Vox Weekly’s current question is here, submitted by John Loftus (reposted from his blog, here).

This post is a response.

In my book I argue that there is no coherent understanding of the atonement. Here are some questions for those who accept the penal substitutionary view:

Fair enough.

In order for someone to be forgiven why must there be punishment at all?

Well, I think we’ve crossed terms already. The forgiveness is not dependent upon the punishment. It follows after it, but is not dependent upon it. Forgiveness is granted upon repentance, not atonement. Atonement is required to satisfy God’s Justice, and His Holiness, but not to satisfy His Mercy.

To forgive someone doesn’t mean that you must first punish the offender at all.

Yes, they are two different terms altogether.

Punishment is satisfied by the Atonement, and satisfies God’s Holiness.

Forgiveness is granted by God, and satisfies His Mercy.

They are related, as God will not forgive anyone who has not been atoned for. This is due to His holiness, which cannot tolerate sin. A sinful man cannot even *be in the presence of God*. It’s not a random requirement, it is necessity. For us to be with God, we must be atoned for, and our sins as if they never were – as far as the East is from the West.

Forgiveness doesn’t really depend upon the remorse of the offender, either, although it does help quite a bit. At this point it’s not up to the offender at all, but the victim who must find a way to forgive.

Remorse is onlya step toward repentance, which is required for salvation. God found a way to forgive – He substituted Himself for us. The victim took the punishment for the offender, and seeks to grant the offender eternal fellowship with him.

To forgive means bearing the suffering of what that person has done to you without retaliation.

That’s a bit of a fib. Forgiveness is pardon, excusing a mistake or offense – not bearing suffering and the like.

If I stole something from you, then forgiveness means bearing the loss without recompense.

How can we recompense God for anything we’ve done? We have no way of doing so. That doesn’t apply very well. Besides, God doesn’t want recompense. God wants Justice, and Holiness. Neither can accept anything short of perfection without negative consequences.

If I slandered you, forgiving means bearing the humiliation without retaliating.

God cannot slander us, and cannot ever commit any sin in retaliation. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

If the cross of Christ means someone got punished for my sins, then that’s not offering forgiveness, that’s punishing someone for what I did wrong.

Do you really think that forgiveness means that there are no consequences for sin? If my son or daughter steals from me – I’ll forgive him or her – but, they will still be punished for what they did. To simply allow them to do wrong, and not face consequences for it is not good parenting.

I forgive them – I do not hold it against them, and still love them. However, they will still have to face consequences for their wrongdoing.

If the cross was needed to pay the punishment for my sins, then how can God really be a forgiving God?

Punishment was for the sin. Forgiveness is for the sinner. Punishment is for the action. Forgiveness is for the actor. Actions have consequences – forgiveness does not negate those.

Forgiveness and punishment are not balance here. Atonement and punishment are. Forgiveness is the act of God to grant life eternal with Him, to those who believe. Atonement is the payment for sin by the substitutionary death of Christ. The two are not the same. Atonement is paying for the consequences of sin. Forgiveness is granting more than just not-death, but life more abundantly. Therein lies the difference.

Forgiveness doesn’t require punishment.

No, it doesn’t. Holiness and Justice does.

To put it bluntly, if I can’t forgive you for striking me on the chin until I return the blow back to you, or to someone else, then that’s not forgiveness, that’s retaliation, or sweet revenge!

Do we let criminals go free, if the families forgive them? Do we let people get away with crimes, if we choose to forgive them? Only if a pardon is signed – but the consequences are always the same, and authority has to grant that pardon to the consequences.

In God’s legal system, there is one penalty, for one crime. Death, for Sin. To pay that penalty required a substitutionary death. God’s love is still boundless, but it does not allow for sin to go unpunished. It must be atoned for, and it has been, for those who believe. For those who do not, they will take their own penalty on themselves.

Revenge is never an ethical motive for action, even if we are led to take revenge on others sometimes. John Hick: “A forgiveness that has to be bought by the bearing of a just punishment is not forgiveness, but merely and acknowledgment that the debt has been paid in full. (The Metaphor of God Incarnate, p. 127).

Vengeance is often quite ethical. If a man takes a life, his life is required of him. God says “the man who sins, shall die”. God is the essence of ethics, thus, you are incorrect. God Himself says “Vengeance is Mine”. So, rethink that one. Your own idea of ethical, when God says differently, won’t sway me here.

Besides, revenge is said to be wrong because it can be done spitefully, or vindictively. It’s been a mainstay of human life since human life began, just about. However, Christians are told that revenge is not ours – it is God’s – because He is Just, and Righteous in every way. How could a perfectly righteous God seek vengeance and not do so Justly and Rightly?

It’s not possible. Thus, you are incorrect.

To sum up:

Forgiveness =/= Atonement.
Punishment does not relate to forgiveness.
Vengeance is not wrong when God executes it.

That’s about it.