In order for someone to be forgiven why must there be punishment at all? (Note that the question is a good page long if you follow the link.)
There are questions that I do not understand, and the more deeply I dig into this one, the less I understand it. The preliminary assumption of this question is that God has a right, or maybe even a responsibility, to punish me and that He should foreswear that right. The question of whether or not substitutionary atonement is valid has already been asked and answered, so the purpose of this question grows even murkier for me.
The question assumes that there is a God, that He has been sinned against and that the sin is truly against Him. This is unquestionably true from scripture, so I will assume it as well.
The question then asks why God is not "big" enough to absorb the evil that man commits against Him and just forgive it.
The quick answer is that He cannot just forgive sin, but must forgive it justly. Purity ceases to be pure with the slightest admixture, and God's will not corrupt His own justice to make way for His mercy. The two will both be satisfied. God would not be glorified in overlooking evil. The answer also has something important to do with being hidden in Christ. We are in Christ as He dies and rises, and He is in us now.
The Analogies from Human Forgiveness in the Question:
Jesus tells the chief parable of forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-35. In it a man who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 bags of gold refuses to forgive another man a debt of 100 pieces of silver.
There are a lot of implications in this parable.
When one man sins against another, the debt incurred is real, and of a similar nature to that which we incur against God. So, using the analogies presented in the question is valid to a degree. Yes, if I am stolen from, humiliated, and struck, I should forgive. The analogy, however, is flawed in 2 things.
- Why I forgive: Contrary to the assumption of the question, I do not forgive because I am a forgiving person. I forgive because I have been forgiven, and forgiven far more than I have ever been offended. The root cause of my forgiving is not my goodness, but God Himself. Since God has no meta-God who has forgiven Him 1,000,000 bags of platinum, using examples of human forgiveness to understand God's fails.
- Degree: Attempting to analogize from one human who owes 99 pieces of silver forgiving another who owes 101 pieces of silver does not compare to God. God owes none, is owed 10,000 bags of gold by each of us, and yet forgives. Our greatest act of forgiveness is trivial, so to ask why God does not simply copy us makes no sense.
So, what about when those who have not been forgiven by God forgive? Atheists forgive, and they do not forgive in humble acknowledgement of God's greater act?
When the atheist who still owes God 10,000 bags of gold (though perhaps unknowingly) forgives another a debt of 100 pieces of silver, he is not forgiving at all. He is overlooking sin, and this is in itself a sin.
Justice is not optional.
There is no permission in scripture for forgiving outside of the forgiveness given by God. God Himself declares that He will by no means clear the guilty.
Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
The new testament and old testament agree that God will not be patient forever, though the agreement can be confusing. Rom 3:25 defines the difference as the revelation of the atonement.
Rom 3:25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, [a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
In the old testament, God's forebearance was not explained. God appeared to grant mercy at the expense of His justice. In the new, it is clear that God's mercy was founded all along upon the sacrifice of His Son even before that sacrifice was manifested. (Though it was manifested about 2000 years ago, the sacrifice of the Lamb happened before the universe was founded.)
Human forgiveness fails to satisfy justice, so again the analogy to human forgiveness fails. The failure this time is that we sin even as we forgive, because we do so unjustly. God will by no means clear the guilty.
What is it God is really forgiving?
If we leave behind the analogy, we come to the reality of what it is God chooses to forgive. God concerns Himself with our sins against each other, and with our our transgressions of His holy law, but those are only shadows of our true sin. They are visible signs of the invisible crime that incurs our 10,000 bag of gold debt.
The command is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. The command is given because that is how God loves me. He has earned the right to lay that command upon me. God loves me wholly, and has committed Himself to me.
Marriage, the joining of purpose, body and heart, is a picture given by God of how He would relate to us. God would be joined to us down to the very marrow of our spirits. He would be one with us in His Son, sharing the bounty of His infinite life and boundless love with us - and we have rejected Him. To make His goal possible He has already given us many gifts, and would give us many more, but we have have rejected perfect Love.
Instead, I have placed my trust in my own ability. I have placed my trust in society, and idols, and science, and art, and my own indomitable will. I have sought love from creatures like myself, and security from things I have because He has created them. I have rejected One Who both loves me, and Who has truly earned my love.
I was created in physical debt to the One Who gave me life, and I have added to that debt the spiritual one of rejecting Him.
The magnitude of a crime is defined by its victim. It is a crime to kill an animal, but the penalty is less than for killing a human. When we transgress against the perfectly merciful and loving God as He extends the offer of His love to us, our crime is one of complete evil.
The crime this question asks God to overlook is of infinite magnitude, and infinitely personal.
Yet, God has made a way to forgive even this evil.
Finally, to the question: Why must forgiveness cost?
It is the glory of a judge to mete out righteous punishment. It is a shame to the judge when he corrupts judgement, and the evil go free.
God bears the responsibility of ensuring justice is done in His creation.
Jer 5:28&29 ... and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor. Should I not punish them for this?" declares the LORD. "Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?
When the Son came to earth and was rejected by men and killed, the guilt of all mankind was exposed. Those Jews and Romans who conspired to rid themselves of the Son of God were foreknown by Him. In His parable of the vineyard leased out to unjust tenants, Jesus allows the audience to describe the fate of those tenants, "He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others."
Those few Jews and Romans who physically killed the Lord were not uniquely guilty among mankind. They expressed with their hands and hammers the sin of which we are all guilty. We despised the gift of God. We hated the Lord Who loved us. In our hearts, we strick Him down as much as they did.
Justice cannot overlook that crime.
Justice cannot overlook the murder of the innocent Son of Man, and justice cannot overlook the hatred of humanity for the Lord Who gave them life. The Judge of all creation must avenge Himself on such a people as this.
And yet there is forgiveness
Justice and mercy appear together in scripture many times, and it is only there that they can. To be just is to be merciless. To give mercy is to deny justice. With humans it is not possible be both completely just and completely merciful. With God alone is this thing possible.
God satisfies both in Christ.
Lev 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.
1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son
The life that we are given is Life that has been killed and raised again. I do not wish to completely reopen the subject of atonement, but the atonement goes vastly deeper than mere penal transfer. Jesus does not merely pay the price of our crimes. The price of our crimes is exacted on Christ, but it is His Life that is in turn given to us. We have been crucified with Christ, and the life that we now live is not our own, but Christ lives in us. In a real, if incomprehensible, sense we were there when our crimes were punished.
God satisfies His own justice completely because He executes His justice upon us in Christ, and in Christ we rise again. Christ rises again, and we rise again in Him.
The important transfer is not that of penalty to Christ, but of Life to us.
The question rejected
How could I wish God to overlook my sin?
If God overlooks my sin, maybe I go to some place called heaven, but it would be just be hell with air conditioning. If Christ is not crucified, then I am not in Him. His Life is never transferred to me. It is no longer Christ Who lives in me, but me alone and hoping that God overlooks me.
When your child violates your rules, and you overlook the violation, you devalue that child as a person. In effect you say that they are too insignificant to inflict pain upon you, so you can just ignore it. (Hence the devastation of passive-aggression in marriage.)
When God is offended by my sin, He makes me significant. Though His wrath was justly upon me, His Mercy extends to my case. When He dies both to atone for my sin and to place His Life in me, He glorifies me beyond comprehension.
How could I wish to be overlooked?