Proverbs 12:21 ESV
No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.
Well, here’s one that seems patently untrue. Good people get hurt a lot; wicked people get rich a lot. The problem with that interpretation, though, is a mistaken understanding of ‘ill’ and a consequent misunderstanding of ‘trouble’. The Bible is not here using these words to refer to the generic concepts. What do I mean by that? Let’s break the verse down into two sections and understand each section well before we put it back together.
The word used for ‘ills’ isn’t a generic ‘bad things’ word. The word, in context, is speaking of the results of depravity- in other words, judgement. Judgement is serious business. Nadab and Abihu, Israel, and Judah could all testify such were we willing and able to hear (Leviticus 10; Amos 7:11; Isaiah 5). In light of this definition, saying that “No ill befalls the righteous” is hardly surprising: judgement derives from disobedience, from unrighteousness, and the righteous therefore need not fear it.
Do not take this statement to mean that God’s people will not undergo great suffering. Christians, as a rule, suffer more than average, if they persist in following Christ, because Christians stand before the world and cry with Athanasius, ‘Christus “contra mundum”’ [Christ against the world] (Acts 5:41). Christians, further, are disciplined by God for their sin. This discipline is not the judgement which is give to the unrighteous; this judgement does not lead to perishing, as the judgement of the wicked does. Instead, the discipline which God gives to His people is that of a father, who turns his children from the path of destruction to the path of righteousness with the rod and the law, that they might live to His glory (Proverbs 13:24).
The second part of this proverb, though, does have to do with judgement which leads to destruction. Just as Israel devoted the cities of Canaan to fire, so God devotes the unrighteous to wrath, both in this life and in the next (Joshua 6:21; Romans 1:18, 2:5). God brings justice to the wicked, and even in this life they do not escape (Psalm 73). The internal rottenness of the unrighteous man’s life is a horror to all seeing men.
In The Lord of the Rings, Gollum is a man-like creature self-cursed with the possession of the Ring, an artefact of great power and greater evil. By this Ring he is consumed, and he centers his entire life around desiring and hoarding over it. The wicked man is so with his sin; he holds his sin dearer to him than he holds Christ, so dearly that he will sacrifice even his own eternal life to keep that sin. Yet just as the Ring stretched Gollum out and made his life a living hell in a sense all but literal, so the sin of the wicked cuts and destroys them (Romans 1:28-32).
For an example of this truth, look to the great people of today, those whose wickedness is on display. Politicians and actors never seem very happy, do they? People such as Pelosi, who openly advocate for and benefit by the slaughter of babies, are slowly withering husks who cling onto this life in desperate defiance of the next.
Thus, while the righteous are safe from the destruction of God’s judgement, from the ills which arise from their own follies and which God abandons them to, the wicked are cast down to their own wickedness. They fall into their own traps (Proverbs 26:27). They worship idols, whether realized or not, and they hold themselves and their desires higher than God and His glory (Romans 1:32). Thus, they are utterly destroyed, subject to eternal death in the fire of His wrath (Matthew 18:8).
Therefore, let us give glory to God, who gives to us His Son, that we might not be so destroyed, that our sins might be taken from us and the yoke of God’s purpose be laid upon our shoulders, that the good works of God Himself might be attributed to us in His sight (Romans 8:1-11). Let us tremble and praise Him above all, in thought, in word, and in deed (Psalms 150).
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.