God is righteous and judges the sins of man. God is also a merciful God and often in the Bible God shows great mercy even as He punishes people for their sin.
Tower of Babel
In the episode of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, we see the effect of pride in man. The people all spoke one language and they were planning on building a tower into the sky to make a name for themselves. God punished their prideful actions by giving them different languages so that they could not all communicate with each other.
We can see God’s mercy in His judgement on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension. While there were people present in Jerusalem from all over the world speaking different languages, God allowed the apostles to speak all the languages of the people to allow them to hear God’s message. Those who were there “were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language (Acts 2:7-8)?’” No one can be saved without hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:14), and God mercifully allowed them all to hear.
David and Bathsheba
King David committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murder by having her husband Uriah killed is one of the most well-known and saddest stories of the Bible (2 Samuel 11:1-27). The rest of the book of 2 Samuel details the punishment of David’s sins starting with the death of he and Bathsheba’s baby and continuing through family betrayal, rebellion, and murder. With the amount of blessings God had given David in his life, God showed great mercy that He did not immediately strike him dead. God also provided David and Bathsheba with another child after the death of their first (2 Samuel 12:24).
God’s mercy with adultery and murder continues in the New Testament through passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? … adulterers, … will [not] inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” God will still show mercy even for the worst sins when they are repented of and given to Jesus in faith.
Adam and Eve
When Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3, they committed cosmic treason, to use R.C. Sproul’s words. In other words, sinning against God by not trusting Him was the worst possible thing they could have done. God rightfully punished them, causing Eve and all women to experience pain in childbirth, and causing Adam and all men to toil and sweat for work (Genesis 3:16-19).
Immediately following this judgement, we read that God, “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).” Instead of immediately killing them, God mercifully sacrificed an animal to provide for them clothing so they would no longer be naked and ashamed. Additionally, Adam lived for 930 years (Genesis 5:5), so God gave him a long life despite his sinful behavior.
God’s ultimate display of mercy is shown in the covenant He made to save mankind when Adam and Eve sinned. Before declaring His judgement on them, He judged Satan, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15).” Most believe this to be the first announcement of the saving work of Jesus and the ultimate defeat of Satan.
We have all inherited the sin of Adam and deserve eternal punishment (Romans 5:12) and it is true that we receive discipline for our sins (Hebrews 12:6). But God’s ultimate sign of His merciful punishment is that He has placed the punishment of sin of all who believe on Jesus (1 John 4:10). We will not face eternal punishment, but experience eternal joy in heaven, worshiping God with the angels. Nothing can be more merciful than that.