What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

A post on an atheist’s Facebook page makes the following claim:

If god is all loving and forgiving, would he forgive someone for not believing in him, without being asked? If not, then he is not all loving and forgiving. If so, no one need to believe nor worship him.

Christian response:

The first assumption is flawed because it implies that God is only loving and forgiving. He is also righteous and just.

If a loving and forgiving judge lets a criminal go free without retribution, would he be a good judge, or a criminal himself?

Atheist:

Hebrews 10:17-18: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” And Hebrews 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

…the Christian god lets criminals go without retribution all the time. That’s pretty much his biggest selling point.

Christian:

The central point of Christianity is that Christ took on the retribution we deserved, in our place. The payment for our sin was paid in full, “once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Jesus Christ was God, so the payment was adequate to cover our crimes, and He became a man so that He could suffer on our behalf.

The righteousness and justice of God requires that the penalty for sin must be paid, but His love is what caused Him to make that payment for us. Our willing acceptance of that free gift is where forgiveness comes in.

Atheist:

God can do whatever he wants, there is no rule book that he has to follow…he writes the rules (theoretically). Isn’t it more admirable to forgive unconditionally than to require a payment to be made? Real forgiveness doesn’t require payment. I think you might be confusing justice with forgiveness. I could go on and on about how crazy it is that a god would create humans with free will and then eternally torture them for actually using it…

Christian:

Thanks for the reply, these are great things to think about. I can tell you have. 🙂 God can’t change what is logically necessary (1+1=2) because logic is part of His nature (so if that is a “rule,” then no, God doesn’t “write” them, rather they’re conditions that extend from who He is). That crime must be paid for is actually a logically necessary state of affairs, and this makes sense when we look at where law comes from.

Only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6,7 & Luke 5:21) because sin is a violation of God’s moral law, which is rooted in the nature of God. His law was broken and only He would have the authority to forgive. But even when God forgives, a payment must still be made. So of course there are conditions to God’s forgiveness. A guilty sinner can pay for his crimes by God’s judgment, or he can accept the payment that God provided through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross (1 John 2:2) by repentance and faith. Either way, the debt is satisfied.

When a government makes civil laws (usually based on an understanding of an undergirding moral law, but that’s a separate discussion), we fully expect there to be payment for breaking those laws too, in the form of a fine or retribution. When it doesn’t happen, we cry foul. That’s because being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we have an innate understanding of justice and the truth that crime requires payment.

On a personal level, we can forgive people, but not their sin. In the case of, for example, a physical assault, we can “let it go” and forgive the offender “unconditionally”, but the laws they have broken in their offense are a separate issue. Breaking God’s moral law is an offense against God. Breaking civil law is an offense against the state. Forgiveness is a renunciation of the violation, which happens within the context of justice (so yes, they are separate doctrines) but the violation must always be addressed in order for justice to be done.

It’s also logically necessary for there to be the possibility of sinful choices in the context of free will (and we would not want to imagine a world without freedom). “I could go on and on about how crazy it is” that God, moved by love for sinful people, provided a perfect Solution to the problem that everybody faces. Payment for sin is required, but the good news is it’s available from Christ, because we can’t come up with it ourselves.

Atheist:

I love how god and be forgiving and unforgiving, loving and unloving, just and unjust, logical and illogical depending on what verse you read in the Bible. You can pretty much use it to say whatever you want. But a big thing that bothers me about this god is that he would eternally punish a morally good person forever, but lavish blessing and paradise on a mass murderer for what? Belief. What is so good about belief? And really, what ‘sin’ is so bad that it would warrant eternal torture? That’s not true justice. I can understand serving a few lifetimes, but infinity? You lost me…

Christian:

God can be forgiving of repentant sinners and unforgiving of unrepentant sinners. There is no problem there, just as there is no problem with Him loving sinners but hating sin. Nowhere in Scripture though do we find God being unjust or illogical. (I am curious by what standard on atheism or naturalism that you would consider God to be either of those anyway).

In reality, there is no such thing as a “morally good person” because all have fallen short of God’s standard of good (Rom. 3:10,23). For those who want nothing to do with God, being eternally separated from Him in hell is really just a continuation of that person’s desires in this lifetime—God is really giving the sinner what he wants. I almost wonder if damned souls would actually get used to “torture” after a while. Either way, I think the severity of hell matches the true severity of sin, but it would take a heart that was ready for repentance to actually see the true severity of sin against a holy God.

Forget about earning your way to heaven, as your question “what is so good about belief?” implies. The message of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to a perfect God. I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s why He provided a way through Christ, the only perfect sacrifice. Belief is not something we use to buy our way, but the way we, using our free will, choose to follow Christ, recognize that sin has been paid for and enter into a relationship with Him—something that God desires all along. We can get hung up on the severity of God’s judgment and the simplicity of belief in Christ as the answer. Or we can recognize that yes, judgment is severe, but belief is simple: A loving and forgiving God made a way out of God’s judgment and into His presence that is simple enough for anyone to understand.

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§ One Response to What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

  • Alan says:

    Real forgiveness is always costly. Anyone who thinks that forgiveness isn’t costly isn’t reflecting on what is required to forgive.

    If someone dents my car and I forgive, then I have to cover the cost of fixing the door myself.

    If someone insults me and I forgive, then I am giving up my right to “hold a grudge” and incurring some level of emotional pain.

    If someone slanders me and I forgive, then I am will still bear the burden of people thinking wrongly of me.

    The good news of the gospel is that Jesus covered the “cost” required for God to forgive us.

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