Why Does God Judge Some People More Harshly Than Others?

My desk in my office at church

Why is it that in the Bible, sometimes God punishes certain people severely for their sins, but other people receive no punishment for similar actions?

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Why does God bring judgment upon some sinful people, yet others who do much worse things remain healthy, prosperous, and well? In some cases they even seem to be getting God’s approval or at least not His punishment for the same sins as those who receive judgment. Examples of this would be Michal (David’s wife) and Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6, and the story of the two prophets in 1 Kings 13.

This is a good question, and is related to a question that David asked in the Psalms about why God allows wicked people to prosper and righteous people to suffer. This question, from David, was not an abstract query, but one that was deeply person to his lived experience.

We can see this dynamic at work in the world today as well, where some people do evil things and seem to suffer no consequences, and in some cases succeed as a result, whereas many who endeavor to lead a godly life don’t succeed or even suffer.

I responded to this question with a podcast episode which is embedded and linked below. In this episode, I give three important considerations which help us to understand this dynamic.

Podcast Episode: Why Does God Judge Some People More Harshly Than Others?

5 thoughts on “Why Does God Judge Some People More Harshly Than Others?

  1. Hi Nick, I just finished listening to the podcast episode and I thought it was really good. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a few brief thoughts in response to your 3 arguments.

    Argument 1) You argued that God is compelled to act justly, whereas His grace is optional. I would disagree with you on this and say that God’s justice is subjective and optional. God is entirely free to do as He pleases in any situation. The phrase you stated is “God has an obligation to do justice”. Could you please tell me who or what obliges God to do justice? What is it in your view that limits God’s freedom to do as He pleases?

    Argument 2) I thought this was a great point and I fully agree that sometimes God might use an act of judgement that seems extreme in order to make a point or set an example.

    Argument 3) With your argument here you seemed to be talking more about suffering than justice. The question is why God judges people ‘more harshly’ than others in some situations, and I’m not sure your argument addressed this, but please clarify this for me as I may have just misunderstood your point. How does the example you gave of David and Saul relate to the problem of unequal judgement?

    Thank you very much for a really interesting podcast episode, I may well listen to your podcast again sometime. You come across as intelligent and articulate and very knowledgeable.

    Best wishes,

    Steven

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for listening and commenting! To your first point: The thing which obliges God to do justice is his very character. John Stott explains this very well in his book “The Cross of Christ” – which I highly recommend. He explains that what motivates God to do both justice and mercy is the drive to “satisfy” himself by acting in accordance with his character. If, as God himself stated in Exodus 34, God is just (“by no means clearing the guilty”), then to act in contradiction to his character would make him unjust, inconsistent, and a liar. So, perhaps obligation is the wrong word. Stott would say (and I agree) that God does justice because he WANTS to, and he does mercy also because he WANTS to, but the driving force behind his desire to do these things is that he would satisfy himself. To act inconsistently with his character, in other words, would not “satisfy” God – therefore he must act in both justice and mercy.
      To your third point, you are right that I spent more time talking about suffering than justice, but I do believe the two are related under the heading of justice or fairness, under the idea of why the righteous sometimes suffer and the wicked sometimes prosper. This is often seen as a justice issue: that it is unfair of God to allow this to happen. With David and Saul, my point was this: God seemed to be dealing harshly with David but not harshly enough with Saul. I realize this is slightly different than judging two people differently who have committed the same sin, but I think it’s related.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and questions. BTW, I sometimes read your blog as well!
      Blessings, Nick

  2. Thanks for responding, Nick!

    I suppose I always want to emphasise God’s absolute freedom and sovereignty. So when I hear you say that God must act in accordance with his character, it doesn’t sit well with me. Is God’s character necessarily absolute and unchanging? My feeling is that because God is omnipotent, he can act in any way he chooses in any situation.

    Sometimes people seem to have a higher view of Scripture than their view of God’s freedom, but I always feel more inclined towards the latter — God is not bound by anything in Scripture, unless he chooses to be (which is the point you made in your reply, that he chooses to be, and I agree with you that God can make promises and keep them if he wants to, I’m just arguing he’s not obliged to, which you also acknowledged).

    Thanks for elaborating further on your third argument about David and Saul.

    Thanks also for stopping by my blog sometimes, pleased to hear that! Much appreciated.

    Wishing you the very best with the podcast and all your work, and I’ll see you around the blogosphere / podcastosphere! 🙂

    1. Thanks Steven! To your question: “Is God’s character necessarily absolute and unchanging?” – I think this is a great question. It gets to the doctrine of the immutability of God (unchangingness). If God is holy (i.e. the standard of perfection), then for God to change would be to change a standard. Furthermore, the reason why the moral laws in the Bible did not pass away when fulfilled (as with the ceremonial laws), is because they are tied to God’s unchanging character. That’s a whole other discussion – but the point being that I think there is sufficient warrant in Scripture (God’s self-revelation) to conclude that God’s character is unchanging/immutable.

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