Was God ever cruel?
Description: We read in the Old Testament of God’s chosen people being devastated, yet God is a God of love. How could a loving God have allowed such horrors?
Particularly in the Old Testament, we read of God’s anger and judgement on his chosen people. He allowed them to be besieged and killed by neighbouring empires and eventually exiled into foreign lands. Yet the New Testament affirms that our God is a God of love and forgiveness. How could a loving God have permitted such horrendous suffering?
Obviously we can never put ourselves in God’s shoes, but I wonder if we might jump into the shoes of a benevolent man with limitless wealth. Being kind-hearted, this man rescues a group of people who were having a tough time. At first, the saved people are really grateful and happy to go along with the few things he asks in return – and these things aren’t that demanding.
All the rich man asks is that they pledge to look after one another and treat him with respect. He hopes that they will set an example to other people so that they too might behave more kindly and adopt a considerate lifestyle. And he makes it really easy for them. He allows access to all his wealth. They only have to ask and he’ll happily provide for their needs and satisfy their requests – especially if the requests honour the pledge. This is a win-win. It not only helps to deepen the relationship, it also enables the people to blossom into role models for others.
Great start, but…
Everything starts off well, but the neighbours are not inspired – not even to find out what’s going on. Instead they become jealous. It doesn’t take long for them to cause problems. They begin to show off, saying that their way of life is far better. They claim to be free, not bound to a rich man who wants to rule their lives.
Inevitably, some in the saved group start to believe the neighbours’ lies and realise that they can take advantage. They stop asking for things and start stealing and telling lies of their own. They also begin mixing with the neighbours in immoral ways and increasingly take on their degenerate lifestyle. All this is not only against every value the rich man holds dear, it absolutely trashes their pledge to him and throws all his kindness straight back in his face.
Patience and forbearance
Despite being angry, the rich man puts up with all the thieving, lies and outrageous contempt of their pledge. Time and again he warns them what will happen if they don’t keep their promises. He tells them that they are risking all their privileges and could end up abandoned and destitute. Sometimes, they say they’re sorry and amend their ways, but sadly their better intentions never last.
The awful reality is that they go from bad to worse until their favoured situation means nothing to them. Even so, the rich man doesn’t give up. He keeps on appealing to them and warning of the consequences if they continue to ignore him. They take no notice. In effect, the rich man is dead to them.
The end of the rope
At this point – having been rejected endless times and had his values relentlessly trampled – the rich man reaches the end of his rope. He now knows that, no matter what he does, the people he open-heartedly saved and nurtured will keep on refusing to honour the pledge they made. Angry and disappointed, he turns his back on them, just as they had turned their back on him.
At the same time, the people are attacked by their neighbours – whose wickedness has escalated out of control. Trembling with fear and sorrow, the people call out to the rich man and beg for help. But now he’s not prepared to listen – exactly as they weren’t prepared to listen to his countless appeals. With no help forthcoming, they are completely overpowered and routed.
Although the people want to blame the rich man for leaving them completely unprotected, the truth is that they were the ones who recklessly and persistently violated their pledge. For his part, the rich man had kept his promises and looked after his people despite their incessant and bullheaded defiance – until they had utterly disowned him.
Back to the Old Testament
And so it was in Old Testament times. God had made a covenant with his people and they had pledged to honour it. Yet they broke their pledge – not once, but consistently over hundreds of years. During this time, God sent many prophets to warn what would happen if they continued in their wicked ways, but the people chose to harden their hearts and turn their backs.
Since they had so defiantly forsaken the covenant, God – as the abused party – had the right to justice – to a judgement against the people. When even his Holy Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated every day by the worship of man-made idols, his righteous anger overflowed. Yet God was just. He judged his people according to their own conduct and standards. They were left to reap the whirlwind they had sown.
Even so, God could not deny his own character – his faithfulness and love. Despite everything, he showed his love, mercy and grace by saving and restoring a remnant of his people. Through them, he gave birth to a new covenant in the life of Jesus Christ.
The old and new covenants
The old covenant was between God and his people. It failed – not because of God – but because the people failed. They were imperfect. The new covenant doesn’t depend on imperfect humanity. It is between God and Jesus – the perfect man and divine Son of God. It is a superior covenant in every way.
God has never been cruel. He has always acted justly even in the face of wilful and obstinate sinfulness – but he does act, and he will do so again. For Christians, this need hold no fears as Jesus has already paid the wages for our sins, i.e. death (Romans 6:23). As the perfect High Priest, Jesus offered himself for us. It is through faith in him that we are cleansed and our sins forgiven. This is pure grace – true compassion. It’s as far removed from cruelty as it’s possible to get.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.