GOD IS MERCIFUL. CAN WE THEREFORE CONCLUDE THAT HE WILL NOT CAST THE UNSAVED INTO PERPETUAL SUFFERING?
Updated – 6/29/10
The Bible tells us that God is very merciful and kind to all mankind in this world. God indicates that He provides many earthly blessings to all mankind, including both the saved and the unsaved (Matthew 5:45, Acts 14:17).
We also know that God is eternally merciful to the saved. There are many verses that teach this truth.
The question is: Does the Bible teach that God will show some degree of mercy towards the unsaved at Judgment Day so that there will not be perpetual suffering?
We read some verses that might seem to indicate the answer to the above question is “yes”. Let’s consider some of these verses:
We read in two verses that God has no pleasure in the death of the unsaved:
Ezekiel 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.
Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
Please see the studies on the Biblical definition of life and death for mankind to help understand these verses. The Bible teaches that death for mankind is separation between him and God. God is life.
In the above verses, God is saying that He has no pleasure in punishing man for his sins. The punishment specified above is to be eternally separated from God, who is life, and His blessings. That is the Biblical definition of death for mankind.
We might read the above two verses and conclude that the unsaved will not be punished with perpetual suffering. However, the above two verses do not say that.
These two verses teach that God does not take pleasure in punishing the unsaved, but that does not mean that He will not punish them according to the law of God, the Bible.
Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11 teach that God has no pleasure in the punishment of the unsaved. However, they do not, in any way, provide any limit to the punishment of the unsaved.
We cannot read something into a verse that is not there.
We have to be careful not to read something into a verse that is not there. Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11 do not talk about the duration or nature of the punishment of the unsaved in anyway. They teach an important principle that God does not take pleasure in punishing the unsaved but they do not limit the duration of that punishment in any way.
Ezekiel 18:32 & 33:11 teach that God does not have any pleasure in the punishment of eternal separation from God that the unsaved must endure. But, these verses do not say that the unsaved will not endure a punishment of perpetual suffering. God must follow His law, whatever it specifies.
We can think of a human judge as an illustration.
If a human judge is faithful to the law then he must carry it out independent of his personal feelings.
If someone has broken the law then the human judge must subject the criminal to the punishment required by the law. The judge may weep about having to punish the criminal, but if he is going to be faithful to the law, he must do it.
We can understand how God must obey the law of God if we consider a faithful human judge that must pronounce the sentence upon the criminal even though he may do it with weeping.
We have to remember that God is subject to the law of God just like man is subject to it. Whatever the law of God specifies, God must follow that.
God is subject to the law of God. Whatever punishment the Bible specifies for the unsaved, God must carry that out. However, God does not have any pleasure in punishing mankind.
read about how the Lord Jesus wept over
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
of the people of
Luke 19:41 gives the same message that God has no pleasure in the punishment of the unsaved. However, that does not mean that the unsaved are not punished according to the law of God. God takes no pleasure in punishing the unsaved but God also must follow His own law, the Bible. Luke 19:41 provides no limit to the duration of the punishment of the unsaved.
We have to be careful not to read something into a verse that is not there. Luke 19:41 provides no limit to the duration of the punishment of the unsaved. It does indicate that God takes no pleasure in that punishment.
We must consider another important truth the Bible teaches:
The nature of God’s relationship to unsaved man changes at Judgment Day. Throughout the history of the world, God has been very merciful to the unsaved in many ways. However, God’s relationship to the unsaved changes at Judgment Day.
Deuteronomy 28:63 shows how God’s relationship to the unsaved changes at Judgment Day. We read there:
And it shall come to pass, that as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you; so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought; and ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
The word “to nought” is mostly translated “to destroy”.
Deuteronomy 28:15-68 teaches the punishment that everyone who sins must experience. This includes all of the unsaved throughout time. There are many verses in this passage that signify conscious affliction for the unsaved in this passage.
For more information about Deuteronomy 28:15-68, please go to the study below and search for the phrase “Deuteronomy 28”.
Deuteronomy 28:15-68 describes the punishment that the unsaved must endure. Verse 63 shows the change in God’s relationship to the unsaved at Judgment Day versus His present relationship to them.
Today, God rejoices “do you good, and to multiply you”. God is good to all mankind, including the unsaved. This verse is talking about people who remain unsaved. However, at Judgment Day, God will “rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought”.
The word translated “to nought” is normally translated “to destroy”. So, God is really saying twice in this verse that He will rejoice to destroy the unsaved.
Some people think that “destroying” the unsaved means to “annihilate” them, like one might destroy a toy.
However, Deuteronomy 28:15-68 uses a common verb translated “to destroy” 7 times to describe the punishment of the unsaved. This verb is not in the past or perfect tense. It is in an on-going tense which means to be “destroying”. There are many verses in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 that describe conscious affliction. A careful examination of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 shows that it describes an on-going “destroying” of conscious affliction. For more information, please see the above study.
Deuteronomy 28:63, along with other verses, teach that God’s relationship to the unsaved changes at Judgment Day. In this world, God rejoiced to do mankind good, but at Judgment Day He will no longer do that.
We must examine the Bible to see if the law of God allows for any mercy for the unsaved on Judgment Day
Does the Bible allow God to show any mercy towards the unsaved at Judgment Day?
We read in Habakkuk 3:2:
O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
Here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophet is asking God to show mercy in His wrath.
We might conclude that this means that at Judgment Day God will show some mercy towards the unsaved. However, we must ask an important question about Habakkuk 3:2. Is it speaking of the Great Tribulation time or is it speaking of Judgment Day or both? We need to examine more verses to understand about what time frame Habakkuk 3:2 addresses.
The setting of Habakkuk is the Great Tribulation, the last 23 years in which satan has been appointed to conquer and rule in all the local congregations.
We see this in Habakkuk 1:5-11. We read there:
5 ¶ Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.
7 They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.
9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.
11 Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
passage is talking about how God would raise up the Babylonians or Chaldeans to
The context of Habakkuk is the Great Tribulation. During the Great Tribulation, our day, God is still saving many people throughout the world.
However, we ask, could the plea for mercy in judgment in Habakkuk 3:2 also apply to Judgment Day?
To answer this question we have to look for more information from the Bible regarding God’s mercy and His judgment.
God makes more declarations about His judgment upon the unsaved to help us answer the above question.
Here are a few verses that teach that God’s mercies towards the unsaved come to an end at Judgment Day. We read in James 2:13:
For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
For the true believer, God’s mercy rejoiceth against judgment because Christ has paid for all of his sins. However, for the unsaved, according to James 2:13, there will be judgment without mercy. That is, there is no mercy for the unsaved at Judgment Day.
We read more verses:
Psalms 59:5 Thou therefore, O LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah.
Psalms 109:12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
Isaiah 9:17 Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Isaiah 27:11 When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.
Jeremiah 13:14 And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the LORD: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.
Hosea 1:6 And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.
Hosea 2:4 And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms.
These are some verses in which God teaches that He will show no mercy nor favour towards the unsaved when we get to Judgment Day. At Judgment Day the possibility of salvation has come to an end and these verses teach that there will be no mercy for the unsaved.
The above verses show us that when we come to Judgment Day, God’s mercy towards the unsaved will come to an end. Therefore, we receive further confirmation that Habakkuk 3:2 applies to the Great Tribulation and maybe other times, but does not apply to Judgment Day.
We see many verses about how God is merciful. However, the above verses show us that God’s mercies are everlasting only for the true believers.
There are no verses that say that God will be merciful to the unsaved at Judgment Day.
Let’s consider another point of confusion for some people.
IS GOD’S ANGER TOWARD THE UNSAVED FOR JUST A MOMENT?
We read some verses which talks about God’s anger or wrath lasting for a “moment” and that may cause us to conclude that there is no on-going suffering for the unsaved. Here are two such passages:
4 Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
6 ¶ For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.
7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
In Psalm 30:5, God talks about “his anger endureth but a moment”. However, notice that the context of this passage is the mercy of God towards the true believers. Verse 4 is talking about the true believers. The “joy” in verse 5 is the joy of salvation that God gives to the true believers. So, Psalm 30:4-5 is talking about the true believers. God’s “anger endureth but a moment” towards the true believers. These verses are not talking about the unsaved.
We all started out under the wrath of God as we read about in Ephesians 2:1-5:
1 ¶ And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 ¶ But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
Verse 3 says that the true believers were “children of wrath” before salvation. Ephesians 2:3 explains Psalm 30:5 by teaching that the unsaved elect were also under the wrath of God because of their sins. Before salvation is the “moment” of God’s anger that the unsaved elect were under. It is only a “moment” in comparison to all eternity with the Lord Jesus.
That wrath was covered by the payment made by the Lord Jesus. Upon salvation, that payment is applied so that the true believers have been delivered from the wrath of God. That is what Ephesians 2:1-5 and Psalm 30:4-5 teach.
The same truth is taught in Isaiah 54:7. Before salvation we are under the wrath of God and forsaken in that sense. But in His “great mercies” God has gathered us unto Himself upon salvation.
THE BIBLE CLEARLY TEACHES THAT THE WRATH OF GOD IS UPON THE UNSAVED FOREVERMORE
God uses the idea of fire to talk about His wrath. We read about this in Deuteronomy 32:22:
For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
God identifies “fire” with His “anger” or wrath. Here are some additional verses that link fire with God’s anger or wrath:
Nahum 1:6 Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.
Isaiah 9:19 Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire: no man shall spare his brother.
Ezekiel 38:19 For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel;
The fire identifies with the wrath of God. We learn in the following verses that this fire of God’s wrath will burn forevermore:
Jeremiah 17:4 And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.
Notice that Jeremiah 17:4 identifies the “fire” with “mine anger”
Jeremiah 7:20 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.
Ezekiel 20:47 And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein.
43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
48 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
God has given many verses that teach that the fires of God’s wrath will never be quenched. They will burn forevermore just like God will reign forevermore. These verses teach us that the wrath of God, represented by the fire, will be against the unsaved forevermore.
These verses focus upon the wrath of God abiding upon the unsaved forevermore. The study below focus upon the fact that the unsaved must consciously endure this wrath forevermore:
Sometimes people read about the fire of God’s wrath and believe that this teaches that the unsaved are simply burned up and that is the end of them. However, a careful examination of how God uses the idea of the fire of God’s wrath shows that this is not possible. The study below examines this question in the Bible:
For the unsaved, God is merciful to them in this world, but those mercies come to an end at Judgment Day. God gives many verses and passages that talk about how Judgment Day for the unsaved will be a time of cruel wrath.
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT GOD’S WRATH ON JUDGMENT DAY WILL BE VERY SEVERE CONFIRMING THAT THIS WILL BE A TIME OF NO MERCY FOR THE UNSAVED
Let us look at some passages that talk about the cruel nature of Judgment Day for the unsaved.
We read in Isaiah 13:6-11:
6 ¶ Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty.
7 Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt:
8 And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames.
9 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.
10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
We read in Psalm 2:1-5:
1 ¶ Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.
5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
We read in Proverbs 1:24-31:
24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
These and other passages talk about the awful character of Judgment Day for the unsaved. There is no mercy in this language. They confirm that there will be no mercy for the unsaved at Judgment Day. In this world, there is God’s mercy towards the unsaved in many ways and the possibility of salvation still exists. However, when we read the whole Bible we find that there will be no mercy on Judgment Day for the unsaved.
IS UNSAVED MAN REALLY THAT GUILTY BEFORE GOD?
Sometimes we get the impression that unsaved man is not really that guilty before God. We can look at ourselves and others through our own eyes and we appear to be pretty reasonable people. However, we all have a distorted or a sin-tainted perspective. We have to go to the Bible to see God’s perspective on us as sinners before Him. God’s perspective is perfect because He is perfect. Our perspective is defective. We can learn God’s perspective on us as sinners in Romans 1:18-32:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 ¶ Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
This is a long passage and very much worth a slow and careful reading. God continues the same theme in Romans 2:1-3:19. A close examination of this passage shows that God considers mankind to be very guilty before God and that mankind is not an innocent victim of God’s elective program but rather, mankind is very active in his rebellion against God. God insists that even though mankind knows about God and that mankind knows that he is guilty before God, mankind still will not come to God nor submit to God. God’s conclusion in Romans 1:18-3:19 is that mankind is not an innocent victim of God in anyway, but rather he is very guilty and deserves whatever penalty that the law of God requires.
We don’t see this as we look at ourselves or our fellow man, but that is because our perspective is sin-tainted and corrupt. We have to remember that God sees the heart of man and He is perfect in His assessment.
Where is the mercy of God?
Maybe this question comes into our minds.
Today, the earth is full of the mercies of God. God is very good to all mankind, including the unsaved (Matthew 5:45, Acts 14:17).
We can be pretty certain that King Ahab was never saved. He was not one of God’s elect. However, God heard his prayer and saw his humbling and gave him some deliverance (1 Kings 21:20-29). While unsaved man is in this world, God’s mercies are present. From the example of King Ahab, at times God even answers prayers of the non-elect.
In Luke 18:1-8 God encourages us to continually pray for mercy and salvation. If an unrighteous judge will finally hear repeated petitions, certainly a righteous judge, like God, will hear.
In Luke 18:9-14 God uses the illustration of a humble publican as an encouragement for us to pray for mercy.
God’s mercies are abundant in this world today, but the Bible is clear that at Judgment Day, there will be no mercy for the unsaved.
Finally, we should be thankful that there is any mercy from God. We don’t want to move in the direction of thinking that there is something wrong with God because God does not operate the way we think He should.
We can say “A merciful God would not throw people into hell”, but if we want truth we must search the Bible for the answer.
God is very merciful to all mankind in this world. God’s mercies continue forevermore for the saved. However, if we examine the Bible carefully, we find it teaches that there will be no mercy for the unsaved at Judgment Day.
Therefore, we cannot use the argument of God’s mercy to teach that there will not be perpetual suffering for the unsaved.