easier and faster than the honest.
The crook is going to reach his goal easier and faster but, he is not going to be happy there. Maybe many people will think that he is happy, because they see that he has reached his goal, and so they assume that he must be happy; but is not. The same way that physical laws, established by God, exist, which cannot be violated by good or bad people without suffering, there are also spiritual laws that God has established, which cannot be violated by good or bad people without suffering. Just as the good and the bad fall down, nobody who departs from God's established spiritual laws to live a life or reach his goal will be happy there. These are also immutable laws. Just because you cannot see the spiritual laws, does not mean that they do not exist, or that you are not going to feel its power; you neither see gravity, but you feel its power.
A man, who did not know the existence of gravity, and another, who heard about it but did not believe it, fell from high above. Both felt its effects, but they did not recognize that it was the law of gravity; they said that they just fell. Their poor intelligence did not allow them to link the abstract knowledge of gravity, with the consequences of having broken that law.
The same way humankind reacts when they feel unhappy, even Christians. They do not want to admit that it is due to the breaking of laws that they do not know, or laws that they do not want to know or to believe, or laws that they know and believe but do not want to obey. This rule is to be applied to pro-God and to anti-God people. If you believe or obey gravity's law only when you are in the air, but not when you are in the water, you will not suffer a fall, but you can drown if you don't know how to swim or if you get tired of swimming. He, who only knows, admits, obeys or applies some of the immutable physical or spiritual laws that God has established in His creation, may not suffer some pains or inconveniences, but will suffer other pains or inconveniences. Maybe he doesn't fall, but may drown.
If we very carefully take care of the motor of a car, but don't take care of the seats and the body, the car will perform perfectly, but will look awful. If we take care of the seats and body, but not the motor, the car is going to look beautiful, but will not perform as expected.
If we break some divine laws and obey others, we are going to be happy in some issues, but very unhappy in others. Suffering also has to do with how greatly we defy a law. Jumping out from a fifth floor, and jumping out of a car roof or a truck bed does not have the same consequences. There is some tolerance, but be aware not to go farther.
For this lack of wisdom of linking the knowledge of having transgressed divine laws and suffering the consequences is why we hear so often the foolishness of many Christians blaming the unknown for their sufferings: these are tests brother, they moan, or these are mysteries brother. Really, there is nothing mysterious. Everything is crystal clear, but you do not want to admit it: you are suffering the natural consequences of your transgressions. These are not tests; nobody is interested in testing you. Do you think that you are like Job, and that you deserve to be tested in the honorable way he was tested? Come on! Don't be that conceited!
Not all that is bad has to happen to anti-God people, nor all that is good has to happen to the pro-God. It depends on what laws each one breaks or obeys. If you throw rocks up, don't say later that God broke your head, or that it is a mystery the fact that your head was broken, or that God is testing you by means of breaking your head. You and only you are to be blamed for doing against what is established. Because not every rock that is thrown up falls in the head of he who throws it, there are many who are encouraged to throw them. If every rock would fall on the head of he who throws it up, very few people would dare to do it. If so, we would never know who is bad enough to throw rocks up when he knows that he is not going to get hurt.
God knows what He does. He has everything under control. His laws have a certain tolerance, but no one can go farther without suffering its consequences. Life and bad deeds function as if we dwell under a high and horizontal flat tent, held by four poles. Once in a while the dweller puts his hand out and throws a rock on this flat roof, and nothing happens. He does it several times, and still nothing happens. But when the weight of the rocks that are on the tent's roof gets to the limit of tolerance of the tent or the poles, next time, when he throws in just a very small rock, or if the wind starts blowing a little stronger, all this will cave in on his head. All these rocks that we have thrown on the roof, that we thought could be done without consequences, fall on our heads. Maybe we can fix the tent again and keep dwelling there with more or less fear and anxiety, but try not to throw more rocks on the roof, because the tent is already deteriorated, and it will be easier to cave in on you again.
This is exactly the same way our lives function regarding our sins and bad deeds. We keep accumulating them in some place up there and at any moment they may fall on us. So it is wiser for us not to keep sinning, because in the less expected moment everything may fall on us.