Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God truly forgive?

From the dictionary, forgiveness is: to give up resentment of or claim to requital for. b: to grant relief from payment of. 2: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)

Penal substitution is essentially Jesus punished in everyone's place in order to satisfy God's justice. Through this process, humanity can receive forgiveness.

I suppose the first question that arises is this: is forgiveness truly forgiveness if the "pound of flesh" is measured out first? If someone kills your child, and so you kill that person's child in turn and say to the person that you now forgive him/her, have you truly forgiven that person? Or is the forgiveness based on punishment, and what is due to you as the wronged party?

For me, I tend to see forgiveness as not only releasing the negative emotions, but relinquishing any claim to compensation for the wrong act. Jesus mentions this a lot, in that one is to forgive, and not seek vengeance. If vengeance is sought, and then forgiveness is granted, forgiveness becomes dependent on satisfying the vengeance.

So does the Penal substitution theory, which dominates conservative Protestantism (and possibly branches of Catholicism?) violate forgiveness as it's commonly identified? After all, God doesn't forgive unconditionally. Someone still had to be punished before that forgiveness was granted to people. God didn't simply relinquish any claims of satisfaction -- those claims were fulfilled in Jesus, in delivering that required 'pound of flesh.'

The only reason, under this atonement theory, that God doesn't punish people is because Jesus was punished. And to me, that violates the definition of forgiveness, because God didn't give a need for satisfaction, God didn't "cease" to feel anything about sin. The only reason why he ceased is because the person's punishment was still meted out, only not to the person.

That's not forgiveness, that's a transaction. It becomes an 'if-then' statement, it becomes a system of rewards, and paints a rather poor picture of how God forgives. I'm not even sure you can say it's unconditional forgiveness, because quite a few conditions were set before forgiveness even took place.


Mystical Seeker said...

I agree completely. The typical Protestant view of grace and atonement claims that grace is free, but of course, under the way they conceive of it, it isn't. The idea that God demands some sort of payment for the sin doesn't make it true forgiveness. Forgiveness is unconditional and freely granted and does not require some sort of ransom before it is offered. Requiring a blood sacrifice from God's son contradicts that. Frankly, to me it sounds more like extortion rather than forgiveness.

jennypo said...

Doesn't this ignore that God has taken the punishment himself? If you forgive someone, you are accepting the negative consequences of their action yourself, and requiring no restitution from them. Isn't this exactly what God has done?

Anyone who has ever truly forgiven knows that it is never done easily or cheaply. The one who forgives essentially accepts the price themselves rather than meting it out to the one who deserves it. That's why forgiveness is so difficult.

That's what God did - he paid the price himself.

Heather said...


** Requiring a blood sacrifice from God's son contradicts that. Frankly, to me it sounds more like extortion rather than forgiveness. **

I agree completely, and to me, that is too close to the ancient cultures that had to offer blood sacrifices to appease their gods, or ensure a bountiful crop, or something. Plus, it doesn't even really line up with justice. When we think of the opposite of justice, we think of a society or a situation where people are oppressed, or where everyone isn't equal. We don't think of a society hwere no one gets punished.


**Doesn't this ignore that God has taken the punishment himself?**

Except if we want to get technical, God didn't take the punishment. God can't die, God can't suffer. The person that died and suffered was the human element of Jesus.

And even then -- the aspect of forgiveness is that one releases all claim to satisfaction or vengence or the need for punishment. What the person is giving up is the sense of entitlement that they deserve something due to what another person does. If God punishes himself or Jesus or if anyone gets punished, then he doesn't give up that claim to punishment. Your punishment still occurs, it just occurs to another entity. God doesn't relinquish his right to satisfaction: that still occurs under this theory. This is still saying that someone has to be punished for someone to be forgiven, and at which case, that's not forgiveness, that's paying dues. The retribution still occurrs.

No, forgiveness is not easy or cheap -- for us. We can't say the same for God, because there are entirely different characteristics at play. But even when we forgive someone -- we aren't saying we pay their price, and so we forgive them. We're saying that we surrender our right to demand a price from the other person.

Brendan said...

Whether "God" forgives is up to the "God" observer (sola perspectiva), the observer is the one forming, manipulating and using the image or symbol. Obviously, for many "believers", the answer is "no." While for many others the answer is "yes."

Both are correct.

SocietyVs said...

I would say if God doesn't forgive then this faith is a waste of time...and would contradict all Jesus taught (who basically forgives all the people he heals).

I am not sure about the atonement idea - I haven't went deep enough into it as it were - but I know it is a mainstay in the faith (and I think Paul teaches this). But if Jesus was a sacrifice for humanity - he choose to do it - he was not forced - and that is worth noting (he was not a robot) also. If he chooses to fulfill the messianic prophecies and the atonement system (actually do away with it via his body being the 'lamb') - then just maybe the choice was his.

The system showed the severity of sin - spilling of blood - and this is what Jesus came to also show - 'this is sin right here - it costs lives'. I think he shows the severity of the problem - as God was already forgiving irregardless before this act - maybe God is just driving it home - one spike at a time (the pain, the suffering, the death). Sin is the problem and it's a vicious one for humanity.

But again - I am not sure - I need to really think this one through - I am kind of at a loss on the issue - I don't look into it that deep (maybe I should?). I think Christ makes it possible to live the life he lived in our times - and the teachings are key to it all. The atonement thing you explain see's God as someone wanting justice - why is that so quickly ruled out? Jesus also talks about people paying for their crimes and the virtue of justice being one of his teachings not to be overlooked.

But again - I need more on the subject - maybe I should read some Paul.

Heather said...


**Whether "God" forgives is up to the "God" observer (sola perspectiva), **

It really does get interesting, when I start to breakdown how much of what we see/do is a matter of perspective and assumptions. It also makes me realize how many assumptions we daily make, in order to function.


**If he chooses to fulfill the messianic prophecies and the atonement system (actually do away with it via his body being the 'lamb') - then just maybe the choice was his. ** This, I would disagree with, because nowhere in the OT does it say God can only forgive if blood is shed. That, and there are quite a few atonement theories out there, many which say Jesus' death wasn't to fufill a blood-debt.

My problem from this atonement theory is that it makes God's forgiveness dependent upon a blood sacrifice. In which case, this is not forgiveness, this is completing a transaction.

If I say to someone I can only forgive you if you cut off your hand, the forgiveness is no longer forgiveness. I am requiring an 'eye for an eye,' which is exactly what Jesus said we couldn't do.

It also means that punishment is part of forgiveness. Someone had to be punished, it was just a matter of who. Our punishment is not removed, it's transplanted. The punishment still occurs. Forgiveness involves giving up one's claim to punishing the other party.

**The atonement thing you explain see's God as someone wanting justice - why is that so quickly ruled out?**

Because this isn't justice, it's retribution for sinning against God. When you think of a just society, what comes to mind? A society where no one is oppressed, everyone is equal, a society that is good and so on.

Heather W. Reichgott said...

Great musings about atonement theology.

What's always puzzled me is that the Protestant churches that claim to be most "biblical" have actually seized on the one atonement theory that has little to no basis in the Bible. I'd challenge anyone to find Biblical support for this idea. (I am pretty sure substitutionary atonement was an invention of Anselm.)

There is certainly a lot of Scripture that talks about Jesus' death as a blood sacrifice. There are a lot that talk about him ransoming us away from the devil. And there are a lot with prepositional phrases like "died for us" and "saved through him" that COULD be interpreted in terms of substitution or COULD be interpreted in some other way.

So the challenge would be: find biblical justification specifically for the idea that God wanted to punish human beings for our sin, but instead punished Jesus in our place.... which is the piece this blog's author objects to most strongly.

Heather said...

Hi, Heather.

Your puzzlement is my puzzlement. I've posed the question to those who do hold to this theory, and say that it's very clear in the Bible -- given the multitude of atonement theories out there, isn't it more likely that one theory is found in the Bible because of tradition, rather than the Bible itself? As you said, find justification, in clear, non-ambiguous terms of God's justice requiring that humans are punished with hell, and then Jesus was punished as a replacement.

And thanks for stopping by, and your comments. :)

Living Hope In Jesus said...

When God says He forgives, He forgives. Period!!!

To have His forgiveness, one must know and believe in The LORD Jesus Christ with resulting true repentance for sin, water baptism, and new birth.

To ask "What if He doesn't forgive?" is a thought that satan, the enemy of our souls, is placing into your mind. It goes back to what the devil said to Eve in the garden of Eden for he asked her "hath God said.........?" as though God would be a liar like unto himself.

If God's inerrant and infallible Word says it, believe it, for it is true. Let God be true and all men liars just as God's Word says.

Sincerely in The LORD and ONLY Savior Jesus Christ,
Stephen and Bonita Ann Richie