“If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment...? Who was God trying to impress? Presumably himself—judge and jury as well as execution victim.”
– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, page 287
Could God forgive sins “without having himself tortured and executed”?
Four people came, carrying a paralyzed man. Since they could not get to Jesus because of the crowd, they dug a hole in the roof right above where he was speaking. When they got through, they lowered the mat with the paralyzed man on it. When Jesus saw the faith of these people, he said to the paralyzed man,
‘Young man, your sins are forgiven.’
Some of the teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘ Why does this man say things like that? He is speaking as if he were God. Only God can forgive sins.’ - Mark 2
Jesus said, ‘Two people owed money to the same banker. One owed five hundred coins and the other owed fifty. They had no money to pay what they owed, but the banker told both of them they did not have to pay him. Which person will love the banker more?’
Simon, the Pharisee, answered, ‘I think it would be the one who owed him the most money.’
Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? ... I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.’ Then Jesus said to her,
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
- Luke 7
If the person cannot afford two doves or two pigeons, he must bring about two quarts of fine flour as an offering for sin. He must not put oil or incense on the flour, because it is a sin offering. He must bring the flour to the priest. The priest will take a handful of the flour as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made by fire to the Lord; it is a sin offering. In this way the priest will remove the person’s sins so he will belong to the Lord,
and the Lord will forgive him.
- Leviticus 5
Happy is the person
whose sins are forgiven,
whose wrongs are pardoned.
Happy is the person
whom the Lord does not consider guilty
and in whom there is nothing false.
When I kept things to myself,
I felt weak deep inside me.
I moaned all day long.
Day and night you punished me.
My strength was gone as in the summer heat. Selah
Then I confessed my sins to you
and didn’t hide my guilt.
I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord,’
and you forgave my guilt. Selah
- Psalm 32
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself to be a Temple for sacrifices. I may stop the sky from sending rain. I may command the locusts to destroy the land. I may send sicknesses to my people. Then if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, if they will pray and seek me and stop their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven. I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.’
- 2 Chronicles 7
The wicked should stop doing wrong,
and they should stop their evil thoughts.
They should return to the Lord so he may have mercy on them.
They should come to our God, because he will freely forgive them.
- Isaiah 55
The Lord says, ‘Israel, what should I do with you?
Judah, what should I do with you?
Your faithfulness is like a morning mist,
like the dew that goes away early in the day,
I have warned you by my prophets
that I will kill you and destroy you.
My justice comes out like bright light.
I want faithful love
more than I want animal sacrifices.
I want people to know me
more than I want burnt offerings.
- Hosea 6
I am humbled because I recall my sins and God's forgiveness. I am humbled in giving an answer to a cynical question, because a heap of other questions arises.
- “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?”
- What is forgiveness? Is forgiveness just letting go of resentment? Or does forgiveness also require letting go of compensation and punishment? Or something even more?
- Ought I forgive even if the offender does not feel he or she has done wrong? If he or she does not ask for forgiveness? If he or she does not demonstrate repentance?
If a good question is one that produces other questions, then, “why not just forgive?” is a good question.
I am encouraged because—based on a few centuries of believer's experience and my own prodigal repentance—whatever my comprehension, God exists and God's forgiveness happens. I am relieved that God's forgiveness is not boxed in by my pet theories of how it works. Indeed, around a dozen other blind men have visited this elephant, each reporting how God's forgiveness works.
I need to reflect. Whenever I consider God's ways for a while, I inevitably need a Selah. That musical direction occurs in the above Psalm of David and several other poems. Selah means something like, insert a rest, a break, play an instrumental riff here, with the implication, “Think about it!”
The Lord shows mercy and is kind. He does not become angry quickly, and he has great love.He will not always accuse us,
and he will not be angry forever.
He has not punished us as our sins should be punished;
he has not repaid us for the evil we have done.
As high as the sky is above the earth,
so great is his love for those who respect him.
He has taken our sins away from us
as far as the east is from west.
- Psalm 103