Our God is a righteous God. His righteousness demands that sin be punished; it’s only “right,” “just,” and “fair” that each person is treated according to his deeds. Yet He is also a God of mercy, another aspect of His righteous character. The Cross is how God is able to be both just and merciful at the same time.
Some people emphasize God’s wrath over sin; others go in the opposite direction and see only mercy, thereby downplaying judgment.
I want to be balanced in my view of God’s character. From both my Biblical exegesis and my personal experience in relationship with God, here’s where I’ve arrived on the issue of balance.
God seeks to be merciful whenever He can; He judges when He has no other option in order to uphold His righteousness.
Why do I think this is the proper perspective? My study of Scripture has led me here. Let me explain.
While some think the Old Testament is just one long harangue against sin and God is eager to bring judgment, I disagree. He would have wiped out the entire human race, yet He was willing to start again with Noah. He would have cast away the children of Israel and restarted His plan with Moses, except Moses prayed He would not do so. God was willing, in answer to that prayer, to continue working with a disobedient people.
In Ezekiel 18:30-32, we get a glimpse into God’s heart when He says to His people,
“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.”
Does that sound like a God who is eager to bring judgment?
When we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus as the embodiment of the Godhead—the One through whom we understand better the heart of the Father—we see again a desire to show mercy. Only man’s rebellion stands in the way. As Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, we’re told in Luke 13:34-35,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, which makes the point that “whoever believes” will have eternal life, but it’s the next verse that once more highlights the heart of God:
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Judgment wasn’t the inspiration for the coming of Jesus; salvation was.
And in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we see why the Second Coming hasn’t yet occurred, and the reason is God’s desire that as many as possible will be saved.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He earnestly desires all to come to salvation and is providing as much time as He deems appropriate to bring more souls into His Kingdom.
So, yes, God judges. One day that judgment will be fierce, without mercy, total toward those who have stubbornly rejected His love and commands. But until then, He is the Shepherd who seeks the one lost sheep while maintaining the ninety-nine.
Personally, I am deeply grateful—let’s make that eternally grateful—that He showed mercy to me when He could just as easily have condemned me in my sins. He gave me time to come to my senses and repent.
He is a loving God.