How can God be merciful and just? Why would a good God send people to hell? Will God forgive me? How can I find peace?

With the animosity, hate, abuse and violence that floods our world today, it might be hard to believe God is good. Sin, like a drop of black ink in water has seeped deep into this once perfect planet.

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But Earth still has memory of what it once was and will be again. Before we see how good God is in the Bible, before we hear his own words about his intentions, let’s look around us. The Creator not only gave us an inhabitable environment, he gave us a glorious planet of beauty, adventure, and abundance of food sources in every color, shape and size. He painted us rainbows and sunsets. His imagination knew no bounds creating tropics, mountains, lush green landscapes and giant trees to explore and cultivate. He created beautiful animals with spots, stripes, colorful feathers — from the tiniest neon green insect you can barely see to whales that burst high into the air, landing with a gigantic splash. He gave us senses to see these spectacular things and smell fresh rain, fruits and blooms.

Unfortunately we haven’t treated our home kindly. And we haven’t treated each other kindly. 

He saw that it was good”And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Genesis 1:31

Disclaimer: I am a layperson, not an expert. I don’t pretend to be. I am a fallible human in love with a perfect God, who seeks answers to big questions in the Bible. The next few posts are taking me quite a bit of time as I read and pray and think and process. I have asked God’s help and would never intend to write something untrue or misleading of his perfect Word. So I ask that you read the Bible for yourself. It is alive and speaking to each of us in different ways. The truth is there.

Father of the fatherless

We’re going to start right off with a difficult question for you. Is it hard to believe your heavenly Father is good because your earthly father or father figure hurt you, neglected you or abused you? Those experiences can lead us to be angry, untrusting, shameful, unforgiving. If you don’t hear anything else from this post, hear this: Your heavenly Dad is not like that. He adores you. You are his precious child and he wants a relationship with you. He goes before you and follows behind (Psalm 139:5). He is Father to the fatherless and protector of widows (Psalm 68:5). You are safe, sweet child, to open your heart to him. He will never let you down. Not ever. Let go of that anger. Let go of that shame. Let it go. It’s poisoning your thoughts and actions. God has a better plan for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

I Am who I AM

In the last post, Who is God?, we studied Exodus 3 — Moses and the burning bush. Moses asked God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” God told him he would be with Moses and responded with who he was instead. He introduces himself as “I Am who I AM.” It didn’t matter what skills or lack-thereof Moses possessed, God said he would give him the words, the knowledge, the means to do his will. If God is with us nothing else matters.

We’re going to continue with the story as reluctant Moses choses to obey God and go tell Pharaoh to let his enslaved people go. If you’re familiar with the scripture, hang tight, because there are some surprises hidden for you.

Look for God’s attributes in these passages. He is slow to anger, patient, compassionate, faithful, merciful and just.

10 plagues - the Nile turned to blood

Let my people go

In Exodus chapter 5, Moses and his brother Aaron ask Pharaoh, on behalf of God, to let the captive Hebrew people go into the wilderness for three days to offer sacrifices to their God. He says no. Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” This angered Pharaoh to the point that he ordered their work must increase.

It takes eight entire chapters to cover the the 10 plagues that followed:

1. Under instruction from God, Aaron lifted up his staff and the Nile River turned to blood. But Pharaoh hardened his heart. How curious that the first plague he enacted upon Egypt was to turn the water of the Nile river into blood! The blood covenant with Abraham and his descendants was in full effect. He would redeem his people.

2. After a week of no drinking water and dead fish, Moses tells Pharaoh to let them go worship or they would be plagued with frogs. So there were frogs anyplace and everyplace until Pharaoh pleaded with Moses. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them.”

3. Then there were gnats. Even Pharaoh’s magicians said “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them.

4. Next were flies. “But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.”

5. During the fifth plague all the Egyptian livestock died, but the livestock of the Israelites remained untouched. “But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.”

6. Then boils, painful sores, broke out on man and beast. This time Exodus 9:12 says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Up until this point, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Why would God harden his heart? This Hebrew word for harden can also mean “strengthen.” God increased the strength of his free will. He didn’t want Pharaoh to give in because he was tired or beaten into submission. God wanted him to acknowledge and worship him as the one and only God.

7. The Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire down to the earth during the seventh plague, and this time Pharaoh gets it. He sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” (Exodus 9:27-28) But when the hail ceased he hardened his heart and sinned again, refusing to let the Israelites go.

This is the crucial turning point: Pharaoh now believes this is the one true God, but he rejects him. He would rather serve his ego than submit to the Lord. He would rather be seen as one with the gods Egypt worshipped, not just another human. It’s this desire to be like God that brought down one-third of God’s angels. It’s this desire to be like God that caused the first sin to enter this world. And it’s this same increasing egocentric desire that will lead us into the end of days.

8. Then locusts devour anything left that is green.

9. The ninth plague was darkness for three days.

10. And finally the tenth plague — the death of the firstborn.

“At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock (Ex 12:29).”

So just as the Pharaoh before ordered the deaths of all Hebrew baby boys when Moses was a baby, God sent the angel of death to take the Egyptian firstborns. But something saved the Israelites — the blood of the lamb sacrifice God told them to paint over their doors. The blood was a symbol of covenant. The blood of the innocent lamb spared them from the angel of death.

God told them to eat the roasted lamb that night and keep this tradition throughout the generations. It’s called Passover — when the angel of death passed over their houses and spared them. This is the only plague that the Israelites were required to participate in.

“What is all this talk about blood?” you might ask. Blood represents life. As in most ancient covenant traditions, when you exchange blood, you eat a meal together, two are becoming one. By the lamb entering their bodies they were entering communion with God. They were making it a part of themselves.

Jesus, our Savior and perfect lamb died on Passover some 1,500 years later, fulfilling completely the old covenant. (See: Jesus in the Passover)

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4

A plague of locusts

What did the plagues mean?

Each plague also mocked Egyptian gods:

  1. Water turned to blood – Hapi, god of the Nile
  2. Frogs – Heket, goddess of fertility with frog head
  3. Gnats from dust – Geb, god of earth
  4. Swarms of flies – Khepri, god of creation with fly head
  5. Death of livestock – Hathor, goddess of love and protection with cow head
  6. Boils – Isis, goddess of medicine and peace
  7. Hail – Nut, goddess of sky
  8. Locusts – Seth, god of storms
  9. 3 days of darkness – Ra, god of sun

We serve a patient God. How many chances has he given us to turn from our wicked ways? He revealed himself to the Egyptian people and gave them time to turn toward him. He has love and compassion for humanity.

Will we return his love? Do we harden our hearts in defiance and rejection like Pharaoh? Or do we follow his direction and live under his loving, protective authority like the Israelites did on the first Passover?

Parallels between the 10 plagues in Exodus and 7 plagues in Revelation

It’s at this point in researching for this post that I felt greatly overwhelmed. Everything ties together. It’s hyperlink overload with the death of first-born sons and lamb and blood — all foretelling the coming of Jesus. God is freeing his people — the captives were to be set free from their bondage to Egypt the way Jesus has feed us from our bondage of sin.

Then I had a crazy thought. I wonder if these plagues relate to the 7 plagues listed in Revelation, just before Jesus comes back. Well they do. Listen to this!

Revelation 16 describes what will happen when God’s wrath will finally come to those who refuse to repent and give him glory. There will be seven angels with seven bowls of God’s wrath. These things will sound very familiar now.

The first angel pours the bowl and painful sores come to those who have taken the mark of the beast. The second angel’s bowl turns the sea to blood. Third angel turns the springs of water to blood. The fourth angel pours his bowl on the sun and it scorches people, who in turn curse the name of God and do not repent or give him glory. The fifth angel brings darkness and people continue cursing God and will not repent. The sixth angel will dry up the great Euphrates River. It is at this point that the false prophet and three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the beast’s mouth. And finally the seventh angel pours out his bowl into the air and there is lighting, thunder and “a great earthquake since there had never been since man was on earth. … Every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.” Then hailstones, 100 pounds each will fall on people. And they will curse God.

Like Pharaoh and the Egyptians, he gives present day humans chance after chance to see him, turn from their wicked ways and give him glory, but many do not. How this must break his heart.

Everything! Everything points to Jesus. Everything in the Bible is connected and has a purpose. I try to be a through person, but how can you be through when there are more than 60,000 cross-references?

Bible Cross References by Chris Harrison
Bible Cross References by Chris Harrison

I saw an incredible chart made by Chris Harrison with 63,779 cross references found in the Bible. Harrison says “The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible … Each of the 63,779 cross references found in the Bible are depicted by a single arc — the color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect.”

It’s a visual representation of the Bible’s remarkable consistency and unwavering themes. So if you think, “Oh, I wonder if story is related to that story.” It is.

How can God be merciful and just?

God is both merciful and just. These might seem contradictory at first, but they are really just two sides of the same coin. Author George MacDonald once said, “I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice.”

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

Justice is based on what is morally right and fair.

You and I probably tend to think we know who deserves mercy and who deserves justice, right? Would you give these actions mercy or justice?:

  • Murdering a fellow soldier?
  • Compulsive adultery?
  • Denying Jesus?
  • Murdering Christians?

Well, God offered mercy to David, Solomon, Peter and Paul.

What typically happens is we want mercy for ourselves and justice done to others, but James 2 tells us to have mercy on others as well. In fact he says:

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Unlike us, God is always perfect and fair. He knows men’s thoughts and intentions. He knows their background and every deed. On that final judgement day no one will get the short end of the stick and no one is getting away with anything. Each person will be judged in perfect fairness. And this judgement will be based on one’s heart posture and relationship to his son.

God is only good, therefore, he cannot tolerate sin, evil or corruption. God is only good, therefore, he takes mercy on those who call out to him. So what is he to do? He had to find a bridge for us to cross the sea of trespasses, a bridge to himself.

The full goodness and mercy of God is demonstrated in giving us his only son, Jesus Christ. He rescued his chosen people time and time again in the Old Testament from captivity. He has rescued us as individuals from countless dangers and situations. But his greatest rescue was sending his son to die on a cross for our sins. His perfect, spotless, faithful son obeyed his Father’s direction, submitted to his authority, and saved us all from eternal death.

Can you imagine putting your own beloved, precious child through the torment and pain of betrayal, hate, slander and the most insufferable death imaginable? He turned away from his son on that day and poured all his wrath of man’s sin upon his obedient boy. For us! For a people who love themselves. For a people that reject him and demand their own way. He did it because loves us and will never stop fighting for us.

If you have been wronged, God will make it right one day. Take it to him. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). If you have wronged someone, don’t let your heart harden toward that situation either, but ask forgiveness from God and, if possible, that person.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13

Why would a good God send people to hell?

We’ll talk about this in more detail later in the series, but I see this question so often that I think we should stop and quickly address it here. God does not send people to hell. He wants none to perish. This is a choice each person makes. Like Pharaoh, if you don’t want God in your life, he won’t force you. If you reject him in this life, you will live without him in the afterlife as well.

But this earthly life touches both Heaven and hell. Don’t be confused that hell will offer any of the good things this world echos of Heaven. All good and perfect things are gifts from the Father. There is no evil in him. So in hell there will only be evil, complete absence of the Father and his goodness. It will not be a massive wild party. When people say “see you in hell” they have no idea what they are saying. Hell is a place of eternal darkness and torment.

The Gospel Coalition puts it like this: “Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, and describes it more vividly. There’s no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned about the absolute reality of hell.”

Jesus is that bridge to God, the way to Heaven.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Will God forgive me?

We’re going to jump over to the New Testament for a moment. In Luke 15 Jesus tells three parables about the Father’s love and shear anticipation for his children to come to him. He compares it to leaving 99 sheep to go find the lost one, diligently searching for a lost coin until it is found and a father waiting for his lost son to finally come back home.

After each of the three parables he describes angels rejoicing and a huge celebration. Let’s take a closer look at the third.

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Let’s take a look at the father’s reaction. This is how God, your heavenly Father, reacts to his children coming home to him!

1. The father didn’t force his son to stay home or refuse his inheritance.

God has given us free will and he honors that. The Quest Bible Study says “It was highly irregular for a son to claim his inheritance before his father’s death. A less loving father could have had his son stoned to death for such a rebellious attitude (Deut. 21:18-21).” In Jewish law the firstborn son receives two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger would get one-third, but the verse says he divided it between them. So this younger son wasted potentially one-third to half of the father’s property.

Application: How many gifts has our father given us that we have squandered, wasted or used for evil instead of prospering his kingdom? What would it look like if each member of the body of Christ used his or her gifts for the glory of God?

And to that point, the next parable in Luke 16 that Jesus gives is about money and talents and how to not be like the pharisees. Jesus used parables for many reasons, but one was so that he could speak about the corrupt religious leaders of the day without naming them specifically and risk stoning. The older brother represents the pharisees in this story. He was self-righteous and thought of himself as more worthy than his younger brother. He did not understand the father’s love and compassion.

2. The father saw his son a long way off and had compassion for him.

He ran to him! With open arms, an embrace and a kiss he greets him! What a moment that must have been.

Application: It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how far you’ve strayed. He sees you in the distance, like this father, because he’s actively, patiently waiting for you. You have never left his mind. He waits with open arms ready to run to you as soon as you’re ready to turn from the mess you’ve made and come back home.

3. The father forgives.

Notice he does not chastise or list all his wrongdoings, he focuses on the good, the progress. The son’s heart posture is repentant and humble. He is forgiven.

Application: Come to your Father in humility, seeking forgiveness and he will remove our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). God would rather forgive than judge.

4. The father celebrates in his son returning and holds nothing back.

He drops everything and throws a lavish party even though he has wasted so much.

Application: God is a good father. He doesn’t hold back because we have messed up again. We still belong with him and will inherit the kingdom of God, along with Jesus — the perfect older brother who celebrates along with the father.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

How can I find peace?

Jesus is our great source of hope! This is why Christians should be able to experience joy amidst pain, a peace that transcends understanding, faith in complicated circumstances, love in a fallen world. Because he has told us he is good, he loves us, he will forgive and restore us, he is coming back for us and we will be with him and his perfect goodness forever. We were dead, but now we live!

If you need this hope today, if you are at the end of your rope, it’s time to come home. Come back to your Father who loves you and waits patiently for you with open arms. See him run toward you. Angels will rejoice (Luke 15:10) and your mind will be renewed (Romans 12:2). You will be a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)! 

Pray with me. Or by all means pray in your own words. He longs to hear your heart and grow in relationship with you. No fancy words or formula are necessary. Maybe something like this:

God please forgive me for my sins. I believe your son Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to cover those sins. I accept him as my Lord and Savior. Come into my life, transform me and make your will my will. I love you! In Jesus name, Amen

If you just prayed that prayer, hallelujah! The next step is to find a bible-based local church where you can plug in and start growing in your faith. Head HERE for resources and help.

It’s real. If you prayed and believe that Jesus died for you and want to walk in covenant with him, he accepted you. The Holy Spirit will come in and it’s real. Don’t waste time questioning it. Instead, spend time praying and asking him to reveal himself to you. It will take time to move on from bodily desires to spiritual desires, but you just changed your eternal address, friend! Welcome home!!!

That’s it for today. Next time we’re going to ask: “How can a good God allow evil?” Whew. It’s a big one.

Illustrations by Kevin Carden via Lightstock