If God Is Loving Then Why Does He Punish People?

On Behalf of Dr. Kevin Baackwell
| April 21, 2023
Category: Inspiration

At the start let me say that the title of this article is chosen to be intentionally provocative based on the common criticisms of God in our culture, but I argue that it is easily refuted in Scripture. This will be the focus of the article.

The idea of God punishing assumes that He is strictly punitive in his character. Does God really punish or is he simply giving people the path they choose, the narrow road which leads to life or the broad way which leads to death? (Matt. 7:13-14). Is God really punishing or simply giving the person their own volitional choice?

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. Those who knock, it is opened.” 

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

God desires for all people to know him and live eternally with him.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

The term “not willing” denotes a strong determination or a full resolve.

“Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The Bible consistently points to the fact that God not only wants people to be saved but also offers a prevenient grace and a pursuing grace. Francis Thompson’s famous poem written in 1917 correctly describes God as “The Hound of Heaven.”

God’s grace pursues the sinner. In Luke 15 we certainly see evidence of this within the 3 parables of Jesus.  In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) we find a sheep who has wandered away from the flock. In the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) we find a woman who has lost ten drachmas searching her house with a relentless pursuit of the valuable items. In the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), we see a father who seeing his son coming home runs to meet him. The fact that Jesus is sitting with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:1) when sharing these parables speaks to the fact that God pursues those who are far from him. Each of these parables speaks of a grace that pursues… In every religious system in the world, there is a god who scarcely reveals himself and there are those trying to become “good enough” to know him.  Yet Scripture teaches us of a God who is filled with relentless love.  So much so that he would leave heaven and come to his creation.  He would take our place upon a hill called Calvary in order to purchase our freedom and offer us his righteousness.  Christianity teaches not of a God who says, “If you will become good enough you can come to me.”  Rather he says, “You will never make it on your own, I will come to you.” 

God’s grace is preveniently offered through the Spirit. In John 16 Jesus describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit as the one who convicts of sin and converts to the truth. “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment of sin, because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9).  People cannot by their own strength recognize their depth of depravity. It is the Holy Spirit that enlightens the heart of the need to repent through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for He will take of what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14). Not only does the Spirit point out sin, but He also points us toward a Savior.

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). Who among us when we were saved did not feel the rustling of our souls being alerted to our need for Christ? Who among us this evening, when we were saved did not feel the tugging on our hearts by God to Himself?

The fact that God preveniently pursues sinners with his mercy and grace ought to tell us something about Him. God is not motivated or compelled out of wrath or punishment but has at the center of His heart, a love for people.

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:19-20).

God’s love and holiness demands divine judgment.

“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.” The Song of Moses, (Deut. 32:4).

“A holy God is both just and merciful—never unjust. There is never an occasion in any page of sacred Scripture where God ever punishes an innocent person. God simply doesn’t know how to be unjust.”

-R.C. Sproul

God will love his creation and at the same time protect his holiness at all costs. Tweet

For God not to punish sin, would essentially be an unholy action, thus making God unholy. In our culture today we find a great repulsion of the doctrine of the wrath or punishment of God. Today, people desire a God who loves and supports us no matter how we live. This comes from the individualistic focus of post-modernity, which places a person’s individual rights, beliefs, and desires as most important. As the moral lines are blurred and greyed, and objective truth is questioned, a casualty of this individualism is the orthodox belief that God has objective standards.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves as in all your behavior. It is written, ‘Be Holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

There is within Scripture a divine command which is consistently pointing God’s people to be like him, namely, to be holy.  The very word for sin as used in the OT is chata, which means to miss.  In the NT it is hamartia, which means to miss the mark. So whether you are in Hebrew or Greek, the idea of sin is the same. It means to come short or miss the goal of holiness.

Modernity’s repulsion of a God of judgment has at its very core a belief a desire for individualistic power and belief which supersedes even divine judgment. If Scripture is the ultimate truth displaying the person and character of God, it doesn’t need our interpretation, nor does it change based on our present-day ethos of being “offended” by its teachings. God judged sin at the very beginning in Genesis 3 and in his final act in Revelation 20 he will once again judge unholiness with decisiveness.

God has standards of holiness because at the great I AM and Holy one, he can do no other.  His standards are birthed out of the essence of his perfect character, but also for our benefit.

God’s anger cannot be seen as the same as human anger. He is not a cranky white-bearded old man hurling lightning bolts at bad people. His wrath is birthed out of his love. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all His deeds… The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” (Psalm 145:17; 20).

If God were not angry with injustice, sin, oppression, and wickedness would he then be a God worthy of worship? He must punish unrighteousness because if he did not it would violate his own righteousness.

Find the original article here: https://drkevinblackwell.com/2023/03/29/if-god-is-loving-then-why-does-he-punish-people/

Find more blogs from Dr. Kevin Blackwell here!

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