On my journey with Christ, there have been quite a few things I have given up, and frankly, there have been times when I miss those things. While we should not be envious of one another, sometimes it is difficult to see a world that can be so unrepentantly carefree. The temptations of the flesh do effect us all equally, after all. However, Psalm 37 addresses these feelings, and in the process it challenges what is considered to be the traditional Christian view of Hell. Is there any reason that we should envy those who will be rewarded with destruction?
Do Not Envy, For They Wither Quickly
Our time in this world is limited, and as followers of Christ we have committed to a certain, very narrow, path. However, the people around us may not have made such a commitment, and as a result they are not held to the same moral standards to which we attempt to hold ourselves. Our neighbors do what they feel is necessary to achieve happiness in this world, filling the gap within their souls with material goods at any cost. As they do, it is natural for us to observe their material success and find ourselves feeling as though we are missing out. In this psalm, we are reminded that our rewards are not of this world, and that material goods mean nothing in the larger picture.
Society has recognized that material happiness is fleeting, leaving us almost as quickly as it arrives. Those of us who are a little older understand the joy that comes with purchasing a new vehicle, but we also remember how badly we desired to get rid of our old vehicle which once brought us that very same joy but no longer does so. It has become obvious that this will typically be the case, regardless of the things we purchase. Lasting joy cannot be found in the things of this world and we should not envy those who have placed temporal things above all else as their joy will likely be just as temporal as their things.
Be Preserved Forever
Rather than focusing on the things of this world, we should focus on that which is eternal. Our relationship with God is everlasting, and for those who will keep that relationship in the highest regard, their rewards will be everlasting as well. Loving God, loving mankind, and doing our best to be just and good will reap happiness not only in this life but also in the next, this promise is made consistently throughout the Bible and God does not seem to be the type to break a promise.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:15-17
From this verse, also from John 3:16 and many others, we see that loving God and our neighbors is the narrow path which leads to eternal life. However, if eternal life is the reward for living a life pleasing to God, what is the punishment? Surely, the punishment is not also eternal life?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.John 3:16
If believing in Him prevents us from perishing, it only stands to reason that disbelief results in us perishing.
Like Smoke, They Will Fade Away
This psalm presents many verses explaining why we should not be concerned with the material success of others in this world by contrasting it against the idea that those who place value on material objects will perish, just as this same objects will eventually perish.
“they wither quickly like grass”
“the wicked will be no more”
“they will not be found”
“enemies of the LORD will perish like the glory of the fields”
“They will vanish; like smoke they will fade away.”
“But the transgressors will all be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off.”
The words chosen to describe the future of those who reject the Lord do not sound like words describing eternal torment, but they instead have a sound of finality, a sound that implies the end of life in any form. While this may sound like an easier way out for those who receive this punishment, it represents the loss of hope, the absence of any possibility of redemption, forgiveness, or salvation for these souls.
Imagine what it might be like for these poor souls, to live life thinking that they have no future. To die believing that it will be their end, only to realize that they were mistaken. To realize that they could truly have eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation, peace and love forever, but that they themselves were too arrogant, too certain, and far too late to be redeemed now. Imagine those brief moments after death, before being condemned to the everlasting punishment of eternal destruction. I am certain that in those moments there will be a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth, for if they had any hope at all of salvation, those moments would be spent pleading instead. Just as the psalmist posits to us in Psalm 37, is there truly anything here to be envious of?