Divine Judgments—Were They Cruel?
TO ADDRESS this question, let us briefly focus on two examples of divine judgment in the Bible—the Flood of Noah’s day and the extermination of the Canaanites.
THE FLOOD OF NOAH’S DAY
WHAT YOU MAY HEAR: “God was cruel when he unleashed a flood that destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family.”
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: God said: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.” (Ezekiel 33:11) So the destruction of the wicked in Noah’s day brought God no pleasure at all. Then why did he do it?
The Bible answers that when God brought such judgments against ungodly people in times past, he was “setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come.” (2 Peter 2:5, 6) What pattern did God set?
First, God established that even though it pains him to destroy people, he does take note of cruel people who cause suffering and holds them accountable for their actions. In time, he will end all injustice and suffering.
Second, the pattern of God’s past actions establishes that God lovingly warns people before executing judgment. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, but most people ignored him. The Bible says: “They took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.”—Matthew 24:39.
Has God held to that pattern? Yes. For example, he warned his people Israel that if they turned to wickedness as the nations around them had, he would allow enemies to invade their land; destroy their capital, Jerusalem; and carry them off into exile. Israel did turn to wickedness—even carrying out child sacrifice. Did Jehovah act? Yes, but only after sending prophets to warn his people, again and again, to change their ways before it was too late. He even said: “The Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.”—Amos 3:7.
HOW YOU ARE INVOLVED: The pattern we see in Jehovah’s past judgments gives us hope. We can confidently look forward to God’s judgment of those who cruelly cause suffering. The Bible says: “Evildoers themselves will be cut off . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:9-11) What do you think about a judgment that relieves mankind of suffering? Is it cruel, or is it merciful?
THE EXTERMINATION OF THE CANAANITES
WHAT YOU MAY HEAR: “The destruction of the Canaanites was a cruel war crime comparable to modern-day genocides.”
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS: “All [God’s] ways are justice. [He is] a God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) An act of divine justice is not comparable to a human war. Why? Because unlike humans, God is able to read hearts—that is, what humans are on the inside.
For example, when God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and determined to bring them to ruin, the faithful man Abraham was concerned about the justice of the matter. He could not imagine that his just God would “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.” Patiently, God reassured him that if there were even ten righteous people in Sodom, He would spare the city on their account. (Genesis 18:20-33) Clearly, God searched through the hearts of those people and saw the depth of their wickedness.—1 Chronicles 28:9.
Similarly, God judged the Canaanites and rightly ordered their destruction. The Canaanites were notorious for their cruelty, which included burning children alive in sacrificial fires.* (2 Kings 16:3) The Canaanites knew that Jehovah had commanded Israel to take possession of all the land. Those who chose to remain and wage war were taking a deliberate stand against not only the Israelites but also Jehovah, who had given powerful evidence that he was with his people.
Moreover, God extended mercy to Canaanites who abandoned their wickedness and accepted Jehovah’s high moral standards. For example, the Canaanite prostitute Rahab was saved, along with her family. Also, when the inhabitants of the Canaanite city of Gibeon sought mercy, they and all their children were preserved alive.—Joshua 6:25; 9:3, 24-26.
HOW YOU ARE INVOLVED: We can learn a vital lesson from the judgment of the Canaanites. We are rapidly approaching the foretold “day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Peter 3:7) If we love Jehovah, we will benefit when he eliminates human suffering by ridding the earth of those who reject his just rule.
The Canaanites were notoriously cruel, and they deliberately opposed God and his people
Jehovah lovingly reminds us that the choices parents make affect their children. God’s Word says: “You must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Are those the words of a cruel God or the words of a God who loves people and wants them to make the right choice?
Will You Trust God?
IMAGINE that you have a friend whom you admire greatly, but he does something that you cannot understand. Others criticize his action and judge his motives, saying that your friend is cruel. Would you be quick to agree with them, or would you wait to hear your friend’s side of the story? If he was not there to explain himself, would you be patient, giving him the benefit of the doubt?
Before answering, you might want to know more. You might ask, ‘How well do I really know this friend, and what basis do I have for admiring him?’ Fair enough. But consider: Can we not apply the same principles to this question of whether God is cruel?
You may find it hard to understand some of what God has done, or you might be puzzled by what he has allowed to happen. There are plenty of people who will tell you that God is cruel and who will urge you to judge his motives as they have. Will you extend him the benefit of the doubt until you know more? The answer may depend on how well you know God. Ask yourself, ‘What kind of a friend has God been to me?’
If your life has been difficult, you might be tempted to say that God has not been a friend at all. But think for a moment. Has God been responsible for the hardships in your life—or for the blessings? As we have seen, Satan is “the ruler of this world,” not Jehovah. (John 12:31) It is thus Satan who is behind much of the misery and injustice of this world. And would you not agree that our own imperfections and unpredictable circumstances cause many of our problems?
Has God been responsible for the hardships in your life—or for the blessings?
On the other hand, what has God been responsible for? Consider what the Bible says: that God is “the Maker of heaven and earth”; that his works include our physical bodies, which are “wonderfully made”; and that Jehovah is “the God in whose hand your breath is.” (Psalm 124:8; 139:14; Daniel 5:23) What does all of that mean?
It means that we owe our every breath, our very existence, to our Creator. (Acts 17:28) It means that the gift of life, the beauty of the world around us, the pleasures of love and friendship, the joys of taste, touch, sound, and smell—all of these are gifts from God. (James 1:17) Would you not agree that those blessings make him a Friend who is worthy of our esteem and trust?
Granted, you may find it hard to trust God. Perhaps you feel that you do not yet know him well enough to trust him. And that is understandable. In these brief articles, we cannot address all the reasons why some judge God as cruel. But would it not be worth the effort to get to know God better?* We are confident that as you do, you will come to know the truth about God. Is he cruel? Quite the opposite: “God is love.”—1 John 4:8.