“Will he prosper? Will he who does such things escape? Can he break a covenant and still be delivered?” — Ezekiel 17:15b
In Psalm 57:6 David says something that we see frequently in the Bible, that the wicked dig a pit to entrap someone else and fall in it themselves. This is not a narrowly tailored statement intended only to apply to David’s particular situation. It is repeated broadly enough in so many places in the Scriptures that we ought to take it as a general principle, that whenever a man seeks to do evil against someone else, he always ends up hurting himself instead. When I was talking about this at breakfast this morning, Allie, 5, says, “Oh yes! That’s what always happens in the cartoons!” For a second I thought she was being foolish, but then I remembered watching Bugs Bunny as a kid. You’d see the coyote rig up a complicated system to drop an anvil on the roadrunner as he went past. And you knew that eventually, one way or another, that anvil was falling on Wile E.’s head, not the roadrunner’s. You knew this because you’d seen the cartoon before, but also because that answers to a deep sense of justice within us, one articulated in Psalm 57 and so many other places. The wicked dig a pit and fall into it themselves. We even have a term for it– “poetic justice.” It’s when a man is defeated by the very evil he intended for others. Our literature, even our children’s cartoons, all reflect this deep sense of justice built into us. I think especially our children’s entertainment, since it is necessary to be popular with children to appeal to unsophisticated primal urges.
The most satisfying roadrunner cartoons to me were ones where the coyote would rig up some system to get the roadrunner, and then it just wouldn’t work, the anvil wouldn’t fall or the boulder would miss him, so Wile E. would just chase after him for a while, and later in the cartoon, having completely forgotten about his original trap, he would walk right back into it and it would fall on his head.
How intolerable would it be to really think there was no justice at all! That a wicked man could do wicked and just get away with it. That a man like Genghis Khan could murder and rape his way across all of Asia, build a great empire on other men’s bones and ashes, live in fantastic luxury, wield tremendous power, die an old man, and then… nothing. That’s it. He had an awesome life by his standards, the only standards that actually matter for him if there is no God. And he got this life by doing evil to others.
Most of the time, though, a man’s evil catches up to him to some degree even in this life. Most of the time, his wicked deeds cause every man’s hand to be against him, as he makes himself intolerable and hated. Legal, financial, emotional, relational, medical problems plague a man who lives by deception and lies. And whenever we think someone’s getting away with evil we should always remember that there’s a lot about that man’s life we don’t know and don’t see. We don’t know what he thinks about at two in the morning when he can’t sleep. And there’s always that anvil hanging, forgotten, waiting to fall. Sometimes God lets a Genghis Khan or a George Soros pile up evil all his life, and that shouldn’t make us envious of them, but fearful and compassionate, because that anvil is just getting bigger and bigger.
This gives me a great sense of comfort. There is so much evil in the world, and so many seem to just skate by, to profit by their evil, to be praised for it. I know that God is just, and by faith I can trust that one day that justice will come. But consistency demands that I apply that same sense of justice to myself, and think about the anvils I’ve left hanging around in my life, think about the evil I sought to do others, or all the times I desired to please myself without thought of how it would affect other people. And that sends me running to the cross of Christ. We know deep down that there is no escaping this justice. Nobody gets away with anything. So if we are to be delivered, it will only be on God’s terms, and that means Christ, the One who threw Himself in the path of the retribution which we deserved.