STUDY ELEVEN: SUFFERING AND JUDGEMENT

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

 

In Study 4 we looked at the beginning of suffering, and in Study 5 we looked at suffering as the way life is. In both of these we saw that suffering exists in the world because of human sin (which in itself causes suffering), and because of God’s judgement on human sin.

Three major events in the past, each encompassing the total world population at that particular time, caused the beginning of much of the suffering that exists in the world today:

The Genesis 3 rebellion against God and his word, and the consequences and judgement this incurred.

The global flood of Genesis 6 – 9, which was God’s judgement upon saturation-point wickedness.

The confusion of languages at Babel in Genesis 11, which was God’s response to the human belief in its own ability, sufficiency and independence. [A quest typical of secular humanism.]

There are two truths or principles at work here:

[1] Human sin results in human suffering. That is the nature of sin. It is what sin does. It is the ‘evil’ and the ‘dying’ which God prohibited when he commanded us in Eden not to eat of the tree of the ‘knowledge of good and evil.’ It is what God said ‘No’ to.

This principle continues to operate whenever and wherever we sin. By our sin we cause ourselves to suffer; by our sin we cause others to suffer. [If God did not at times intervene we would all be overwhelmed by the suffering caused by our own wickedness and that of others.]

[2] Human sin also merits God’s judgement, and that judgement also results in suffering.

While the first principle is always in effect in our time/space world, the principle of sin meriting God’s judgement is not always put into effect. The principle stands, but there are other principles, other truths, that indicate that it is out of order for us to look at a person, group or nation that is suffering and to make a direct connection between that suffering and God’s judgement on sin that that person, group or nation is presumed to have committed.

We will now look at some of God’s operating principles, some biblical truths that need to be considered in the relationship between suffering and God’s judgement.

 

A. SIN MERITS GOD’S JUDGEMENT AND PUNISHMENT

This is a foundational biblical principle. Sin must be punished. God is the Judge of all the earth. The unbelieving Cain knew this, close to the beginning of time. Noah understood it, proclaiming righteousness before the flood. Job and his friends knew this, even before the Law was given. Abraham knew this, also before the Law was given.

Read these verses. What was known of this principle that sin merits punishment?
Genesis 4:13,14

2Peter 2:5

Job 31:11 – 14

Genesis 18:22 – 25

When we study the Law of God recorded in the books of Moses, we find very specific penalties for sin, some to be applied by the people or their national or spiritual leaders. And as we read the history of Israel we find other sins and other judgements/punishments - some that are applied by God, either directly in the form of natural events, or indirectly through people he moves to accomplish his purpose, including his judgement.

From these verses identify the sin and the prescribed judgement/punishment.
Particular case laws (selected)
Exodus 21:12

Exodus 21:17

Exodus 22:1

Deuteronomy 13:1 - 5

National sins (selected)
Exodus 32:7 – 9, 31 - 35

Deuteronomy 6:13 – 15

 

Deuteronomy 8:17 – 20

Deuteronomy 28:15 – 24

While the sins and punishments described above applied specifically for God’s chosen nation, it is also obvious that God also has standards of behavior for all people, and is the Judge and sovereign Lord of all people.

Read Amos chapters 1 and 2. What sins and what punishments are described for each city or nation?
Damascus

 

Gaza

 

Tyre

 

Edom

 

Ammon

 

Moab

 

Judah

 

Israel

 

B. THE WRATH OF GOD

An aspect of God’s judgement and the suffering involved in the punishment is what the Bible refers to as the ‘wrath’ – the ‘burning anger’, or the ‘fierce anger’ of God. His judgements, although absolutely just, are not an expression of cold, clinical justice. He is not like a parking officer coldly placing a parking fine on your vehicle, just doing his job, not even knowing who you are and what your circumstances are; you mean nothing to him. But when God acts in judgement, when God metes out suffering as a just punishment, he is personally and emotionally engaged, because how we live and what happens to us actually matters to him.

It matters to God when we hurt each other.
It matters to God when we live contrary to his glorious purpose for us.
It matters to God when the godless persecute his people.
It matters to God when we obey the enemy, for he knows the enemy is both the deceiver and the destroyer.
It matters to God when we put a substitute god in his place, for he knows those gods are nothing.

The intensity of the punishment/suffering meted out parallels the intensity of God’s emotion and concern. It is the measure of how much it matters to God.

 

Consider the connection between the intensity of the wrath (fierce anger) of God and the intensity of the punishment in these incidents.
The destruction of the Egyptian army (Exodus 15:1 – 12)

 

The golden calf (Exodus 32:7 – 12)

 

Idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:6 – 18)

 

Rejection of the truth about God (Romans 1:18 – 31)

 

 

The ‘last battle’ (Revelation 11:15 – 18; 16:19; 17:6; 18:4; 19:1, 2,15b, 16).

 

 

 

 

[We will look further into the heart of God in Study 12.]

 

C. GOD IS NOT QUICK TO ACT IN JUDGEMENT

Although God does at times act with immediate judgement (as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, or Herod in Acts 12:21 - 23), he does not always do so. In fact, he usually does not do so.

This verse from Exodus is instructive:

‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished …’ (Exodus 34:6,7).

We will look at the principle of grace more fully below. Our focus in this section is that God is ‘slow to anger’.

And here we learn two very important points:

[1] That the absence of suffering does not mean an absence of sin and guilt.

[2] That the absence of punishment/judgement now does not mean avoidance of future judgement.

There are a number of places where we see this principle that God is ‘slow to anger’, where God does not act in judgement at the first indication of sinfulness, but waits and waits, until the wickedness becomes pervasive and overwhelming.

Read these texts. What evidence is there that God is slow to anger?
Genesis 6:5

Genesis 15:16 & Deuteronomy 9:4, 5

 

Genesis 18:20; 19:13

Isaiah 1:4 – 6

 

2Peter 3:9, 10

 

But although God commonly holds back his judgement, the time comes when he decides that ‘enough is enough’, when human suffering caused by human sin becomes so intense that God imposes his judgement. See this meditation.

 

D. OUR UNIVERSAL GUILT

If God acted in strict justice, and only in strict justice, no one would survive his judgement. We cannot conclude that the absence of suffering/punishment indicates an absence of guilt. Nor can we conclude that the presence of great suffering indicates a greater guilt.

Read Luke 13:1 – 5. What do you learn from this passage?

 

 

 

 

 

E. GOD’S MERCY AND GRACE

Although God’s judgement is certain, God does not usually act in immediate judgement. As we have seen above in Exodus 34 and 2Peter 3, there is another significant principle in play:

God is ‘compassionate and gracious … abounding in love … maintaining love … and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’ (Exodus 34:6, 7).

God is ‘patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2Peter 3:9).

The principle of grace and mercy means that God provides a way to avoid his just judgement, and the final and ultimate suffering that that involves.

See this extended study on God’s grace.

 

F. PRELIMINARY JUDGEMENTS

It is obvious in the Gospels and Revelation that scattered through history there are many preliminary judgements which are forceful reminders that there is such a thing as the final judgement. By these judgements God gives ample warnings to those who do not believe. Along with these on-going preliminary judgements we also learn that there is a parallel persistence in the suffering of believers.

Read Matthew 24:1 – 35 and Luke 21:5 – 36. Make a list of -
(a) events that are preliminary judgements

 

 

 

 

 

(b) how Christian suffer at the hands of the godless.

 

 

 

Read Revelation 8:6 – 9:21 and 16:1 - 14. Make a list of the preliminary judgements.

 

 

 

 

G. THE FINAL JUDGEMENT

The final judgement is a time of the final and ultimate suffering. Our deliverance from this ultimate expression of God’s judgement, this ultimate condemnation, is the purpose of Christ’s incarnation and death.

What do these verses say about Christ bearing the punishment due to our sins?
Isaiah 53:4 – 6, 8, 11

 

1Peter 2:24

1Peter 3:18

1John 2:2

 

We must be careful, however, that we do not see Christ’s death as focused only on that final deliverance, as something that deals with our redemption only on that day. Christ’s saving death is effective now. We have already been rescued from God’s judgement.

For those who have acknowledged Jesus Christ:

There is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
We have already crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).
We have forgiveness and redemption through Christ’s blood (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).
We have eternal life (1John 5:12; John 3:36).
We have been saved from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9).
We have peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Conversely, for those who have not believed in the name of Jesus Christ, God’s judgement is already upon them.

They are already condemned (John 3:18).
God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36).

The Bible uses various verbal images to portray the punishment/suffering involved in the final judgement.

Suggest the meaning of the images of suffering described in these verses about the final judgement.
Matthew 22:13

Matthew 24:51

Matthew 25:11 – 13

Matthew 25:30

Matthew 25:41 – 46

Mark 9:44, 48

John 3:16

Revelation 14:19, 20

Revelation 20:14, 15

The images used in the above texts clearly indicate that the final judgement is something to be avoided, something that involves intense suffering. So certain and so terrible is that final judgement that the Lord Jesus Christ became one of us, lived our human life, and died our human death, bearing for us the unbearable judgement of God, suffering for us that final and ultimate suffering.

 

H. VENGEANCE IS MINE

There is an aspect of judgement that is directly related to the suffering experienced by believers because of their alignment with the name of Jesus. God avenges the suffering of his people.

Read Romans 12:17 – 21. What does is say about God’s justice?

 

 

God makes a very clear statement that it is his responsibility to avenge, not ours. When we read other texts we find this concept repeated. It is specifically applied to those who persecute God’s people. And when the final judgement comes its most horrific impact will be on those who caused God’s people to suffer.

Read these texts. What do you learn about God avenging the suffering and death of his people?
Deuteronomy 32:43

Matthew 18:6

Luke 10:8 – 16

 

Luke 18:1 – 8

Romans 16:20

1Corinthians 3:17

2Thessalonians 1:4 – 10

 

2Timothy 4:14

2Peter 2:1 – 9

2Peter 2:17

Revelation 6:9 – 11

Revelation 8:3 – 5

Revelation 16:5 – 7

Revelation 17:1 – 6, 15 – 17

 

Revelation 18: 2 – 8, 20 – 24

 

Revelation 19:1, 2

 

What is your response to this strong biblical perspective that God avenges the suffering of his people?