God-as-Judge, God-as-Forgiver

I wrote the following posting on a software developer site I frequent in a forum devoted to soapbox rants. It was written in response to a post mocking, well, God, but in particular, the idea that God could be both a loving God and a judging God.


I think it is hard to understand how God can be both a loving God, and yet a God who deals out justice where it's due. The best I can understand it, God's main theme is love. I say this because I believe what Jesus said about the greatest 2 commandments in the whole of the Bible, which are to love God and love others.

When some of the religious scholars gathered their forces for an assault. One of them spoke, posing a question they hoped would show him up: "Teacher, which command in Torah is the most important?"

Jesus said, "'Love God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in Scripture -- the Law and the Prophets -- hangs from them."

I believe that God is concerned primarily with forgiveness and mercy. He'd much rather welcome you back with open arms than send judgement your way and leave you to yourself. At the same time, if God didn't deal out justice in some way, at some point in time -- whether on earth, after death, or at the end of time -- he wouldn't be a just God. Think about it: without justice, we have a lawless system where good actions are never rewarded, and evil actions are never punished; there has to be law enforcement somewhere, spiritually speaking. That may be completely natural too, no supernatural intervention required , for instance, if you induldge yourself in certain wrongs, there are some wrongs that you'll soon ruin your life in. Paul mentioned this in his letter to Rome:

You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!

I'm using this freedom language because it's easy to picture. You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?

As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.

But now that you've found you don't have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God's gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

The key, then, is love and forgiveness from God for as long as that person has even an inkling of openness to it. Perhaps even longer, I don't know. But there is a cut-off point, a point when there will be justice for those people: good to those that did good, evil to those that did evil. It's the ultimate conclusion of reaping what you've sowed. Whether you've spread the seed of love your whole life by forgiving people and helping people out, or if you've sown evil by mocking and scoffing and living only for yourself, you'll eventually get what's coming to you.

An analogy of the love of God

When you're a child, it's difficult to understand discipline and punishment. You know when you've done something you're going to be disciplined, that's it. All you see is action and consequence. But when you've matured into an adult, you begin to see it is more than action and consequence, you soon realize there's far more to discipline. There's an underlying motive, which is love, that is to put your child back on the right path, make him repentant for what he's done so that he won't do it again and again, ruining his life with rebellion and disobedience. You, as a parent, aren't doing it out of anger or hatred or spiteful vengence, but out of real love for your child, in the expectation of your child becoming an orderly, right-living human being.

In the same sense, God's discipline of his children, whether a natural outcome of sin or supernatural God-stepping-in, is done not out of pure anger, but out of the underlying motive of love. God loves us so much, he'd rather take the time to discipline us and set us straight with him, than leave us to ruining our lives by our rebellion and the evil things every one of us has done. He'd rather issue a, "Welcome back my son! Let's celebrate!" exclamation than a condemning, "I'm done with you, I'll leave you alone while you ruin your life with that."

I know I'll get voted down for this. It's ok. People don't like hearing that there are consequences for every action, a harvest of all the planted fruit, good or bad; a reaping of what we've sown. Seems to me that is a good indicator of the things the world has sown.


  1. amen! keep up the encouragement and thank you!

  2. Many people seem to have trouble grasping that God is, without contradiction in his character, both a loving, forgiving dispenser of mercy and a stern, judging dispenser of justice -- and that he cannot be otherwise.

    The whole question/demand-of-God-to-justify-himself: "If God is really loving, as you Jews and Christians claim, how is it that you also claim that he will 'send people to hell'?" (to use 'Christian' terminology) is silly, really.

    The truth of the matter is this: mercy, absent or un-hinged from justice, is most unjust and cruel and *un-merciful* (and, in fact, evil!) Mercy -- real mercy, not the false mercy so many seem to think that a "loving" God must, by definition, dispense -- is meaningless without justice. Real mercy doesn't even exist if there is not justice.

    Just consider what a wicked and evil existence reality would truly be if there were no justice, if there were only a liberally laddled-out "forgiveness" absent repentence. Consider Person A, the epitome of unrepentant evil (yet, is not the word "evil" meaningless if there is no justice?) --- but all is "forgiven," because the "merciful" God neither judges not condemns nor punishes. Yet, what of the victims of Person A? Where is their "mercy?" The truth is, they have been denied both justice *and* mercy because the "loving" God, that some people think they want God to be, has destroyed both justice and mercy by abolishing justice.

    Such a "pure" mercy would be worse than the strictest, sternest justice.

    Mercy, *real* mercy, must be secondary to justice, else neither mercy nor justice can exist. And, justice does not exist if it does not actually exist -- justice does not exist if there is no judgement; judgement does not exist if there is no application (i.e. punishment).

    Once again: Mercy depends upon, hinges upon, justice. But justice demands the judgement/punishment. If the judge sets aside justice -- if he is merely and always "merciful" to the victimizers -- then he has taken it upon himself to deny justice *and* mercy to the victims of those he "forgives." But, on the other hand, to be capricious with mercy is to be most unjust.

    It seems quite a conundrum. We humans want mercy -- and justice when it suits us -- from God. But, it seems that God cannot give us any mercy at all, lest he destroy justice and thereby destroy the very mercy we desire. It seems there is no logical way -- and thus, no way at all -- for God to be both just and merciful.

    Fortunately for us, God *did* see a way to be both merciful and just. But then, he would, since it is his character at issue.

    Of course, many of those who have trouble grasping these things about God may never get the point, since they (those I have in mind at the moment) hate God and from that hatred actively decline to attempt to understand that there is no contradiction in God being both loving and judging.

    And, on the question of God "sending people to hell," just what is it that people expect? Do they think God is a Cosmic Rapist? Do they think he will force those who hate him to spend eternity in his presence? Where whould be be the love in that?

  3. "Mercy -- real mercy, not the false mercy so many seem to think that a "loving" God must, by definition, dispense -- is meaningless without justice."

    You hit the nail on the head there, Ilion.

    Without justice, mercy is meaningless. Without justice, mercy is nothing more than ignorance; if God forgives every time, all the time, without ever giving discipline for wrongs, then he might as well not care about us at all, and just leave us to our vices, pretending to forgive us every time.

    I'm thankful we do have our God who cares enough about us to give discipline when needed, as well as mercy and the sheer gift of forgiveness.

  4. Judah,
    This post is off-topic to this blog (and yet, when you think about it, related). This post is a request; I'd like to ask a favor of you. Here's the situation:

    One of the members on the bulletin board I am somewhat active at is an Israeli Jew (though I'm fairly certain he was born and bred an American). Apparently, he (Dennis Turner) is very sick and actually dying: http://www.arn.org/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=30328389&an=0&page=0#Post30328389

    I've never met the man, of course. And, in fact, since he visits that board more to read than to post, we've rarely interacted directly. I have a great deal of respect for him, and of course, I am much concerned for his salvation.

    It has long seemed to me that he is *convicted* that Jesus is the Christ, is the Moshiach (he prefers that spelling to the more generally used English 'Messiah,' as he feels we goyiche Christians have made ''Messiah' a Christian term unrelated to Judaism), yet resists giving intellectual assent to this conviction. Perhaps I am wrong on this, perhaps he is not convicted that Jesus is the Christ; my belief that he is is based to a great extent on the fact that over the years he has periodically leveled some chriticism against Christianity, or at least his understanding of Christianity, but if I happen to notice the criticism, he generally declines to have a discourse on the matter he himself has raised.

    So, this is my request to you: I intend to write a response to post in the thread about his health, one last attempt to "convert" him, if you will. I'd like to run it by you before I post it.

    As you may recall, I'm not a Jew -- due to my ancestry, I may be "Jewish enough" for certain rabid Jew-haters, but the fact remains that I am not a Jew; according to Rabbinical law, I am a Gentile, And I wasn't raised a Jew in any event, I know nothing about Judaism. More importantly, in this circumstance, I don't know which of the things I might say might give him legitimate offence. I don't want to risk offending him, but I also cannot let the fear of offending him prevent me from attempting to reach him.

  5. Ilíon, the best advice I can give is talk to him out of love, not out of some desire to make more Christians.

    If God has put it in his heart that Yeshua may be the promised Moshiach, then it is fertile ground and the best you can do is keep sowing the seed.

    As far as not offending him, I think if you speak out of love, you'll ultimately be OK because your heart and intent is in the right place. Don't focus on traditions, religion, and ritual so much as faith. We Jews hold tradition very high, but when you're at the end of your rope, traditions and ritual don't mean much (God showed me this some time ago, I'd like to talk about it sometime...)

    When you're at the end, all that's left is hope and faith that God loves his children. Faith that by Moshiach we have life forever. There is no formal conversion, no religious ceremony that must be performed. I'm convinced that one does not need to say any special prayer. All one needs is faith in Messiah. Keep the focus on that, and do it out of love and blessing for one of God's children, not out of hope to increase the numbers of another religion.

  6. I was just informed that Dennis has died: http://www.tothepointnews.com/content/view/2821/2/

  7. I'm really sorry to hear that, Ilion. As the article mentioned, at least with his passing, he no longer has to suffer.

    Do you think he accepted Messiah? You mentioned before how may have been convicted of it personally.