A God of love should not punish

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: If God is love and He is and if He is perfect love and He is how can He be an angry and vengeful god waiting for us to make a mistake and sin so He can punish us? This makes no sense of a God who created us in His image holding us over a boiling pot of whatever and watching us yell and scream. That god I don’t believe in. His love fills the universe and is in us and part of us. Sinners in the hands of an angry god is not who the God I know exists. God is not coming to give justice. Love trumps justice. He comes to show us what the love of God has already done. Your friend and His. (Christian male, over 60, North America).

Answer: Thank you for contacting us at Mainsail Ministries… although I’m not sure where to begin with this question. You have described yourself as a friend of the true God (as opposed to this petulant God who doles out punishment)… but then you went on to describe both gods inaccurately. So, when you complained about the one you set up to represent the Christian’s common understanding of God, you established a false dilemma.

We called this “strawmanning” the argument. Strawmanning is the technique of recasting your opponent’s position in a way that it would make it an easy or a sympathetic target… and then ostensibly defeating it. The term evokes a man knocking down an effigy — like a scarecrow or dummy — but at a sufficient distance to appear like he is knocking down a real man… and I do not agree that you are knocking down a real man with the question you offered today.

What does this mean for your question? I cannot engage it under the premises that you set up because they are false. The biblical God is not angry, vengeful, petty or cruel… and I’m not sure where these ideas came from because you didn’t cite any Bible references to back up your assertions. Yet, you still queried a ministry known for Bible-based solutions… so I’m not entirely sure what’s up.

Your question also gave no hint that you understand what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross or if you understand the rudiments of biblical salvation. But — and in spite of the fact, I’m not sure why you have these ideas — even if we were to agree with your premises for sake of this argument, we’d get nowhere because we’d be accepting a skewed portrait of God to argue about!

Now, you sound like a kind man — one who is interested in love — and I appreciate your reaching out in friendship on that basis... and please understand that I am reaching back! But the God you described is no friend of mine because the God you described does not exist. Nevertheless, I will continue to answer this question in love by telling you the truth as plainly as I can.

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NIV)

Your question implies that a God of love cannot also be a God that punishes. This is just not true. The Bible reveals God as loving (John 3:16)... yet it also shows him punishing (Numbers 26:10). If Scripture is true and God is immutable (which is our stand around here), you cannot say that love and punishment do not exist perfectly in God at all times. In fact, just the opposite is true. They coexist in God simultaneously without contradiction just as they do in you and me.

I happen to be a parent (as well as a grandparent and a great-grandparent) … and anyone who tells me that I don’t love my children is in for a fight (…well… maybe in for a stern look or two). But the love I have for my children does not stop me from doing my job as a father. In fact, it motivates me! I uphold justice and honor in my family by administering punishment when necessary.

This is the concept that your question was missing: Discipline is love (Hebrews 12:4-6) … while deferring that duty might be laziness, cowardice, indulgence, immaturity — or even hate! (Proverbs 13:24)… but at the end of the day, it would not be love.

Note also that love is not the absence of punishment. Love is doing the right thing even when it costs you personally. Who wants to be the guy who punishes people? No one. Who wants to be unpopular? No one. Who wants to do what God wants? Few. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. In a world of free will, those of us who are in charge must respond to evil. And as long as we do it the right way, love persists.

1 Corinthians chapter 13 tells how to love people optimally. But letting them get by with evil because we do not want to hurt their feelings is suboptimal. It is immature and foolish… and taking this path could destroy our nation in a generation.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, AV)

Think of God as the head of a family. If he did not correct and punish his children when necessary, that would lead to mayhem… and it would dishonor both him and the family. Or think of God as the owner of a business. If he did not go out of his way to train, evaluate and correct his employees, his business would implode.

Well, God is the head of our family — the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). And he does run a business — the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:30). Furthermore, there are rules for each enterprise… so, of course, he’s watching! If God did not hold people accountable, then we could not say that he is immanent in creation or that he is just. So, love does not trump justice... not in the way you inferred... by overthrowing it universally. God’s justice is an integral part of his love.

Let me address the mischaracterization of God as waiting for us to make a mistake so that he can pounce on us and punish us. This notion is incorrect because we are born condemned (Psalm 51:1; John 3:18) … so God would not be waiting to pounce. He’d pounce on us at conception! But this seems a little extreme.

Since every one of us is conceived with a sin nature, it’s guaranteed that we will sin (Romans 3:23). So, instead of pouncing on every person by way of punishment, God pounced on us by way of mercy. He sent Jesus to the cross to die in our place (Romans 5:9; 8:1). Those of us who seek God’s mercy in the shadow of that cross have mercy forever (Romans 8:1)… and those who don’t, don’t (1 John 5:11-12).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NIV)

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11–12, NIV)

You are correct to note that God made us in his image (Genesis 1:26)… but you are incorrect to infer that we should be universally saved because of this. That’s determinism… and determinism is a no-no. Having God’s image is a great prize! But it’s meaningless without free will. With no jeopardy in place, our destinies would be determined, and free will — indeed, true personhood — would not exist.

Because we humans must have free will to be truly human, universal salvation is off the table... although salvation is universally available. Anyone can come to Christ at any time. The thing we cannot do is say that God vexes us with cruel and unusual punishments (boiling whatever... really?) when we refuse his full and fair offer to become his children (John 1:12).

There is only one sin that sends a person to hell — blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is the lifelong rejection of Jesus Christ.

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31–32, NIV)

You sound like a Christian brother in tone... but you sound like a pantheist in content… and I fear that you might not be saved. I base this on your comment “His love fills the universe and is in us and part of us.” This is true… but with your absence of biblical citations, and with your lack of knowledge about what a Christian understands about salvation… you could mean this in a pantheistic way — that God is all… and that we are thereby God.

Pantheism has no biblical merit, of course... although we can make an argument for it philosophically… so, is that where you are? Because that’s not what a Christian is… and you told us you were a Christian as part of your profile. Now, if you are a Christian — one who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15) — then I apologize… but please understand why I am concerned.

The objections that fueled your question probably won’t dissolve until you give the biblically revealed God a fair hearing. We have a more linear and expansive explanation of the salvation process in our article An Alternative to Death. Consider reading this article to make sure that you understand what's involved in biblical salvation. 

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)