There is a cultural stereotype of God as someone who gleefully tortures people in hell. This view sees God as a monster who delights in the suffering and pain of others. The question we must wrestle with is whether this is an accurate view of God or not.
In our reading in Revelation today we read about "God's fury." We are told that those who oppose God "will be tormented with burning sulfur...and the smoke of torment will rise for ever and ever." Then, at the end of Revelation 14, an angel is described as taking a sickle which produces blood flowing to the height of a horses' bridle for a distance of 180 miles. That is the equivalent of a river of blood from Naples to Tampa. Can we understand this judgment in Revelation as anything other than God as a moral monster? We certainly can.
First, for God to be loving, he must remove all evil from the world. Otherwise, we would live on a sin filled earth for eternity. Without God removing evil in judgment, we would be living in hell. Therefore, God must judge in order to be loving, holy, and righteous. Though the language is provocative, it is ultimately a purifying act that God enacts in these passages.
Second, when we look at the text closely, we discover that God is not pictured as torturing people in hell forever. Notice verse 11 which speaks of the smoke going up for ever and ever. This smoke describes the consequence of the judgment and not the judgment itself. Consider the bombing of Germany during WWII. The act of judgment was the bombing, but the smoke and rubble would have lasted far longer. So it is with all who stand against God. They will be judged at God's throne, but they will be separated from him for all eternity. As in our own court system, people will be judged at one moment in time, but will then experience the results of their sentencing for eternity.
Question of the day: How do you reconcile God's love and his judgment?
Father God, thank you that you are the perfect judge of me and the world. Thank you that through the work of Christ, by grace through faith, I can experience forgiveness rather than judgment. Thank you that you will make all things right at Christ's return and help me to live in light of that reality today. Amen.