Now this is a loaded question: Is God ever mean? People, whether Christians or not, don’t like hearing that God might be hard to get along with. They want the divine to be manageable. They like a God who obeys the laws as they understand them, who doesn’t get frustrated or angry. Unfortunately for such people, God’s own revelation of himself is different. God can appear to be very mean to us humans who become subject to his wrath, even if we live according to all the rules.
I’m not speaking of his wrath focused on people who don’t choose to follow Jesus Christ. I’m thinking of how mean God can seem to those who do choose God’s Son as Savior and Lord. When adversity comes upon them, Christians sometimes ask, “Why me, Lord?” After all, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re redeemed people. So where is the power and gift of redemption when fatal illness comes over you or unemployment overwhelms? Adversity seems to fly in the face of promises that life goes better with Jesus in it.
Yet God promises to be mean to his rescued people if they should sin. To the Israelites of Moses’ time, he declared,“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (Dt. 12:47-48, NIV). There is no way around it: God is mean to his people when they need it. If they sin, he will punish them.
“Wait a minute!” you say. “That was the Old Testament. God isn’t like that now. Saved in Christ now, our sins are all forgiven. Grace is ours always.”
Do you really believe that it makes no difference how you live after coming to faith in Christ? Does your conduct not matter? Can you do anything you want? I doubt it. Our activities must line up with God’s grace in Christ. If Jesus has redeemed us, we have to live as redeemed people. When we don’t, God is good and right to be mean toward us. He can send—actively send—trouble our way.
The adversity you experience may be the simple result of living as a faithful Christian in a world that wants nothing to do with godliness. You’ll have to grin and bear such trouble. Yet it is possible that some of your adversity is God’s deliberate action toward you which is aimed at dealing with a new or recurrent sin in your life. You should not grin and bear this trouble. You should examine it and learn if you have transgressed. You ought to admit whatever sin brought this trouble from God. Indeed, the only way out of the trouble, could be confession and repentance.
The apostle Paul taught this clearly in Romans 2:9-11, when he wrote, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (NIV). Adversity comes to everyone, to the Jew first, that is, to those who are chosen and blessed, to Christians. Hard times are not only for faithless people. The faithless get what they deserve, but the believer who sins gets what he needs, help toward repentance.
Will God not judge the actions of those whom he loves and calls according to his purpose? I believe he will. I believe he does.