Hi Michelle. It can be a tough topic with multiple opinions. Please seek your answers within the Words of God, asking Him for understanding and for the Spirit to reveal the truth to you. Others may be able to help, but please be very careful to make sure mine or anyone else's words line up with Spirit-revelation within the scriptures.
I will tell you right up front that I don't claim to know or understand everything there is to know about this question you've asked. I will share a little information I've found that I felt led to share with you, as I think it's at least related to this huge topic. This is not a completely direct and total "answer" to your question, but may help with perspective and help you explore it further in a scripturally sound manner. I'm still sort of working through some of these similar issues myself. I believe though that the answers don't lie in our carnal thinking or vain imaginations - it's a spiritual issue. Our thoughts and wills need to be fit to the scriptures and God's leading, not try to fit the scriptures to our own wills and understanding. Others may have some sound-doctrinal input. In the meantime, I encourage you to pray, and seek within the scriptures.
Is.26:9 ....when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. (Kingdom age)
Notice in the verse above that it is when God judges that the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. ....the more the judgment, the more righteousness. There are judgements that we observe in the everyday sowing and reaping that are intrinsic to creation. Judgement is part of the natural course of the creation....when judgement is swift and righteousness guaranteed, godly and ungodly will "learn righteousness".
Much of the world has missed altogether the scriptural purpose of God's judgement. Many have assumed it is what God has to do to "get back" at people who have been bad so that they "get what's coming to them." We are told sometimes that this is a balancing of the scales and therefore God is obligated by His own justice to do this. The question, however, is not what our human minds conceive in this area, but rather what the scripture says. The scripture paints a much more powerful and hopeful vision of God's judgements and their purpose.
Man seems to have a need for punishment to exist for punishments sake. Man's concept of judgement and justice is rooted in the carnal mind and its need to get even, or have revenge. This is contrasted with God who only uses punishment to create a Godly benefit that extends far beyond only satisfying the carnal lust for vengeance. Man has a problem with that idea because of our own selfishness and pride that wants to seek revenge and make those who hurt us to hurt as well. This is unscriptural of course.
Interestingly, the scripture refers many times to the combination of Righteousness, Judgement and Equity. This shows us that the purpose of Judgement is to bring about Righteousness (through purging people from evil ways) and Equity (from balancing the scales of Justice through restoration).
2Cor. 3:9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
Interesting in the above verses that Condemnation (judgment) is glorious. Why? Because God uses it to bring about righteousness. It is better, however, to become righteous through Grace (the ministration of righteousness). Either way, judgement is through Christ and Grace is through Christ and both are for the express purpose of bringing us to Christ, who is our righteousness!