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It's difficult to live in a world of corruption, abuse, and mindless cruelty and not experience a recurring spiritual nausea. When one witnesses senseless injustice and the prosperity of those responsible for it, nausea turns to indignation and righteous rage.

I know a little of what the psalmist meant when he cried out, "How long, O Lord, how long?" Sometimes the question, "How long?" doesn't spring from a speculative curiosity that says, "I want to know when," but from an agitated conscience and a sense of moral outrage. "People who feel this way," observes Ron Allen, "want to know when the Lord will return because they cannot abide wickedness abounding, not because they want to pinpoint a date in a chart" (90).

This is the mood of Psalm 10. "Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (v. 1) The psalmist's "why?" isn't because of some personal harm that has come to him. It's not "Why did this happen to me?" but rather "Why would God allow such things to occur and do nothing, if indeed he is the King of all the earth?"

The question eating away at his soul is, "Why do you seem so remote, Lord, when evil is so near? Why do you seem indifferent to the oppression of the righteous by the wicked? Why do those who hate you prosper and those who love you suffer? Why do the unrighteous and unbelieving get along so well, often at the expense of your children?"

Why does God seem absent and far off and concealed from us at those times when he is needed most? Why? The psalmist's anguish is not because there is evil and corruption and oppression but because God seems to ignore it, having withdrawn his gracious presence.

It's not a pleasant scene, but we need to take note of the ways of the wicked:

"In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.' His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them. He says in his heart, ‘I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.' His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net. The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might. He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it'" (Psalm 10:2-11).

There are wicked people, and then there are wicked people! Here we read of the latter, those "whose wickedness is boundless, whose conscience is seared, whose humanity is beastly" (Allen, 94). This is the person who's so convinced that divine judgment is a myth that he doesn't even bother to hide his desires and evil intentions. He worships his own lusts. It's one thing to be a sinner; it's another to be proud of it, and still worse to indulge your sinful desires as if to worship them! This person boasts of that which ought to be his shame.

If this individual ever thinks of God, it's with contempt and disdain (v. 4b). He doesn't deny that God exists. He's just convinced that God is either unwilling or unable to judge. In other words, to this person's way of thinking, God is simply irrelevant.

This man believes he has total immunity from divine justice. He interprets divine longsuffering as divine indifference. As far as he's concerned, judgment delayed is judgment denied. If God hasn't done anything about it by now, he never will. He says, "God is too far away, too distant, to take note of what we do here on earth. He doesn't see it. Even if he sees it, he doesn't care. Even if he cares, he can't do anything about it. There's no requital, no recompense." Or so he believes. "There's no pay off; no bottom line." So he lives in the most morally cavalier manner imaginable.

I call this sort of person a practical atheist. He knows God exists, but lives as if he didn't. True atheists, if there are any, aren't necessarily morally dangerous. Often they live civil, decent lives. Practical atheists, on the other hand, are a real threat. It isn't the absence of God that drives them but the absence of any sense or recognition of justice and morality. Anything goes. There are no rules because there is no retribution.

The problem is that often such people seem to have the upper hand! It seems at times as if they are right: justice doesn't exist, morality doesn't matter. This creates a strong temptation to jettison our faith and join them. After all, "what good [are] a belief and a moral life which appear to be so out of place in the harsh realities of an evil world? Indeed, would there not be a certain wisdom in the oppressed joining ranks with the oppressors?" (Craigie, 127) The temptation is to say: "If there is so much evil, it must mean there is no God."

But note well: If there is no God, there is no such thing as evil! If there is no God, there is no criterion or standard by which anything can be morally evaluated. You might have preferences, opinions, likes, and dislikes, but without an eternal and absolute God you have no basis for saying "This is good and that is bad." Evil is evil for only one reason: it is the antithesis of God who is good. Without God, evil may well be good. Carson explains:

"The dimensions of evil are thus established by the dimensions of God; the ugliness of evil is established by the beauty of God; the filth of evil is established by the purity of God; the selfishness of evil is established by the love of God" (44).

Another temptation that is stirred by the evil around us is: "O.K., there is a God and he is good, but he's just too weak to help," contrary to the consistent witness of Scripture that testifies repeatedly of his omnipotence. Also, if it were true, we would have no assurance how the world will turn out. Odds are that evil might just as easily triumph as good.

Finally, if true, we would have no assurance that this God can help us or comfort us. "He may be able to give us quite a bit of sympathy, and even groan along with us; but he clearly cannot help us - not now, and not in the future. There is no point praying to such a god and asking for his help. He is already doing the best he can, poor chap, but he has reached the end of his resources" (Carson, 31).

The psalmist has had enough! He's tired of hiding in his foxhole. So he emerges in vv. 12-18 with an ancient battle cry on his lips: "Arise O God!" (cf. Num. 10:35). Read it with me:

"Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account'? But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none. The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more" (vv. 12-18).

Contrary to the presumptuous conclusion of the wicked, the psalmist knows that God does see all (v. 14a); he is not distant; eventually he will act. He prays that justice would be exacted until not a single deed of wrong remains undetected and unpunished (v. 15). Ultimately, nothing will be concealed from God.

With confidence he declares that, notwithstanding what we see and hear, God is King. The day is coming when the wicked will be no more, when evil men will terrify the righteous no longer. It may not be today, but certainly some day. If we are not prepared to take the long view of things and evaluate the present in the light of God's promise concerning the future, we will succumb to the temptation and give in to the ways of the wicked.

So why does God wait? Why is justice delayed? In the first place, and as strange as it may sound, God's delay is not a sign of indifference, but kindness! His reluctance to judge quickly provides an extended opportunity for the wicked to repent (see Rom. 2:4).

Furthermore, God is delaying judgment so that the cup of the wicked might be filled to overflowing; so that there might be no question about the justice of their punishment when it finally does come (see Rom. 2:5-6).

Finally, God's judgment is delayed until the fullness of God's family comes in. God delays the return of his Son not because he has overlooked the wicked but because he still has his elect to save (2 Peter 3:9). When the chosen of God have all come in, justice will prevail.

In the meantime, we live with injustice, cruelty, oppression, the prosperity of the wicked, and the suffering of the righteous. But one day "the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel" (1 Thess. 4:16a). What will he shout? What will he say? "ENOUGH!" Enough sin, enough abuse, enough injustice, enough oppression, enough of the wicked. Enough!

Desperate for that day,