Why would a God of love, grace and mercy allow the carnage of the Tribulation to occur?
To answer that question, Dr. David Reagan and I on our television program Christ in Prophecy put together a panel of Bible prophecy experts. We invited Al Gist of the Bible prophecy ministry Maranatha Evangelistic Ministries from Louisiana and Dennis Pollock of Spirit of Grace Ministries which focuses on evangelizing the continent of Africa.
The Character of God
Dr. Reagan: A time is coming which the Bible calls the Tribulation. It’s a future period of seven years when God will pour out His wrath upon this earth. During that seven years, tragically one-half of humanity and two-thirds of the Jewish people will die during that awful time. Why in the world would a God of love and grace and mercy allow such carnage to occur? This is the question I get over and over and over.
Dennis, I know you’ve thought about this. I’m going to start by asking you.
Dennis Pollock: Let me just pick up on the way you described God as a God of love and grace and mercy. I perfectly and completely agree with that description. But, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Some years ago my son-in-law was helping me with my website. He’s a very artistic guy who likes to do things just a little differently than most people. He took some pictures of me. When he showed them to me, I looked at them and was kind of appalled because they showed only half of my face. I said to him, “What is this? There isn’t even all of me there.” And he replied, “This is kind of the way people do things now with pictures. You don’t just show a standard full-on face.” So, he was trying to be artistic. It didn’t work with me. I said, “No, way! If they are going to see me, they need to see all of me.”
That’s exactly the way it is with God. He is a God of love. He’s a God of grace and a God of mercy, but He’s also a God of justice and wrath.
One thing people need to understand is there are not two Gods. Some people think there was an Old Testament God. He was cranky and grumpy and He was always getting after people and he screamed at people constantly, “You’re slackers! You’re worthless!” And then, there’s a New Testament God. He wears shorts and flip-flops. He goes around smiling all the time and He tells people, “I want to make your wildest dreams come true. Sure you fornicate and you’re an adulterer and you do those things. You lie all the time, but it doesn’t really matter because all I see of you is Jesus. And so, ask me anything and it’s all yours.”
Dr. Reagan: Jesus becomes like a cosmic teddy bear.
Dennis Pollock: Yes, indeed. So, people perceive two Gods — the Old Testament and the New Testament God. Everybody goes, “Thank the Lord we’ve got the New Testament God!” But, the reality is there is only one God. The God of the New Testament is the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He hates sin every bit as much as He ever did.
Dr. Reagan: In fact, the book of Malachi says God never changes.
Dennis Pollock: He doesn’t change. God has provided forgiveness for sure, but He also gives us a new heart and the desire to live right. He still hates sin. To read Revelation and to read about the Tribulation, you begin to realize He’s offering forgiveness, but He hasn’t fundamentally changed. He hated sin in the Old Testament, and He still hates it today.
The Problem of Sin
Al Gist: I would only add to what Brother Dennis has already said here, and that is sin has to be dealt with. God, because He is such a just God, will deal with sin in one of two ways. Either you’re going to be forgiven of sin because it comes under the shed blood of Jesus Christ, or you’re going to suffer the penalty of it in eternity because it was not forgiven. The Tribulation is going to be a time of earthly judgment upon this world where God deals with sin. God is going to step back and allow man to sin to its fullest degree. However, with that sin, will come horrible, horrible judgment, unlike anything this world has ever seen. So, I would agree with Brother Dennis’ statements here.
Nathan Jones: I think this subject all boils down to free will. The Tribulation is mankind unleashed to do whatever they want to do. Each of the 21 judgments we read from God, even though they come from the throne of God, are all letting mankind build upon their sin. Like Brother Al said, “It is free will allowed.” What happens with freewill? It answers the question, “In this day and age, why does God allow suffering?” Because we have freewill, we can choose to do wrong. Usually we just end up hurting ourselves.
For most of the Tribulation, the Restrainer is removed, and those left behind after the Rapture are all sinning as much as they want. The result is that their rebellious, self-indulgent behavior ends up destroying almost all of humanity.
Dr. Reagan: Sounds like Romans 1 where it says that when a society begins to rebel against God and all the world is rebelling against God, these are the days that God will step back and lower the hedge of protection. It says when that happens there’s a sexual revolution, which occurred in this country in the 60’s. Then it says if people refuse to repent, God steps back a second time and lowers the hedge again so that there’s an outbreak of a plague of homosexuality, which has happened in this country and around the world. Then Romans says if people still refuse to repent, God steps back a third time and lowers the hedge even more, and by that point God turns the society over to a depraved mind. Society basically destroys itself.
Dennis Pollock: There’s a theological concept that I call the “accumulation of sin and wrath.” It speaks about God allowing things to go on often for long periods of time, many times generations even, and God gives the appearance as though all this sin doesn’t really matter because He has allowed it for so long.
God told Abraham, “Your descendants are going to possess this land that I’m going to give them, but they can’t do it yet because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” These people were idolaters. They were sacrificing their children, engaging in sexual immorality, and doing a lot of wicked things. But, God is saying, “I have to wait until the accumulation of their sin and my offense against it reaches a certain level.”
Revelation speaks about Babylon. It says, “Your sins have reached up to heaven.” Paul speaks to the ungodly and tells them that they’re storing up wrath for the eventual day of wrath described in Revelation, whereby comes the righteous judgment of God. That’s exactly what our world is doing. Paul was talking on an individual basis, but our entire world is storing up the anger and wrath of God. They are storing up their sin. In the book of Revelation, when you read about the Tribulation, you find that we’re seeing the unleashing of that wrath that has been building up for generations.
The Patience of God
Dr. Reagan: God’s patience is amazing. What you said reminded me of a famous quote of Billy Graham’s daughter from many years ago. It goes somewhat like, “If God does not judge San Francisco soon, He is going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” But, God is very, very patient.
Dennis, what you pointed out also reminds me of something you once told me when you were studying the life of a leading Atheist in the United States by the name of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She used to get out in her backyard on the Fourth of July when everybody was barbecuing and stand up on a table so everybody could see her. She’d then shake her fist up at God and demand, “If you’re real then strike me dead!” But, God allows it.
We find this in Nahum 1:7 which says, “The Lord is good, He is a stronghold in the day of trouble. He knows those who take refuge in Him.” We love that, but look what it says in verse two, “A jealous and avenging God is the Lord, the Lord is avenging and wrathful, the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, He reserves wrath for His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”
Dennis Pollock: The Bible is saturated with those kinds of passages in the Old and New Testament. One of the things that boggles my mind to be real honest is the number of pastors that will only preach the loving side of God yet never mention the other side — the justice side. They wouldn’t dare! You could go to their church for a hundred years and still you would never hear those kinds of passages about God’s wrath.
Nathan Jones: Teaching about God’s justice and wrath just doesn’t fill the pews.
Al Gist: I think sometimes, too, that people forget about the natural destructive consequences that are associated with sin. The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 2 that during the Tribulation God is going to remove the restraint of evil. Today, the Holy Spirit works at restraining the tidal wave of evil in this world, but during the time of the Tribulation, God will look to mankind and basically say, “Okay, you want it your way? You think your way is better than mine? You want to live your sinful lifestyle? Go ahead! Live your sinful lifestyle.”
For those seven years of the Tribulation, sin will be unrestrained. Sin will flourish and with that the consequences of that unbridled sin are going to be death, destruction, bloodshed and carnage, just as you mentioned. God is going to be pouring out judgments, but it’s the natural consequence of man’s sin that will bring a lot of that carnage as well.
In the second segment of our forum on the Tribulation, we’ll ask our Bible prophecy experts how they would define the overall purpose of the Tribulation.