Neal, your post today necessitates two responses. This one, and one that deals specifically with the texts you bring up in your post to illustrate a cruel and capricious deity. This response will deal specifically with misunderstandings related to God’s love. At the end of the post will be a link to the entry dealing with the specific biblical texts you brought forward.
1 John 4:8 is often twisted to say many things about God, based on an incomplete and fluffy understanding of what His love actually is. It is important to keep reading (always) so that 1 John 4:10 shines a light on the preceding verses. When I say that God is love, I am keeping in mind that He is also good. He is also mercy. And justice. And wrath. The character of God is such that He is all of these things extended to perfection.
So what does that have to do with this conversation? The character of God cannot be compromised. His love cannot be extended at the expense of justice, nor can wrath be extended at the expense of mercy. Never is one attribute exercised independently of the others. The above verses are a good illustration of this. God’s perfect love extended to us through the act of redemption required that His perfect justice be satisfied. This explains the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the ultimate complete satisfaction obtained through the work of Christ.
To emphasize one aspect of the divine nature above the others as a governing attribute (i.e. God’s love is supreme, and all other attributes are to be governed by it) is to pervert one’s understanding of God. No particular attribute is supreme. Suggesting otherwise requires rejecting certain truths about God. So, for instance, His love never invalidates His justice; rather, His love always satisfies His justice.
Love without justice isn’t love at all—it’s favoritism or partiality. This isn’t a conversation about what is “fair.” Consider the following:
This hardly seems fair, does it? The first man may look at the second with bitter resentment. Or, if he has affection for the second, he may be thankful that the other man received a lighter penalty. The second man may look at the first and experience guilt that he got off easy. But that guilt may be assuaged by the reality that the first man did receive what he deserved.
I read somewhere that in a society where justice exists without mercy we have a brutal self-righteousness. On the other extreme, a society governed by mercy at the expense of justice leads to lawlessness.
When faced with the holiness of God, the reality of Romans 3:23 is staggering. The just sentence for the sinfulness of man is death. God’s justice cannot be compromised for the sake of love, and we cannot call God evil for requiring that the penalty be paid. That is the beauty of the Biblical story of redemption and recreation—He provided a way for His perfect justice to be satisfied so that we might be the recipients of His perfect love.
With that in the background, a brief and incomplete discussion of the texts you brought forward can be found here.