Is God Cruel?

“If there’s a heaven, then there is a hell. If God is all-knowing, why would he create me knowing I’m going to make bad choices and go to hell? That’s kind of cruel. Maybe he shouldn’t create me in the first place.”

Well, let’s start answering this question with the statements we can affirm from the Bible. 

The Bible does tell us that there is a heaven, and a hell. 2 Corinthians 5:1 talks about heaven: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” And Jesus warns us about hell: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28, NIV) So, clearly that premise is one we can work from. 

Is God all-knowing? Well, the Bible confirms that one too. Psalm 147:4-5 says: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” In fact, to his disciples, the attribute of omniscience was one of the proofs that Jesus really is the Son of God: “Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (John 16:30, NIV)

So, yes, God is all-knowing. And also, God knows even things that to us lay hidden in the future, because he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:8, NIV). In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God speaks and says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:10, NIV)

Next, based on the above facts, the author of the question reaches a conclusion and makes this statement: “That’s kind of cruel.”

OK, I’ll grant that that’s one possible conclusion that we could derive from the facts as presented so far. It’s sort of like asking, “What was God thinking? If he knew things were going to turn out this way, why not just leave it undone? And if he decided to go ahead anyway, then God is cruel, and he made humans as his “playthings” and when he gets tired of us, he simply throws us away to burn in hell for eternity.” 

Deep down, in other words, God must really love to punish and wound and he created us to be his targets. Now he gets to fill us with holes. And throw us away.

But does that square with what we know about God from the rest of the Bible?

If God is cruel, for instance, or even if we're just "throw aways" to him, why would he come here and become one of us? Why would he embark on a mission to rescue us from the garbage heap of our own lives by living a perfect life in our stead? Why would he dive down into humanity knowing that his destiny was to be brutally tortured, mocked, crucified, and murdered so that we could be freed from our sins? Why would a cruel God make such an amazing sacrifice for us?

If God is cruel, why would he say such things as this? “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 5:26, NIV)  If God were cruel, and really wanted to punish us, what more does he need than our constant rebelliousness and anger against him, not to mention our constant cruelty and harmful acts toward one another—he has every reason he needs to destroy us if he wished. Yet, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13, NIV) To further back this up, Jesus says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NIV)

Do those sound like the words of a cruel God? Or do they sound like the words of a kind God? 

There are so many stories in the gospels that Jesus tells that talk about God’s kindness and his love of offering forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50Luke 15:11-32, just to name a few). And in the book of Ezekiel, this truth is put out there in very plain language. God, in love and kindness, literally pleads for his people to turn back to him: 

"Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?"' Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ezekiel 33:10-11, NIV)

We may not be able to answer all the questions about why God - knowing all that he knew - made the decision to go ahead and create this world, and us with it. But one thing the Bible assures us of - totally assures us of - is that his motives had nothing to do with cruelty.