This is often an argument used by Islamic and Jewish scholars as well as agnostics. It questions why an atoning sacrifice needed to happen, that the very idea of an atonement runs counter to and compromises the idea of a God of mercy. Why can God not just show his mercy and forgive sin, a very straight forward argument that seems common sense to a lot of people. How would you counter?
My take is that the requirement of a blood sacrifice for the covering of sin (“atonement”) was to give an object lesson on the seriousness of sin (“If you want to get right with me, you have to kill an innocent animal.”) and to point toward the blood sacrifice of the innocent, pure/holy Jesus Christ in order to provide remission (not just covering) of sins.
God is also just. So with that, there has to be a punishment for sin. He showed His mercy when He sent His one and only Son into the world in order to pay the price for our sin. That’s an incredible amount of mercy on God’s part!
Does it? I wonder if we were forgiven free of charge, would that depreciate the value of heaven? Would it depreciate the value of our relationship with God? Would everyone have been saved? Would we be forgiven everything we ever do, even if we don’t seek forgiveness?
I don’t know if that makes sense, and it’s not really an answer, but it’s a good topic for discussion.
Forgiveness of sin, alone, would accomplish nothing; the world remains as it is, hearts unchanged. The purpose of the atonement is more than that; it’s reconciliation of man with God, “at-one-ment”, the literal meaning of the term. This is the essence of the New Covenant: the re-establishment of intimate communion of man with God as was always meant to be the right order of things.
Sin separates man from and opposes God by its nature; it must be not only forgiven but “taken away”; we must be aided, by grace, to ultimately ‘go, and sin no more’ as we’re transformed into God’s own image via this communion with Him, ‘apart from whom we can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Through Jesus man dies to sin and rises to newness of life, with new hearts of flesh. Its a complete shift or change rather than a simple covering up. Of course, then the struggle just begins in many ways, the struggle to remain and grow in this new justice. But we know now that, with His help, with His indwelling, we can and will ultimately triumph and overcome evil as Jesus did.
Modern Catholic Dictionary has this on Theology of Justification
The process of a sinner becoming justified or made right with God. As defined by the Council of Trent. [INDENT]“Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior” (Denzinger 1524). [LIST]]On the negative side, justification is a true removal of sin, and not merely having one’s sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner by God.
]On the positive side it is the supernatural sanctification and renewal of a person who thus becomes holy and pleasing to God and an heir of heaven[/LIST].
The Catholic Church identifies five elements of justification, which collectively define its full meaning.[LIST=1]]The primary purpose of justification is the honor of God and of Christ;] its secondary purpose is the eternal life of mankind. *]The main efficient cause or agent is the mercy of God; *]the main instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is called the “sacrament of faith” to spell out the necessity of faith for salvation. *]And that which constitutes justification or its essence is the justice of God, “not by which He is just Himself, but by which He makes us just,” namely sanctifying grace.[/LIST]
Depending on the sins from which a person is to be delivered, there are different kinds of justification. An infant is justified by baptism and the faith of the one who requests or confers the sacrament. Adults are justified for the first time either by personal faith, sorrow for sin and baptism, or by the perfect love of God, which is at least an implicit baptism of desire. Adults who have sinned gravely after being justified can receive justification by sacramental absolution or perfect contrition for their sins. (Etym. Latin justus, just + facere, to make, do: justificatio.)[/INDENT]
We Catholics don’t view the atonement as a payment to God in order to forgive sins or that the atonement caused God to forgive us. Rather, God provided the atonement because He forgives. Christ’s sacrifice is the way that God’s forgiveness is communicated to us.
Because they do not see that the Atonement is a pure act of mercy by God - just as the creation of the world was also a pure act of mercy by God
Jesus is mercy himself in coming into this world to bring salvation to humankind
The word mercy literally means “sorrowful at heart”. But mercy is something more than compassion, or heartfelt sorrow at another person’s misfortune. Compassion empathizes with the sufferer. But mercy goes further; it removes suffering. A merciful person shares in another person’s misfortune and suffering as if it were their own.