Kind And Merciful Or Harsh And Cruel?


Mural_painting_celebrating_Pol_PotIn yesterday’s post, “A Look At The ‘Nicer Than God’ Position,” I discussed one aspect of the “a good God wouldn’t do that” accusation leveled by atheists and some progressives against the God of the Bible. The main thrust of my article is that God isn’t guilty of condoning sinful acts or thoughts or wishes simply because those appear in the Bible.

But what about the acts God not only condones but orders which seem unduly harsh, even cruel? Most often those making this accusation have in mind something like God’s command to Saul to wipe out all the Amalekites.

For someone who thinks Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer or Pol Pot should not face judgment for their acts against their fellow man, I have no answer. For those who believe it’s right to hold people accountable for the harm they perpetrate, then it’s simply a matter of looking at history to understand God’s command.

The Amalekites were the people who harassed Israel on their way out of Egypt, sniping at the stragglers who were “faint and weary.” We can surmise the people under attack would be the elderly, the sick, and perhaps the young. For this act, which was also connected to their dismissal of God’s authority over them (see Deut. 25:18-19), they were judged.

In fact, there are two primary reasons God gives for judging a people: 1) they are oppressing others; 2) they have taken a stand against Him.

Psalm 146:7-9 illustrates the former.

[God] executes justice for the oppressed;
[God] gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free.
The LORD opens the eyes of the blind;
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous;
The LORD protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

Clearly God is for the oppressed, which means He stands against the oppressor. For this, people today judge Him. In part it’s in ignorance, but it’s also an assumption–Man is good, so these ancient peoples were innocent victims of a God wanting to wipe them out.

They were not innocent.

Of course, none of us is innocent. None of us deserves to live, and in fact we won’t keep living. We will pay with our lives for the guilt that clings to us. Apart from God’s mercy, we will also pay with our souls. (But thanks be to God who sent His Son to rescue us).

Which brings up the second reason God judges people: He repays those who hate Him (see Deut. 7:10). Their hatred is most often shown in their idol worship, but also in their treatment of other people–orphans, widows, strangers on one hand and God’s people on the other.

Interestingly, God most often gives those who are against Him what they want. He lets them experience the consequences of their own actions:

Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head (Ps. 7:14-16a, English Standard Version – emphasis added)

The bottom line, I believe, is this: those who hate God can’t accept the fact that He is their judge. They don’t want a judge, any judge, but particularly one who is righteous, as the Bible reveals God to be. See the following, for example:

  • “God is a righteous judge” – Psalm 7:11a
  • “In righteousness He judges and wages war” – Rev. 19:11b
  • “[Christ] kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” – 1 Peter 2:23b
  • “For I, the LORD, love justice . . . and I will faithfully give them their recompense” – Isaiah 61:8a

Those of us who accept God as the one who rightly and righteously judges all He has made, trust His judgment.

Of course, God’s judgment gets muddled with pain and suffering. Suffice it to say for the sake of this discussion, that not all pain, suffering, and death is a particular judgment handed down by God, as opposed to the general and natural consequences of sin. Job’s children, for example, didn’t die as a result of God’s judgment of them.

So the question, is God kind and merciful or harsh and cruel, hinges upon the understanding of Him as a just judge. Someone being oppressed who He rescues, someone lost who He finds, sees Him clearly as abundantly kind and merciful.

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments (54)  
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