The Bible’s teaching on God’s judgment is definitely one of the greatest stumbling blocks to Christianity. Reconciling the idea of God’s punishment with His love as revealed in Christ seems like a bridge too far. The words of Charles Darwin captures what many of us feel about the subject:
“I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the (biblical) text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine”.
And yet, the Lord Jesus who was so full of compassion for the crowds, ‘because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36-37), spoke about hell more than about heaven. You’ll remember Jesus describing a great chasm over which ‘none may cross from there to us’ in Luke 16. The reason for this is plain: hell is our default destination unless we respond to his generous offer of salvation by grace through faith, secured through his death on the cross for our sins.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). We’re condemned not because we don’t ‘believe’ but because we are all guilty for our sins. God’s commitment to justice meant that His Son had to take the punishment for our sins that was justly ours, on the cross. The cross makes no sense if we dismiss the notion of God’s judgment.
Scott Sauls writes, “It’s too simple to merely say that our God is a God of love and nothing else…For love to be truly loving, there must be judgment. If there is no judgment, then there is no hope for a slave, a rape victim, a child who has been abused or bullied, or people who have been slandered or robbed or had their dignity stolen. If nobody is called to account before a cosmic judgment seat for violence and oppression, then the victims will never see justice. We need a God who gets angry. We need a God who will protect his kids, who will once and for all remove bullies and perpetrators of evil from his playground”.
God’s love is real but so is God’s divine judgment. However, we must raise the subject with grace, love and compassion just like Jesus did. Jesus talked a bit about God’s wrath because he is desperate for people to turn to him and never have to taste it.
Thanks be to God for the cross where God’s perfect love and justice meet!