Why Does God Punish People?

John D. Barry

Exodus 11–13; John 2:13–3:25; Song of Solomon 2:1–3

In regard to why a good God would punish people, I recently heard one homeless man wisely tell another, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where God didn’t punish injustices and just freely forgave sin—without any request for someone to choose the salvation He offers back. Imagine a place where injustice was never punished and people never recognized their sin and need for salvation. That would be terrible and painful.”

We all want justice to reign. For a good God to be truly good, injustice must be punished. This is why it makes complete sense that Jesus had to die. There must be a payment for the evil we inflict on the world and one another. Jesus’ death epitomizes God’s mercy and justice—and it all happened in one act.

This also makes sense out of the Passover event (Exod 12:1–31). I usually hear this preached about as a saving act, which indeed it was, but it was also brutal: God kills firstborn sons in an act of justice against the people of Egypt for the suffering they inflicted on an innocent people. (It’s important to note that the plagues that came before Passover gave Pharaoh more than ample warning.)

Following this, evil finally loosens its grip, and God’s people are freed (Exod 12:33–40). None of us truly wants to have justice fall upon us because we know that true justice would cost us our very lives. We have all done wrong against a good God, bringing evil into the world. Thus, we all deserve to be wiped out. Instead, God offers grace. But He does so only after the wages of our sin are paid with Jesus’ life. Jesus makes this incredibly clear: “For God did not send his Son into the world in order that he should judge the world, but in order that the world should be saved through him” (John 3:17).

Jesus goes on to explain that salvation requires choosing God back: “The one who believes in him is not judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God” (John 3:18). Before we believe, we’re judged—we are regarded to be dead in our sin. After we believe, we escape that judgment. God’s faithfulness, shown in Jesus’ death and resurrection, allows for that. I want to live in a world of people freed in Christ through His mercy and grace; I’m sure you want to as well. Thus, we should no longer ask, “Why judgment?” but instead, “Why not?”

In what ways are you misjudging God’s motives? How can you change that perspective?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.