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. I’m struggling to understand the sovereignty of God and free will.

    Does God choose to save some persons but not others? In other words, are some foreordained to everlasting death?

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    • Peg – this is such an important question. Adding to our list for future hard questions posts

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  2. Does God show favoritism? Was the subject heading of this email. I’ve been pondering this through study for a couple years now. Is this blog on Israel suppose to answer that on a bigger scale than I was anticipating? Life has been so full of hurt for me, I have to wonder the answer. Feel I’m being punished for past family sin?

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    • Hi Lori – thank you for asking! It’s definitely an important question on a much broader scale. We will add it to our list of hard questions to explore. Praying for you this study year!

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    • Looking around me, at those who received blessings and those who are suffering. I cannot help but conclude that God has favourites. God is no doubt a merciful God, but is He also fair ?

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  3. Thankyou for your true observations. I was really blessed!

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  4. Thank you for this explaination of God’s justice. It will help me in conversations with others. This hard question is important to answer in a culture that rejects absolutes and sets up every man to do what is right in his own eyes. so again thank you.

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  5. Thank you for sharing. A good read. I’ll certainly share it with others.

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  6. Wow! This is refreshing. Thank you for sharing this layer of teaching of who God is and His judgment. No doubt in my mind that when He discipline me it is for my own good. One thing I always pray to God is “if it is your will, would you let me live for another day?” I can’t thank God enough for sending Jesus to die for me so that I will live again. I’m looking forward for your next blog. Thank you sir!

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  7. This helps me and confirms what I have come to think about God’s character. God fills up a spectrum with love, grace, and mercy on one end and truth, justice, and righteousness on the other. He consistently and perfectly blends all these qualities in all His dealings with us, His creatures.
    As Dr Talley says, we find this impossible to do on our own. And yet He instructs to do just that. Eph.4:15 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
    Our human tendancy is to land on one end of this spectrum or the other. We choose to be loving while ignoring truth or to be truthful while ignoring love. As we grow in Him He stretches us to become both… like Him. Instead of being just a dot on this spectrum, He grows us to become an ever lengthening line that can graciously share the truth in love. And when we fail in our attempts, He gently picks us up and says,” Now let’s try that again… but this time… don’t let go of my hand.”

    Now that we are heaven bound there is a way that we should go,
    And if we will walk that way our Father’s blessing we will know;
    An easy way it may not be but on that way we will be free,
    For our Father knows what’s best and in His will we will be blessed.

    Sometimes as we walk along we’ll slip and fall and lose our song,
    But if we will on Him call He’ll lead us back where we belong;
    Then again with joy we’ll sing… the joy that only Jesus brings,
    Then the world will truly see that only Jesus makes us free.

    So my friend as you move on that straight and narrow road to heaven,
    Veer not to the left or right but only follow Jesus light;
    And if you do you need not fear what lies ahead where sight’s unclear,
    The future’s in our Father’s hands and He will lead us home to heaven.

    Reply
  8. Thank you for bringing light into this very difficult question and allowing us to reflect on Who God is. You are absolutely right with everything you have said. It is a great help to us all.

    Reply
  9. God is sovereign. But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3) I cannot nor will I ever this side of heaven understand why God does things that do not seem right in my eyes, but I am made for His purpose and His glory. God is good. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25) Yes, He will.

    Reply
  10. Dr Talley was one of my daughters favorite professors at Biola University (which Talbot Seminary is part of). This study in Gods Word has been eye opening to Gods power and grace, His plans and purposes. This article is a great resource!

    Reply
  11. Thank you so much for taking such a difficult topic from a ‘world view’ & breaking it down to the true question we need to ask God to help us with…”instead of asking ‘Why does God judge the people He loves?’, instead we need to ask ourselves, ‘Can I trust the One who judges?’

    God can & will answer our hard questions if we seek Him honestly.

    Reply
  12. First & foremost the great exposition done by Dr. David on ” Why God does God Judge the people He loves” Our God is awesome God since creation. He entrusted Adam & Eve to eat every tree in the garden of Eden except the tree of knowledge of good & evil. They failed miserably and that’s God’s judgement on the people He love started. God will never judge us before He warns us of implication of our action.
    However, when we go astray and come back to Him in total repentance He never holds grudge, He welcomes us back to His bossom with open heart. That’s why He gave His Only son Jesus Christ to come and reconcile us back to Him.
    God’s judgement is for correction and reconciliation but due to mankind Stony hearts we fell he is harsh in His judgement. For instance when you faithfully trust you child with your friend and on return you find your friend have abused or killed your child how would you judge that friend of yours. The way you would judge that friend of yours is the same way God judges us. Am sure some of us would kill that person without a second thought. As for me God is harsh in His judgement to the people He loves.

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    • Correction “God is not harsh on the people he loves”
      Kindly edit. Also ” feel not fell” on sentence six.

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  13. This was a wonderful message on God’s judgement and has provided much understanding. Many questions and comments regarding the severity or harshness of God’s judgement has been discussed in our group.
    This statement says it all: ” God’s perfect love and perfect justice collided, resulting in eternal grace for those who believe.”

    Reply
  14. What a wonderful perspective to view a God who is gracious and just.Thank you for this truth which makes one look at life in this evil world from a sober and true perspective.

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  15. GOD’s judgement is His love to draw my attention to my sins and an invitation to come closer to Him. GOD’s judgement is good and just.

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  16. Powerful new question & challenge, “Can I trust the One who judges?”

    In light of who He is, His holiness & sacrifice & love & grace & justice & faithfulness… YES!

    Reply
  17. “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.

    Dr. David’s Talley’s message and especially the above statements made me think how true they really are and how they reflect God’s righteousness in judgment!

    Reply
    • Thank you for pointing that out. I needed to again reflect on God’s true attributes and those definitions rather than always connecting ‘wrath’ with ‘judgement’ instead of resting in His true attributes that protect us in Jesus when judgement comes. Grace, so grateful for Grace.

      Reply
  18. Thank you so much for the realization that God’s character is not judgmental or wrath.
    His character is however just and merciful.
    His goal is to bring us to Himself a loving God .

    Reply
  19. Reading Dr. Talley’s message was well worth the time!

    God is the only righteous judge.
    He judges rightly, and righteously.

    People who haven’t experienced God’s forgiveness and grace have much more difficulty with the truth of His total character.

    Is there “only love in the heart of God “?

    Reply
  20. Interesting, fits my way, God’s way is his and God gives us many opportunities to change, even forewarnings. I truly believe that God’s judgement is good.

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  21. This was very good and helped me understand more about the judgments in the Bible..Thank you

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  22. This a such a good explanation of God as Judge. I have had people ask about this often. When younger I may have contemplated this myself, but generally His judgment makes sense to me. Some questions that plague me are: 1. Why does it take Him so long to judge us? 2. How can we expect God to love us and not correct us when we sin? And 3. Why can we not see that His long suffering and generosity far outweigh His judgments?

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    • great question! We will share this with Dr. Talley and consider your question as a future blog post

      Reply
    • Thank you for this clear discussion on God’s judgment. I so appreciate the listing of His attributes and how judgment and wrath aren’t listed. They are required because of man’s sin. Yes. I can trust our God to handle each situation for good knowing His desire is reconciliation and not destruction. He acts to redeem and restore.

      Reply
  23. “Loving justice and love that is just”
    Succinctly describes God’s actions. Thank you for the reminder that God is mankind’s trustworthy judge.

    Reply
  24. God judges us because He loves us enough too. Thank you, God.

    Reply
  25. What we know is limited but God’s is infinite
    He is All kwowing
    God of past present and future 🙏🙏

    Reply
  26. Thank you for that insight- God’s judgement is not a part of His character but a response out of His character. Also, as short sighted humans, we only see the immediate. God sees the effect of sin way into the future.

    Reply
  27. Very often l have been questioning God why He creates something which will ultimately die. Many thanks for the answers to my puzzles.
    God bless you.

    Reply
  28. My humanness makes this subject matter so difficult to grasp. Thank you for this very thought-provoking blog.

    Reply
  29. I truly received better understanding and gained more reverence for our Holy and perfect God as judge. What a mighty God we serve! Thank you .

    Reply
  30. Zach Williams has a new song out called “There’s only love in the heart of God”. Can we reconcile that statement with God’s character? Is it possible that every act of God is motivated by a heart full of love? Including his harsh punishment and judgement?

    Reply
    • great question! We will share this with Dr. Talley and consider your question as a future blog post

      Reply
  31. Thank you for the commentary on God’s judgment.

    Reply
  32. Thank you for sending this article. It is so nice to see that some preachers do study and preach from the OT. We are so fearful of what is coming that we forget that we already have the answers in the Bible. We need not worry when a just God has this world in His Hands. Thank goodness that it isn’t really in the hands of politicians as some assume. God bless you and again THANKS for true words.

    Reply
  33. We will always be judged our entire lives. God is fair and his judgement is fair . I am glad Jesus was sent to forgive us of our sins

    Reply
  34. Thank you for your blog. I found it to be really helpful.

    Reply
  35. GRATEFUL FOR A JUST GOD WHO IS LOVING IN HIS JUDGEMENTS
    I APPRECIATE DAVID BLOG ANSWERING QUESTIONS THAT COME TO SURFACE WHEN COMMUNICATING WITH BELIEVERS AND NON BELIEVING INDIVIDUALS !!

    Reply

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