Many people probably wonder about the accounts of God’s awesome judgments in the Bible, if God is supposed to be defined as Love. That is in addition to the fact that there is such a religious preoccupation with the idea of a yet future judgment designed to finally purge evil from the world by destroying the world. Love and cataclysmic destruction somehow don’t seem compatible.
It’s undeniable that the Bible has plenty to say about God’s judgment, a fact that the church has unfailingly emphasized down through its history. Were these judgments designed to instill the “fear of God” in folks, or could there be another, more subtle purpose?
To set the stage for consideration of an alternative explanation to God’s judgment in the Bible, I call attention to a popular theme in many books and movies. The general storyline in these literary creations follows a similar pattern. A strong individual tries to forsake a violent past and instead live peacefully and without conflict. Invariably this individual struggles with his commitment to non-violence, as evil continues to abound. Finally, he is “forced” to re-exert his old self and respond violently to a final, evil provocation. The classic western, Shane, is perhaps a good example of the type.
The described storyline is powerful precisely because the audience is constantly aware of what the protagonist is capable of doing if his restraint ends. Of course, the audience always anticipates an ultimately powerful, overwhelming response to the evil depicted. That is the way powerful men react to perceived evil.
In my opinion, the Bible accounts of God’s judgment are the inverse of this storyline. In God’s case, violent judgment is a prelude to peace and mercy. God, in showing his capability for judgment, demonstrated how he could deal with man’s sin if he chose to. God’s past judgments put God’s mercy in perspective because nothing could be more awe-inspiring than the forbearance of an all powerful God. Ultimately, through the completed work of Christ, God was planning to forsake judgment as the answer to sin. Now that Christ has come, judgmental displays have served their purpose; and God’s love and mercy are on full display. Perfect love has cast out all fear.