This article was written by Dr. Chad Meeks, who is the Lead Pastor at Cedar Heights Baptist Church in North Little Rock and an adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading, hanging out with his family, hiking, and exploring the deep mysteries of Sumatra coffee.
In The God Delusion, the atheist Richard Dawkins writes, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Those are a lot of fancy words for a being that doesn’t exist. But his vapid critique highlights a question that many—both believers and non-believers—ask: If God is good, why and how could He ever cause suffering, pain—or even severe punishment?
Perhaps the issue can be described in a different way, too. It is common these days to describe God as some kind of flowerchild that only wants peace and love. To be honest, in many evangelical circles, God is more akin to a 60’s hippy than a biblical deity. That’s unfortunate. I’m sure there are multiple reasons for such a distortion of the character of God. One of the most prominent being that a hippy god seems far more likely to ignore my sinful actions.
But this is a massive—and scandalous—misunderstanding of who God is. Let us not avoid the issue: Scripture declares that God is loving, kind, compassionate, and forgiving; however, there are numerous passages detailing how God enacts His wrath, not only on His enemies but on His own people as well.
For example, Numbers 15:32-36 records a strange encounter. During the wilderness wandering, a Hebrew man was caught gathering firewood on the sabbath. A big no-no according to the law. The passage accounts, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.“ It is only fair to admit that it seems a bit extreme to stone a man for simply gathering wood on the day of rest.
Or take Revelation 20:13-15: “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Scripture is clear that all of the unrighteous will one day be judged. This isn’t a minor doctrine or a rare variant of the biblical faith. It is an essential Christian doctrine that God will one day judge the living and the dead.
Yet we cannot overlook verses like John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8 claiming that God is a loving God, and that love is one of His essential attributes.
So how do the judgments of God fit with being loving and good? Quite simply, if God is a loving God, then He must also be a just God. The two are inextricably linked. Here’s how:
In order for one to be truly loving, he must be willing to judge. A truly loving being cannot merely overlook a wrong or injustice. Judgment is not being mean—it is being righteous. The wrath of God should not be seen as erratic, uncontrolled anger. The wrath of God is God’s righteous meriting of punishment for sinful acts. To put it more directly: God’s love demands His justice. Not only is it not a contradiction to claim a loving God judges—it is necessary that a loving God judge.
But in understanding that God judges, we must also understand His total nature. If God is a good God, then His judgments will be good. If God is a righteous God, then His judgment will be right. If God is all-knowing, then He cannot err in His judgments.
As a holy, righteous being, it is impossible for God to make a mistake or do anything evil. Furthermore, if God is holy and loving, He cannot simply ignore sin. What kind of judge would declare a guilty man as innocent without any restitution? You know the answer: a crooked or fallible judge. God is neither crooked nor fallible. As a loving God, He cannot let sin go unanswered. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 111:7, “The works of his hands are truth and justice…”But there is good news in such serious talk. God offers forgiveness to all who repent. He doesn’t have to offer such a gift. He isn’t obligated by His character or status to extend forgiveness to anyone. But in His great love and compassion, He beckons that all come. The consequences, however, for those who do not repent and believe are eternally damning. Such a reality should be a motivation for missional and evangelistic zeal; not simply in the church body as a whole, but within the individual lives of each Christian.