Dissimilar people can think themselves into surprisingly similar beliefs about God’s stance toward punishment and consequences, gradually accepting a concept of a god who relishes pouring out wrath.
For example, some people reject the idea of a god because they assume a god must like to see people get their just desserts, and they find that god impossible. Others accept the idea of that god but hate him, hoping to distance themselves from a vengeful deity. On the flip side of the coin, some theists (indeed, some Christians) consider God’s wrath so philosophically defensible and their own righteousness so demonstrable that they are either untroubled by or even hungry for sinners to get what they deserve. I confess to my shame that at times I’ve been various versions of the latter.
However, whatever theological theses we might be able to think ourselves into, any who try to follow the God revealed in Jesus Christ as attested in the Scriptures must stop and consider what those very Scriptures say about God’s appetite for vengeance. Consider Ezekiel 18, a passage that has underscored (at length) that righteousness leads to life but sin leads to death. It ends this way:
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
Yes, God is forthright about judgment here, but He is eager for repentance, a new heart, a new spirit, life for former rebels. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” He says. Hundreds of years later, 1 Timothy again assures us of God’s desire for repentance and life:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
-1 Timothy 2:1-4
Perhaps we expected something different from God. Perhaps we’re still unsure how this compassionate declaration aligns with other things we’ve believed. Yet, before we ignorantly entertain the idea that the god is some kind of glutton for punishing, we should hear what God has to say for Himself: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone…I desire all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Therefore, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit,” and “Make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people…as is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”