Truth is a little tricky to corner.
It does not surrender itself easily, requiring of its seeker a bit of diligence to prove his or her worth.
Biblical wisdom traffics in two dynamics that work out this evasiveness in space and time.
First, it insists that true security is the fruit of living well. Usually, this means living justly and with relational integrity.
Second, biblical wisdom affirms that self-interested efforts to manipulate creation to the disadvantage of others and the advantage of oneself is counter-productive. The one who digs a hole for the innocent to fall into more often than not stumbles into it himself.
The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death. (Proverbs 14:32 ESV)
This enigmatic little proverb sounds a bit sunny if the wisdom principles that undergird it have not come to be known. Yet resting on wisdom’s foundation, it makes perfect sense of its world and the range of human beings who inhabit it.
The wicked does not act wickedly for the hell of it. The thief, the assassin, the slanderer, the unjust judge expect to get something out of their world-contorting manipulations. By appearances, they often do. There’s a reason the fashion of the barrio comes to mimic the drug dealer’s style. People want his money and covet his women.
Yet the proverb dares to affirm, somewhat counter-evidentially, that the demise of the evil-doer is often the work of his own hands. Evil swings back upon itself and kicks its practitioner in the teeth. Not always, but often. A bit of careful inspection shows this to be true.
At the other end of the integrity scale, the righteous finds refuge in his death.
This is far from the eventual Christian teaching of life after death. Yet biblical wisdom anticipates that the benefits of living well go farther than the evidence allows us to see. There is more, even here, than meets the eye.
A simple cost-benefit analysis of how to live—well or unjustly—will get you part of the way home, the Proverbs instruct us. The reward of the just and the recompense of the wicked is, to some degree, evident in the course of events if these are carefully scrutinized. But we can only see so far, and often resolution of important matters lies beyond that horizon.
The righteous may die in his justice, this is not to be denied.
But don’t worry, the proverb says. Even there, you’ll be OK.