Imagine you’re a daycare teacher with a room full of children.
You have grown quite attached to all of your kids and they all have a place in your heart. Most of them get along fine, but others don’t seem to be able to play nice with others. These few misbehaving children are hurting other children, taking their toys, hitting them, calling names, spitting, and biting.
Would it be fair to the well-behaved kids to keep the bad kids around? No. You’d at least send them to another room or put them in time-out.
In the stories of the Old Testament, God isn’t dealing with kids who couldn’t play nice. He was dealing with adults who would steal and murder the Israelites. They were vicious and cruel to God’s people. In many cases, the Israelites suffered through their attacks for a long time before God stepped in and put a stop to it. (See Exodus 34:7.)
So these acts of war were actually judgments of God against wicked men. The people who died in those wars, the ones fighting against Israel, had made their decisions. They had rejected God, so God brought judgment upon them. The big picture is, God has to deal with the wicked in order to preserve the righteous.
It is true that all human beings are God’s children, but that doesn’t save us in the end. Those who reject God’s authority will have to die so that those who accept God’s authority can live without fear and without pain. The ultimate judgment comes at the end, when all the wicked will be gone.
The destruction of the wicked, a seemingly strange act by a loving God, is actually a loving act for both parties. In fact, Isaiah calls God’s retribution on the wicked God’s “strange work,” because God is, by nature, merciful, gracious, and long-suffering (Isaiah 28:21).
By destroying the wicked, God prevents them from living a life in which they would be miserable under His rule. By destroying the wicked, God saves the righteous too. With nobody wicked around, we can fully enjoy the peace of paradise with no fear.
Love is a two-sided coin: on one side is mercy. He gives the righteous mercy because they have repented of their sins and decided to follow God. The righteous benefit from God’s mercy in that they are allowed to live forever in paradise.
The other side of the coin of love is justice. He metes out justice to the wicked because they have decided they don’t want to live in God’s kingdom. The righteous also benefit from God’s justice, in that they will not have to suffer their cruelties.