Why does God have to be so judgmental?
This week the Lord has opened up some really productive opportunities to talk to people about Christ. It has ranged from a couple of butchers, to a shopkeeper, and a car salesman. One of those men, whom we will call John, asked, “Why does God have to be so judgmental? It is as though he stands above us looking down his nose just waiting for us to fail. And when we do, he sends us to hell. That doesn’t seem like a loving God to me.”
Have you ever had similar thoughts? It is hard not to when you read the accounts of God’s judgment against nations in the Old Testament and the full scale of His wrath poured out upon the wicked at the end of time in the book of Revelation. Even “meek and mild” Jesus doesn’t alleviate our concern, for He talked more about God’s judgement in hell than He did of heaven and threatened such judgment upon sinners (Matt 10:28; Mark 9:42-50).
It was a God of justice from whom Martin Luther recoiled, saying, “I did not love, no, rather, I hated the just God who punishes sinners.” Luther went on saying, “In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, ‘Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?’”.
Every person who has ever rightly thought about God has had to grapple with this aspect of His nature. But if we rightly understand God, we will find that God’s justice, far from concealing His love, only makes it shine more radiantly, like a diamond set against black fabric. Let me explain three wrong assumptions this question makes.
Assumption 1: Judgment is bad
None of us truly believes that judgment for wrongdoing is bad. In fact, I am sure that we all agree that it is a loving act to rightly judge wrongdoing and a hateful act not to do so. Could you imagine the public outcry if one of our judges began “showing compassion” upon those who had committed murder and allowed them to walk free. We would rightly be appalled and immediately call for the judge to be removed from his office. God is equally incensed by such injustice: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Prov 17:15). Fortunately, God does not lack wisdom (Prov 3:19), nor is He devoid of knowledge (Ps 139:4; 147:5), but is always right in how He judges (Ps 7:11). Is the judgment of God bad? No, it is always right and always loving.
Assumption 2: We are innocent
The difficulty we face regarding God’s judgment is when it is turned upon us. Most of us pat ourselves on the back believing we are not as bad as others. And if there were any wrongdoing, we believe that these “minor lapses” should be overlooked. Unfortunately, God’s standard is moral perfection (Deut 32:4) and He cannot be coerced by tears or bribes (Deut 10:17), but must judge all sin, no matter how evil that sin is. Our problem with God’s judgment is that most people believe that they are not as bad as they are (Rom 3:10), despite the fact that our conscience condemns us all.
Assumption 3: God is not loving
Since God is a righteous judge, and we are guilty before Him, it is easy to conclude that God is not loving. This was the assumption John made. But John had never heard or understood the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s “Good News” of love toward undeserving sinners. God would be right to judge us all for willfully sinning against Him. But in an act of unparalleled love, He sent His innocent Son, Jesus, to stand in the place of the guilty on the cross, that the guilty, by repentance and faith, would stand in the place of the Son of God in glory.
When Martin Luther came to understand that his standing before God could never be based on moral performance, but only on the basis of justice being met in Christ’s sacrifice for his sin, he said, “All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates.” Without the justice of God we would never see the love of God as we do. No wonder Luther said, “I exalted this sweetest word of mine, ‘The justice of God,’ with as much love as before I had hated it with hate.”
Justice has been satisfied in Christ for the repentant sinner and will be satisfied at the Last Day when He will remove all wickedness forever. But before that time, God is withholding His justice with much patience as He calls all the peoples of every nation to come under the safety, security, and love of God in Christ Jesus and exalt in the beauty of the cross, where justice and mercy meet. Will you give thanks for God’s judgment, which, in Christ, is a perfect manifestation of His grace?
By Pastor Craig Baxter