Why do the evil wrongdoers always win out in the world over the ones who try to do the right thing?
The reason why it sometimes seems as though evil wrongdoers win in this world is because this world is a fallen one under the influence and lawlessness of that tyrant, the devil. Paul teaches that Satan has “blinded the minds of them which believe not” and has rightly earned the title “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has filled this world with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). His champions win power through contention (2 Nephi 28:4). They preach God as a thing of the past (vs. 5-6). Their lives are hedonistic, or built on delayed payment. If they do worship a god, he is crafted in their own corrupted image (vs. 7-8). They are rewarded with the “things of this world, and … the honors of men” (D&C 121:35).
President Joseph Fielding Smith recognized his own discomfort in such a world and addressed a similar question.
“[A member of the Church once said that he] could not quite understand when he paid his tithing and kept the Word of Wisdom, was prayerful, and tried to be obedient to all the commandments the Lord had given him, and yet he had to struggle to make a living; while his neighbor violated the Sabbath day, I suppose he smoked and drank; he had what the world would call a good time, he paid no attention to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and yet he prospered.
“You know, we have a great many members of the Church that ponder that over in their hearts and wonder why. Why this man seems to be blessed with all the good things of the earth — incidentally, many of the bad things that he thinks are good — and yet so many members of the Church are struggling, laboring diligently to try to make their way through the world.
“The answer is a simple thing. If I sometimes, and once in a while I do, go to a football game or a baseball game or some other place of amusement, invariably I will be surrounded by men and women who are puffing on cigarets or cigars or dirty pipes. It gets very annoying, and I get a little disturbed. I will turn to Sister Smith, and I will say something to her, and she will say, ‘Well, now, you know what you have taught me. You are in their world. This is their world.’ And that sort of brings me back to my senses. Yes, we are in their world, but we do not have to be of it.
So, as this is their world, we are living in, they prosper, but, my good brethren and sisters, their world is coming to its end. …
The day will come when we will not have this world. It will be changed. We will get a better world. We will get one that is righteous, because when Christ comes, he will cleanse the earth.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. Chapter 19, In the World but Not of the World (the entire chapter does a great job of addressing this question)).
Elder Packer echoed President Smith’s remarks about perspective, reminding us that better understanding comes when we view the complete picture.
“The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled ‘Premortal Life.’ The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26-28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, the ‘Second Estate.’ And Act III, ‘Life After Death or Eternal Life.’
“In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I.
“The production has many plots and sub-plots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!” (The Play and the Plan)
Act III is where the full reconciliations and come-uppances occur. We don’t find them in Act II. Instead, Act II often ends with those characters we recognize as villains gaining the upper hand and cruel immorality winning the day. The witness of the Lord’s apostles and the whisperings of the Spirit assure me that there is an Act III for all of us with a just judgment scene. And yet, they have also testified that Act II is not as bleak as we’ve painted. To turn Paul’s phrase around, if in the next life only we have a hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (see 1 Corinthians 15:19).
The Lord has taught us that in contrast to the unrighteous dominion of the world, there is a real power on earth – the “powers of heaven … controlled [and] handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). And, if truth be told, this world’s carnal system comes with a tremendous tax. The “works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like” (Galatians 5:19-21). In contrast, the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The saints have been called out of this world (see D&C 1:36 and D&C 133:7). Our Master has shown us the way in this, separating Himself from this world (John 8:23). As difficult as leaving Babylon may be, we must continue until we’ve also removed Babylon from our hearts. It will do little good to flee to Zion if we are planting Egypt’s cucumbers when we get there (Numbers 11:4-6). Or to look back nostalgically on the disease that kept us spiritually sick. Remember Lot’s wife.