Would God really inflict suffering on anyone?

Some people don’t like the doctrines of election or definite atonement (that God foreknew AND chose those who would be saved before creation, thus atonement is only applied to them; otherwise His redemption plan would be a failure – see Romans 8:29-30) because, if true, it logically means God has also elected the unsaved for suffering and damnation. They say that’s against His character.

But what if it’s actually a part of His character? Would God proactively inflict suffering and damnation on anyone?

Read about the atrocities prophesied against Israel upon their disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:20-68. In a nutshell, the LORD said that if (really “when”) Israel disobeys, He would send curses, confusion, rebuke, destruction, suffering, horrors, and death against them. He would send relentless disease, natural disasters, military annihilation, oppression, agricultural failure, robbery, rape, humiliation, and even cannibalism because of their wickedness. Perhaps most unsettling is verse 63:

Just as the Lord was glad to cause you to prosper and to multiply you, so He will also be glad to cause you to perish and to destroy you. You will be deported from the land you are entering to possess.

God also used Israel to carry out His justice and wrath against the pagan nations in the Promised Land.

For it was the Lord’s intention to harden their hearts, so that they would engage Israel in battle, be completely destroyed without mercy, and be annihilated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Joshua 11:20

This attribute of God is hard for us to accept  because we like to concentrate on His mercy and love. He IS love, right? Don’t 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9 indicate that He wants everyone to be saved? This is one of those things that seems like a logical contradiction – but it is not. There’s a difference between God’s desires and His decrees (see: Jesus’ agony in the garden).  It’s merely a paradox to our human minds.

These doctrines (election & definite atonement) are true, as are the implications – but see: justice and holiness are part of His character and glory. Because we’re all sinful, we all deserve this kind of horrific punishment by default. God is not obligated to save anyone. If He has any obligation*, it’s to His own Holiness – that would mean destroying every sinner ever created. How glorious that he gives mercy and grace to any! How glorious that He came to take that wrath upon Himself for His own satisfaction and the justification of the elect! Doesn’t that make His love so much more profound?

*God really has no obligations because He is self-sufficient, but this helps for understanding from our human perspective.

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