Why Can’t God Just Forgive Us?

By Evan Minton

Some non-Christians, mainly Muslims, ask why Jesus had to die on the cross in order for us to be saved. “Why does God need a blood sacrifice?” They’ll ask, “Why can’t He simply just forgive us?”

God Forgive
This objection was recently posed to me in the comment section in another article in this sight. This fellow said “God is the one who set up this system of sacrificial atonement. This is where I began to have serious doubts about the authenticity of the Bible as the Word of God. I can see a primitive sect of people setting up a system this way since they were familiar with various tribes that thought sacrificing a baby or a virgin would appease the gods. But it is hard for me to accept that the real God of the universe who has all knowledge and power would ever resort to such a bloody, painful and grotesque practice. It makes no sense that he would require the death of someone to atone for the sins of the world. He could have set this system up anyway he wanted to. He could just forgive us like we forgive others. When someone wrongs me, I do not require a blood sacrifice. Generally a simple ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me’ will do. But that is not good enough for God. He requires death.”

How should we answer this?

I think this makes more sense if you think of God’s ridding our sins as a discharging of debt. Imagine you have violated the law and face a $50,000 fine. You tell the judge that you are truly sorry for your crime, but the judge responds “I certainly hope so. You’ve violated the law. Now, pay this fine.” You respond “No, I cannot. This debt is too much for me to bare. I promise I won’t do it again. Just please forgive me.” and the judge says “I can’t do that. The law requires that you pay this fine or face prison. I would be a corrupt judge if I just let you off Scott free. Someone has got to pay the penalty.” You begin to despair because you know the judge cannot just simply forgive you, but neither can you save yourself from this massive debt. Suddenly, something takes you by surprise. The judge steps down from his bench and walks over to you. Then he reaches into his pocket and takes out his wallet, handing you $50,000 in cash saying that he will pay the fine for you (should you accept his offer).

This is analogous to our sin situation. We have all strayed from God’s laws (Romans 3:23), and are therefore guilty before Him, deserving death (Romans 6:23a). God has to punish evil because He is just (Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 9:16, Psalm 11:16). If He did not punish us, He wouldn’t be a just judge, just as the judge in the illustration above wouldn’t be just if he had let the fine go unpaid. So God must punish us. However, God is also loving (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16) and therefore desires not to punish us for our crimes. Just like the judge in the above illustration, God stepped down from His throne, taking on human flesh (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8), and was punished in our place. He accrued the penalty to Himself by being crucified.

However, Jesus’ death is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for salvation. Repentance is required for Christ’s death to be efficacious (Isaiah 55:7, Acts 3:19). If we reject Him, God’s wrath will remain on us (John 3:18, John 3:36). Just as if you were to reject the judge’s offer to pay your fine for you, if one rejects Christ, our sin-debt will remain unpaid.

Regarding animal sacrifices prior to Jesus’ death, I think these are analogous to credit cards. Credit cards don’t actually pay for anything, but they allow you to walk out of the store with your desired object until you have the money to pay for it. Likewise, animal sacrifices never discharged our sin-debt before God (Hebrews 10:4), but they were a sign to God that you were repentant and trusted in Him for salvation. God retroactively applied Jesus’ sacrifice to these Old Testament individuals.

 


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32 replies
  1. Brian says:

    Evan, I think you missed the point of the person’s objection – it does not read to me as though he/she opposes a penalty for wrong doing (sin) that must be paid. Rather the question is why did God design a system in which only death would suffice? Your analogy is fine, but underscores the objectors point – why didn’t God construct things so as to require a financial penalty for sin rather than a mortal one? Jesus could have come into the world, and at the end of his ministry unearthed a huge amount of precious metals and declared, as the judge does in the analogy, that Jesus himself would pay the financial penalty. I think that is the question being posed by the objector.

    Reply
  2. Steve says:

    > why didn’t God construct things so as to require a financial penalty for sin rather than a mortal one?

    I wonder if it because of the distinction between finite and infinite. When we, as finite beings sin against a holy God, the penalty for that sin must be infinite.

    However, if an infinite Being pays the debt, the cost is finite (and thus able to be paid in full).

    Reply
      • Mark Heavlin says:

        You would be correct except for the fact that HE ( GOD ) sent His only Son ( JESUS ) to die on the cross in your place. You only have to accept that free gift to have your sins forgiven.

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        • KR says:

          Free gifts tend not to come with a threat of eternal torment attached to them. This gift looks more like a visit from the mob: “please accept this offer to save you from what I’m going to do to you if you don’t”. This is quite apart from the fact that the whole proposition seems to assume that we can choose what we believe – which we obviously can’t.

          Reply
          • Mark Heavlin says:

            Technically, GOD is only honoring your choice to reject the gift that he offered. What happens after that is your responsibility. As to the last part are you a “Predestination believer” or an atheist ? How did you come to the conclusion that we can NOT choose what we believe ?

          • KR says:

            “Technically, GOD is only honoring your choice to reject the gift that he offered. What happens after that is your responsibility.”
            .
            I might buy that explanation if it wasn’t for the torment part. Actively punishing non-belief is clearly not “honoring your choice”. This is of course assuming that we even can choose what to believe (which I see no reason to think we can).
            .
            ” As to the last part are you a “Predestination believer” or an atheist ? How did you come to the conclusion that we can NOT choose what we believe ?”
            .
            I’m an empiricist, i.e. I try to base my beliefs on what can be empirically verified or at least on what’s consistent with our empirical experience. Everything in my experience tells me that we don’t get to choose what we believe. For one thing, the phenomenon of doubt simply wouldn’t exist if we could just choose to believe. Moreover, if belief was just based on an arbitrary decision, it would make the concept of belief completely content-free. We could literally choose to believe or not to believe based on a coin-toss.
            .
            This is clearly not how belief works. Our beliefs are based on our convictions and we don’t get to choose those. We’re either convinced or we’re not. If we were able to choose what convinces us, our convictions would be completely independent from reality. Evidence and arguments would be irrelevant to us and we would be able to make ourselves believe absolutely anything, like 2+2=7.
            .
            If you think that belief is a choice, wouldn’t that mean that you could, at any point, choose to stop believeing in God and instantly become an atheist? If you believe you could, what exactly is your belief based on? If you don’t believe you could, isn’t that an acknowledgement that you can’t choose what you believe?

        • toby says:

          Nope, it’s not free. There are all kinds of strings attached. It’s not just, “Okay, thanks, I’ll take it.” instead it’s “accept it, then do the stuff in this book all your life and don’t mess up or I’ll take away that free gift.”

          Reply
          • Jeremy says:

            You dont understand God’s gift. Once you accept it whole heartedly it can’t be taken away. If you truly accept this gift you will no longer want to sin. You try your best to live a life keeping the commandments of the Bible. It doesn’t mean you won’t sin. People fail and make mistakes. A Christian life is so much better than a worldly life. I’m living proof. People who call themselves Christians and willfully sin are not Christians. They’re hypocrites.

  3. Andrew says:

    “Imagine you have violated the law and face a $50,000 fine…”

    This is a common analogy Christians use to explain sin and atonement but it is very obviously flawed. Please describe the law that I violated and what options were available to me in order to obey they law in the first place. What actions or behavior should I have chosen in order to obey the law? I realize you are just using an analogy, but I think it’s important to remember that all laws by their very nature offer a choice between obeying or disobeying, but apparently God’s law doesn’t offer a choice, you’re guilty of disobeying no matter what you do. It’s absurd to say someone disobeyed a law when no course of action or behavior could have possibly resulted in obeying the law. Punishing an innocent person to somehow resolve the situation only makes matters worse by compounding the absurdity. I wouldn’t want an innocent person to suffer on my behalf, but if you can’t explain what I SHOULD HAVE DONE differently then the whole situation is an utterly ridiculous farce.

    Here’s a much better analogy for you: A traffic cop issues you a citation for speeding. He explains that the very act of driving makes you guilty of speeding regardless of posted speed limits, or maybe it has something to do with a crime one of your distant relatives committed a long time ago, but in any case he offers to expunge the ticket if you admit guilt and agree to let him punish an innocent pedestrian instead. The pedestrian thinks this is a great idea and volunteers to help you out! This is a crazy but accurate analogy for how Christianity works. Apologists love to concoct all sorts of twisted analogies trying to disguise the obvious, but no matter how hard apologists try, more and more young people are figuring out that Christianity is just absurd mythical nonsense, and they are choosing to “unsubscribe.”

    Reply
    • Brian says:

      Andrew,

      I’m not sure I agree with your contention that “apparently God’s law doesn’t offer a choice, you’re guilty of disobeying no matter what you do.”

      Could you help me understand why you believe that God’s law, as described in the Christian scriptures, offers no choice of moral behavior. That a person is guilty of murder, even if they don’t commit a murder, or lying even when they tell the truth, or stealing when they don’t steal.

      Reply
      • Cassandra says:

        Is it possible that Andrew got the idea from the ten commandments, where does indeed state that if you break 1 commandment, you have broken all?

        Reply
      • Andrew says:

        I don’t know, you tell me. God views everyone as sinners by default from the moment we are born, does he not? What behavior or action could someone possibly follow that would preclude them from being a sinner in the first place in the eyes of God? Please describe what choice or option someone could exercise so that they wouldn’t need to ask for God’s forgiveness, because as far as I can tell there isn’t one. God is like a traffic cop who charges EVERYONE with speeding no matter how fast or slow they drive, so trying to plead innocent is futile when the law is absurd and arbitrary.

        Reply
        • Adiel says:

          Unless you’re driving on Stuart Highway in Australia, or on some areas of the Autobahn in Germany with no speeding limits, but you still have your conscience as how fast to drive without hurting or killing yourself. Yeah, you have a conscience. And regarding the offer for the penalty, come on it’s there, just take it. It’s called faith and repentance as opposed to self confidence and pride.

          Reply
          • KR says:

            “Unless you’re driving on Stuart Highway in Australia, or on some areas of the Autobahn in Germany with no speeding limits, but you still have your conscience as how fast to drive without hurting or killing yourself.”
            .
            That sounds more like self-preservation than conscience. Overall, I think adhering to speed limits is more about risk assessment than conscience. You’re basically weighing your need for speed against the risk of an accident or getting a ticket.
            .
            “And regarding the offer for the penalty, come on it’s there, just take it. It’s called faith and repentance as opposed to self confidence and pride.”
            .
            “Just take it” meaning “just believe”? Are you able to choose what you believe? Could you choose to stop believing in God?

        • Jeremy says:

          God only condemns people who have sinned/broken his law. If you’ve never sinned you shouldn’t have a problem. How would you answer these questions. Have you ever had impure thoughts? Have you ever wanted to physically hurt some one? Have you ever taken something that wasn’t yours? I’m a sinner and have to honestly answer yes to each question. If you answer yes to one of those questions. you’re a sinner like me and have broken a law and deserve punishment. We don’t get to make up the laws but we still get to choose if we break them or not.

          Reply
  4. Andy says:

    I think it’s also important to note that this isn’t just any old blood sacrifice, this is God himself dying on a cross. What difference does it make? Well I think it makes a world of difference to someone in pain, wondering how a loving God could let this happen to them.

    As someone who has gone through a lot of pain and asked this very question, this is the biggest difference between Allah and the Trinity for me. Allah watches his creatures suffer from a distance, whereas Jesus comes to earth and puts himself through what he makes all of us go through too. He is the general that fights on the front line and takes the same fire as he orders his men to. It is clear to me which version of God is more loving.

    Reply
  5. Andrew says:

    I was hoping that Mr. Minton would make a comment to clarify a critical detail in his analogy: Regardless of the hypothetical violation that resulted in a $50,000 fine (perhaps it was tax evasion, or maybe it was dumping toxic waste into the water supply), where do the vast majority of law-abiding citizens fit into his analogy, those who choose to remain innocent by not engaging in criminal activity in the first place? What does the judge say to THOSE people? “Good job! Thanks for staying out of trouble!” Regarding God’s forgiveness, is there anything humans can do to remain innocent in the first place so that we don’t deserve punishment and don’t need to ask for God’s forgiveness? Because if there isn’t then apparently God has rigged the system against us to declare us guilty in advance no matter what we say or do. The terms “kangaroo court” and “mockery of justice” seem appropriate. I really don’t understand why Christians don’t grasp this.

    Reply
      • Andrew says:

        A handful of traffic violations, nothing more. I paid the fines with my own money. The fines were relatively small, and the judge never offered to pay them for me. I’ve certainly never done anything to warrant a $50,000 fine that I couldn’t pay, which illustrates my point: the vast majority of us have never done anything to warrant a severe penalty that we can’t pay. That’s why Mr. Minton’s analogy fails, and that’s why the concept of sin and atonement falls apart under scrutiny.

        Reply
        • Mark Heavlin says:

          Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

          Link to the whole of Chapter 9 of Hebrews. Which is a very good read on the subject.

          “http://biblehub.com/kjv/hebrews/9.htm”

          Reply
  6. Susan says:

    How should we answer this?

    With a life response.

    Christ didn’t just die on the Cross to pay our debt for sin.

    He also sent us a message that our old identities were over.

    He did this by letting His old flesh nature die then He transcended it spiritually by getting out of the grave demonstrating God’s power over life and death.

    The resurrection of Jesus is Christian evidence and a Christian knows he is no longer suppose to live in fear and bondage to death and his old nature.

    God has purchased a Christian and given them a whole new life and identity to fulfill as a member of His family.

    Satan stole everyone’s life and identity through bondage to sin. He even steals their wills through gluttony, addiction, avarice and all other inwardly and outwardly self and socially destructive motivations.

    So you can entrust yourself like a newborn babe to Christ to raise you into a whole new life or you can try to salvage your own broken life and ignore him.

    So there is no reason for a modern day miracle to serve as evidence.

    The Cross still serves as the operational miracle of every generation until the end of the age.

    Colossians 2:12 Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also he are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

    Christ is Christian evidence, the Cross is still God’s operational miracle through faith today and God still gives whole new meaning and life to people who the devil tried to steal and keep through bondage to sin and their old evil
    self wills.

    That is why a Christian abides in Christ now. To live and perform God’s will as much as possible. Yes a Christian could have problems because He now has to overcome himself and his old
    nature to become more and more godly but which is better?

    Examine the specimens of humans.

    Examine the fruit of the spirit led by God and compare it with the sinner who doesn’t own himself because he surrendered his will to worldly influences.

    Not a single i influenced person exists in this world.

    Not a single free thinker.

    You have to be inspired to fight evil to get clear of it before anyone can free think enough to have a new identity established and the inspiration only comes from God outside ourselves.

    So this is the blind world’s choice.

    Ignore God and stay blinded and weak willed in an old evil identity.

    Or step into freedom with Jesus.

    There will be a human self trajectory based on each person’s decision but God put everyone on notice and advised them to study to be His approved man.

    Who will be wise enough to heed God. That is up
    to the individual and how much they lie to themselves and let their own weaknesses i.e. sin control them.

    Pray on it because we are not alone. God sees and hears everything even our weak wills and motivations and sinful thoughts which all need to be replaced.

    Reply
  7. Polly says:

    Are we considering the nature of sin here? And the concept of ‘Holy’?
    The analogy is good but doesn’t quite cover it. The moral standard is not the traffic law. God is the standard. In other words, perfection. Anything short of that is sin, whether we are aware of it or not. And no, this is not unfair. Toddlers have no reason to believe it’s wrong to pee on the floor, until we attempt the potty training. That doesn’t mean peeing on the floor is right, only that they are ignorant of the wrong. The Holiness of God is another important factor but the internet is too small to be able to cover that one, even if I had the words.

    Reply
  8. Mark Heavlin says:

    Hebrews 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

    Link to the whole of Chapter 9 of Hebrews. Which is a very good read on the subject.

    “http://biblehub.com/kjv/hebrews/9.htm”

    Reply
  9. barry says:

    The bible has a passage that most definitively establishes that he can get rid of a person’s sin with a wave of his magic wand (and therefore justifying the inference that he could do the same with other people and solve the sin problem without needing sacrifice or blood):

    13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. (2 Sam. 12:13 NAU)

    Feel free to check the context: no basis for the sin-removal is stated beyond the unexplained “taken away your sin”. Heck, before Nathan said there, there is no evidence that David was the least bit repentant. His statement “I have sinned against the Lord” looks more like worry that his death-deserving adultery and murder were exposed, not that he was remorseful.

    You may say this sin-removal surely was linked to some blood sacrifice, but if so, that would only be because you are concerned to make the passage harmonize with everything else in the bible.

    That is, your presupposition of bible “inerrancy” is your motive for insisting that this verse couldn’t possibly contradict anything else in the bible, but alas, because inerrancy is hotly disputed even among Christians themselves, it has nowhere near the universal acclaim that other undisputed tools of interpretation have, which all scholars agree on, such as “context” and “grammar”. Therefore, bible inerrancy does not deserve to be exalted in our mind to the status of governing hermenuetic.

    Therefore, I am not being unreasonable when I say that you’ll have to provide something more than “your interpretation would make the bible contradict itself!” before I’ll have to worry about my otherwise grammatically and contextually justified interpretation being possibly incorrect.

    By the way, the Inerrancy-driven New American Commentary series agrees with me that God indeed did not require sacrifice or blood, to take away David’s sin here:

    “David’s confession came with immediacy, without denial, and without excuse; the Lord’s forgiveness was equally direct and unrestrained. It also was without cost: forgiveness was granted the king without requiring him first to make animal sacrifices or give great gifts to the Lord. In an unadorned fashion Nathan responded to David by declaring that “the Lord has taken away your sin.”
    The Lord’s forgiveness was also accompanied by great mercy. The Torah declared that all murderers and adulterers must die (cf. Gen 9:6; Exod 21:12; Lev 20:10; 24:17; Deut 22:22); nevertheless, in what Baldwin terms “the turning-point in the life of David,”114 the Lord declared that David was “not going to die.” Why did the Lord choose not to enforce the unambiguous requirements of the Sinai covenant? There can be but one answer: because he is “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exod 34:7). David lived for the same reason that the nation of Israel would live beyond its sin (cf. Deut 32:26–27; Hos 11:8).
    Bergen, R. D. (2001, c1996). Vol. 7: 1, 2 Samuel (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 373). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

    Notice also…Nathan is representing God as taking away David’s sin at a time BEFORE David expresses any repentance.

    If God can exempt child-molester, rapist and murder David from consequences of his sins, without requiring blood or sacrifice, He can surely also exempt anybody else from the consequences of their sins, and do so without requiring blood or sacrifice.

    Jesus dying on the cross for our sins was in NO way “necessitated” by God’s righteousness, justice or holiness. If God can effectively reign supreme over Native Americans for thousands of years without telling them he requires sacrifices, the odds are that God could effectively deal with all sins in the world at all times without requiring blood or sacrifice.

    As was pointed out by somebody else, this whole business of blood sacrifice arose from a very problematic and barbaric concept of a physical god. See Genesis 8:21, God is “soothed” by the smell of a burnt sacrifice. The literal interpretation, by being more justified from the context, is clearly superior to the “anthropomorphism” interpretation you will inevitably respond with, in your effort to accept what it says while getting away from what it must have meant to its originally intended audience of illiterate farmers.

    Reply

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