Why Does God Judge the People He Loves?

By Dr. David Talley, Guest Contributor

As a professor of the Old Testament, I begin my classes by asking for students’ views of God. Without fail, the intensity of God’s judgment surfaces. Someone always asks, “If He is loving, why does God judge His people so harshly?”  

And it’s true. God’s judgment can be shocking. From Scripture, we know such events as the destruction of the Canaanites, a global flood, and the exile of Israel were all ordained by God Himself. In Amos, God told the nation of Israel, “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps …” (Amos 4:10).  

When we read those words, we struggle to reconcile a loving God with one who judges His own people. We are tempted to cast our own judgment by crying out, “How dare He do that? That is so wrong!”  

But God’s actions are undeniable, printed in the pages of the Bible. So how should we process these events?  

Before we cast God in the role of “angry punisher,” we should ask ourselves some questions. 

Who is the Judge behind the judgment?

When you hear the word ‘judgment,’ what comes to mind? Maybe you picture a high-profile court case weighed by a jury. Or even a disapproving family member with impossibly high standards. In today’s environment, the word “judgment” carries some extremely negative connotations. We typically go out of our way to avoid being labeled as “judgmental.”  

But the Bible does not cast us in the role of the “ultimate judge.” That position is reserved exclusively for God. So before we ask the question, “why would God …”, we have to begin by asking “Who is God?” 

God is not a human jury, weighed down by preconceived notions or flexible standards. He is not the disapproving family member who judges others to elevate Himself. He is divinely perfect, free from the hindrances of our human failures.  

Our understanding of God’s judgment must be grounded in the very attributes of who He is. An attribute is simply something that is true about God. From His Word, we know God is three-in-one, self-existent, immutable, infinite, eternal, self-sufficient, omniscient, wise, omnipresent, transcendent, faithful, good, just, merciful, gracious, loving, holy, and sovereign.   

God is all of these and more, simultaneously, all the time. If we are truly seeking to understand God’s judgment, we have to unpack the character of the judge Himself. When we do, we can acknowledge that God’s judgment is God’s, not ours.  

Is judgment really part of God’s character?

In exploring God’s character, we must separate God’s actions from His attributes. “Judgment” or “wrath” are not listed as attributes of God. They are not fundamental elements of God’s character. Instead they are necessary responses born of His character. In the face of injustice, a just God casts judgment. Confronted by unholiness, a holy God responds.  

God’s responses are never random. In His judgment, God remains fully faithful, merciful, gracious, and loving. He is fully God in every moment.  

In Amos 4:10, God’s judgment may feel extreme. The language is strikingly vivid.  

But God’s extreme measures in verse 10 are in response to the people’s extreme sin. Through Amos, we know that the people worshiped false gods; rejected God’s law; and exploited, even “crushed,” the poor and needy. Faced with the wreckage of human sin, God responded. 

True to His character, God delivered justice for the poor and needy. He remained consistent, doing what He said He would do. And through it all, He extended mercy to the guilty. Throughout Amos 4, God repeated the refrain, “… yet you have not returned to me.” In His grace and compassion, God called the people back to Himself again and again. God’s purpose in judgment was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice merely as punishment, but as invitation.  

In every ounce of rendering judgment, God calls to his people, “Come back to me.” His perfect character never wavers.  

Does God take His judgment too far?

We may accept that God’s character is perfect but still struggle when His judgment feels extreme. Why does God judge the people He claims to love? On the surface, we may believe that a God without judgment is a God of love. But when we really consider the evils of this world, no one wants a God who simply looks the other way.  

Just ask the parent of a child who has been abused or the spouse who has been widowed through an act of violence. No one wants a God who casts the victim aside and looks at a perpetrator saying, “We need to be a little nicer.” That is not loving.  

When we see the evils of this world, we want justice. We want a God who is both gracious and just – a God who judges evil even while He offers grace to the perpetrator. We want loving justice and love that is just.   

As humans we are simply too flawed to offer this perfect blend of love and justice. It is impossible. Only God can accomplish that work. And in His mercy, He did so through Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s ultimate judgment for humanity’s evil rained down, not on us, but on Himself in the person of Jesus. In that moment, He was condemned so that we might live. God’s perfect love and perfect justice collided, resulting in eternal grace for those who believe.  

So perhaps God is challenging us to ask a new question. Instead of “Why does God judge the people He loves?” maybe we should ask, “Can I trust the One who judges?” When we reflect on His full character and honestly seek to know Him, we discover that He alone can deliver true justice. And He does so in perfect love. 

More in this series: 

Did God Choose Israel and Not the Other Nations?

New vs. Old Testament: Is God the Same?

Coming Soon

Dr. David Talley

Professor of Old Testament, BSF Theologian

Dr. David Talley has served at Talbot School of Theology since 1998, teaching Old Testament and occupying various administrative roles. He has also served at Cornerstone Church Long Beach since 2020 as Pastor of Teaching and Theology. David is passionate about teaching God’s Word, discipleship, and “passing on the faith” to the next generation. He has authored or co-authored several books, including The Study of the Old Testament and Maturing the Flock of God. David has a heart for the international church and has taken over 50 international mission trips to train pastors in some of the most difficult parts of the world. David has been married to his wife, Joni, for 35 years, and they have two children, Amanda (1989) and Andrew (1995).

 

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246 Comments

  1. Thank you Dr. Talley for setting me straight. I have studied Gods Attributes many years ago from Packer’s book. I still had the impression that Wrath was an attribute of God. I stand corrected and informed. God’s wrath, if I understand the blog correctly, is a consequence of our own rebellion and refusal to repent.

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  2. God’s judgment is not for punishment but for correction. He judges to correct us when we go astray and bring us back to Him. And He does this because He loves us , does not want to abandon us and looks at our sins with compassion. His judging has a plan and purpose. As it has been rightly pointed out by Dr David Talley God judges but is not judgemental .

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  3. Thanks to professor Talley for teaching and sharing his insight to help me understand one layer deeper of His Judgment instead of misunderstanding it.

    I love “God’s purpose in judgment was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice merely as punishment, but as invitation [return to Him].”

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  4. Thank you for sharing and providing clarity about God’s judgement which is a response born of His character. God never ceases to be merciful and faithful in His judgement but rather He longs as a loving Father for me to return to Him.

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  5. God is God and Not man. When I try to access God in human understanding and perception I can fall far too short. I am at peace with the word of God as it is in the scriptures. And what I have seen it doing in my life.
    I also know God is spirit and I must worship Jim in spirit and in truth

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  6. Does God judge His people harsley.

    My thoughts are this, God is portrayed as our Father.
    We as parents have children and we have given them rules to follow.
    If they do not follow those they are punished according to what is laid down.
    The parents are just in punishing their children.

    So does God. God is justified in punishing His children as He has laid down rules and regulation in His written Word.
    Yes God is just and Merciful, Gracious.
    I hope you understand my reasoning.

    God Bless

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    • Great analogy of parenting. Greatly appreciated.

      I keep in mind of Dr. Halley’s comment – “As humans we are simply too flawed to offer this perfect blend of love and justice. It is impossible. Only God can accomplish that work.”

      God bless!

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  7. Our loving God is divine. He has blessed out by being the Father and the judge. Thank you for the insight to see His attributes.

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  8. God and Jesus are one.
    He loved everyone; He sent in his Loved Son to restore a relationship with Him; His Love is for you and I to validate our sinful and weak condition unto him. You seek and He answers.
    Receive God’s Love and allow Jesus Christ shine in your heart, mind and soul.

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  9. Thank you so much for these wonderful insights. Truly blessed

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  10. Reading this has given me a more deeper understanding of God’s purpose in judgment upon His people in Scriptures. Only God can perfectly exhibit love and justice in judgment!

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  11. Iam truly blessed by this yrs study..thank you so much for making me understand the chapters especially the minor prophets..

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  12. Love This

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  13. I believe that God’s grace and mercy and his forgiveness is much more than my day to day transgressions , which covered and washed daily from the blood of Christ coming from the cross . I deserve more punishment but saved by His grace.

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  14. Thank you professor. Yes, our question is always WHO IS GOD? No matter what I and family have gone through, I always remember who my God is. Loving and responds to all our needs and situations with the caring and loving arms of our FATHER. Thank you God for sending Jesus. We are saved !!
    I have learned so much from BSF in calif and thank you for your devotion to God. I have used the knowledge from the BSF I attend for the ministry outreach I have to those who are incarcerated.

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  15. Your comments encourages believers to trust God in all of His attributes when injustice is observed. God is just and compassionate and always has the final word.

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    • Thanks Dr. Talley. Though provoking and deep insights there.

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  16. I really enjoyed reading about God’s judgment. Thank you.

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  17. May the word of God be preached to every corner of this world. I thank the BSF international team for the great job they are doing. My salvation came through BSF.

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  18. I have been baptized for 60 years. Many of those years I was not as close to God as I should have been. Now my husband has had to go to an Alzheimer’s care center. I have been through a liver transplant and colon cancer surgery, which I know I have been truly blessed through both issues. I guess sometimes I just question whether I’m paying for my past sins, was I learning through all of this to trust God more or was satan testing my faith. I am a 6th year member of BSF and learning so much and loving it. Thank you so much for this great organization.

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    • I will be praying for you and your husband, as a caregiver for Alzheimer’s and dementia residents i truly feel God can work even there! Pray that someone who works there who is a believer will come and minister to him… And I will be praying for someone to be able to come minister to you also! Much love in Christ and in His Holy Name!!

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  19. I always feared JUDGEMENT, and I hear we’re all going to be judged. I guess that’s what scares me. I don’t care how much I try to do good, by the end of day I feel I have failed God and myself. I found the article on judgement very interesting. I want to thank you for this article. I know God is a God of love, trust, faith.

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  20. I am so blessed to have come across this teaching of who God really is.I have a deep desire to know my God.Know His character.Why I need to know Him,this Perfect God who loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me.I feel so blessed.This is no accident that I came across this teaching.Thank you!

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  21. God does not judge the people He loves. God judged Jesus Christ on the cross instead. That is the fundamental truth of substitutionary atonement. There is no double jeopardy. God only judges the wicked. When both the righteous and the unrighteous are caught up in the same act of apparent judgment, we should not assume He is judging His people. For the wicked, it is judgment, but that same fiery trial is a trial of faith for the righteous. It is discipline and training but not wrath. Consider Job who was severely tested by what might appear to be an act of an angry God. On the contrary, God Himself testified that Job was the most righteous man on the earth. The same is true for the beloved people of God who suffered under God’s wrath for the wicked at the hand of the Assyrians and Babylonians. They were not being judged but our good God was proving and improving their faith. Any wrath they might appear to deserve was poured out on Jesus Christ in full. “There is, therefore, no condemnation . . .” (Romans 8:1).

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    • Man that sounds right to me as well John C. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the distinction you make quite that clearly before. What you are saying make sense, but does it square with what Dr. Talley was trying to communicate? I’m curious what his reply would be.
      Thx for commenting.

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      • Just as Dr. Talley stated above,
        … “God’s ultimate judgment for humanity’s evil rained down, not on us, but on Himself in the person of Jesus.”
        A very profound teachings from Dr. Talley. I now have a better response to say if I’m asked the same question.
        Thank you for the insight.

        Reply

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