Forgiveness is mentioned in the Bible about 140 times. It is a central talking point in most churches. But if we read the Bible with a critical eye, a very startling fact becomes clear: the Christian God never actually forgives anyone. Seriously. There's a lot of talk about it, but it never happens. In practice, God's "forgiveness" fails to meet any description of forgiveness. The problem is three-fold, but any one of these problems alone would make it absurd to call Yahweh a forgiving god.
1. To forgive is to to erase a debt. Yet we're told that for some unfathomable reason, God cannot erase our debt. He can only transfer it. This is not forgiveness; this is scapegoating.
2. God's "forgiveness" is conditional. Not everyone is forgiven, only those who play by the rules of his game. You must believe without evidence, somehow. You must love God with all your heart, soul, mind, body, and worldly possessions. You must confess your sins, ask for forgiveness, accept Jesus as your savior, and be his servant for the rest of eternity. If you don't jump through these flaming hoops, you still go to hell, despite God's "forgiveness." This is not a true erasure of debt. God's "forgiveness" again fails to meet the definition of forgiveness. What we have here is a renegotiation of debt. "Instead of burning in hell, you can just be my slave for the rest of eternity. Deal?"
3. Again, the definition of forgiveness is to erase a debt. Yet even after God "forgives" us, we still owe him an eternal debt. We must be grateful, and thank him for the rest of eternity. We owe him our allegiance, our servitude, 10% of our income, and 100% of our souls. Why do we owe Jesus? Because he forgave us. In other words, he erased our debt, but now we owe him a debt for the service of erasing our debt. Only a religion could be so twisted.
On the other hand, God expects us to do what he is incapable of: to truly forgive our neighbors. What if we followed his example instead? What if we actually put WWJD into practice? Let's say you accidentally break an irreplaceable vase in my home, and I "forgive" you, God's way. What would that look like?
Hey, it's cool. Don't worry about it. I forgive you.
But wait. I can't just erase the debt; someone must pay the price. There's no other way: I must punish my son for what you have done. He will be crushed for your transgressions, and his blood will atone for your sins. Then you will be forgiven.
But wait. You have to accept my forgiveness. To accept it, you must confess your sin, ask me to forgive you, and accept me as your Lord and savior. Of course once you've accepted me as your Lord and savior, that means you have to do whatever I say. I basically own you now. You must thank me and love me for the rest of your life. If you fail to do so, or if you ever dare to reject me or curse my name, then my forgiveness will become null and void. But as long as you promise to abide by these conditions, I forgive you.
But wait. Where are you going? You still owe me. No, not for the vase. You owe me because I forgave you for the vase. And that is a debt that can never be repaid.
What would Christianity look like if Yahweh actually forgave? For one thing, there would be no need for a crucifixion, and the Christians would have to find another symbol.
Hell would be empty. All those dictators and serial killers would have to go somewhere, though. Maybe they would each have their own isolated world designed to help them learn and grow and eventually become compassionate human beings. Some might argue that it would be better to just end them, but I think eternity is long enough to reeducate even the most evil person.
What about atheists and everyone who picked the wrong religion? If God forgives, he's not going to hold a grudge about that. "Welcome to the pearly gates. Yes, I'm the one true god; some of you may be surprised by that. But hey, no hard feelings. Everybody come on in!"
And what about those of us who would still reject God? Maybe we're still sore about the Old Testament atrocities. Maybe we just don't like God, or we don't agree with policies. Well, if God is omnipotent, he can create a way for us to live apart from him. Maybe God would create a second heaven for those of us who want to live independently. We would be allowed to build our own humanist society and walk to the beat of our own drums. A forgiving god would not be offended by our decision. He would probably even keep an "open gates policy" in case any of us change our minds.
Earth's history would have been vastly different. Since Adam and Eve seemed genuinely sorry for eating the wrong fruit, God would not have cursed them and thrown them out of the garden. Even if there was a legitimate reason why they shouldn't digest the knowledge of good and evil, a forgiving god would not have triggered 6000 years of suffering over a problem that could have been solved with a stomach pump.
If I try to imagine a forgiving god, not a single prediction I can make from that hypothesis matches the behavior of the Biblical god. And when I try to imagine forgiving my neighbors the way God does, I realize it's no kind of forgiveness at all. None of these obvious things ever occur to a Christian. It's not that they're stupid; it's just that they're not allowed to think about it that way. God forgives because the Bible says so, and you'd better believe it. You're allowed to think, as long as you control your thoughts and steer them toward the correct conclusion. Because free thought is a corrosive acid to religion.