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?