A close-up of a person's hands and varnished nails as they read the Bible

Why Does God Punish Dreadfully, When Jesus Teaches Forgiveness?

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I re-read the book of Revelation today. It seems to me that the teachings of Jesus — who emphasised love of neighbour, love of God, and forgiveness of our enemies — are at odds with the way God’s character is depicted in the Bible.

The Book of Revelation is absolutely terrifying in respect of some of the things it says God will do to sentient beings in the future, such as sending plagues, a bottomless pit, torturing for 1000 years, throwing people into a lake of fire, killing all ocean life, etc.

And, of course, in the Old Testament, God is believed to have obliterated the human race in a great flood, as well as punishing nations on countless occasions by sending plagues and droughts, or through violent wars. If you believe God is sovereign over all events, as I certainly do, then divine punishment seems very cruel and unnecessary, because God is punishing people for things they have done which He has actively caused them to do (more on that here).

How can the character of God and the character of Jesus be so different, when Jesus is supposedly God? Why can’t God forgive people in the way Jesus teaches humans they must? I’m really struggling to accept the Biblical presentation of a God who is unspeakably cruel. It just doesn’t make sense.

It seems that the Biblical justification for God’s severe punishment is His supposed anger over sin. We are all apparently guilty because of something that Adam and Eve did long before we were born, and regardless of whether we do our best to be kind and loving people during our lives on Earth. Christian evangelists will rebuke everyone without exception, claiming that because we have all slipped up at least once in our lives, we do not meet God’s high standard of holiness and purity, and this makes us deserving of hell. Really?

It’s perfectly possible that God might torment His creatures dreadfully and in the ways we read about in the book of Revelation. But if God is all-powerful, and His natural state is one of peace (as I have argued it likely is in my essay about Covid-19), then it doesn’t really make sense that He would be so angry as to punish with the kind of gruelling severity described in the Bible.

Some Christians reading this will no doubt take the standpoint that whatever is in the Bible, we must believe without question. Of course, Christians disagree on pretty much every issue of Biblical theology there is, so “believing the Bible” is in no way black and white. I understand that those Christians who elevate the authority of the Bible do so out of a fear of God, and I respect that — reading the Bible definitely creates great fear, there is no doubt about it.

But I have found myself asking this important question, which I also invite readers to consider: Which am I more happy to call into question, the Christian worldview (as expounded in the Bible), or God Himself, as I believe Him to be? My way of dealing with this problem will be to think through the issues with an open mind and pray about the issues I have discussed here, and I hope God will enlighten me as to the Truth of the matter, whatever it is.


I took a break from my Praise and Prose series in order to write today’s post, but I will continue with that series tomorrow, God willing. I have closed comments today, as I don’t wish to engage in heated theological debate around today’s post, but I simply wanted to raise the issues I have described and invite readers to consider those issues for themselves. Thank you for reading, and God bless you.

(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

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