Human harms should require forgiveness to come from human victims. With belief in God, believers can end up being morally lazy.
Crimes or harm to others can take on many different forms, but some can be particularly heinous. Far be it for me to constrain your imagination in detailing any such horrible harms. Instead, let us more closely consider the ramifications of causing harm to others.
Forgiveness is often defined as something like “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
The problem for believers is that God is at the center of everything. Everything.
So when a harm is leveled against another human, it’s really leveled against God. Ultimately. A “sin” against a human is more importantly a sin against God, and it’s God from whom we supposedly want forgiveness. As a typical apologetics website claims:
To be forgiven by God means that your sins have been removed, and restoration has taken place. By God’s gracious gift of forgiveness through Christ, any wrong you have done is not held against you. God is eager to forgive and provides forgiveness to you through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s your choice to receive it.
Rape, murder, genocide, racial abuse…whatever the harm, it is not to the victims or their families that we turn to for forgiveness, but to the real victim: God.
There is something thoroughly distasteful in this. The concern for what God thinks rather than the real and tangible victim seems rather unsavory. And this is made all the worse by the fact that, if we did believe in such a deity, we would still never know if it had actually forgiven us. Instead we ourselves, or the local priest, would assure us that God had done so to assuage us of guilt and make right the horrific harm we might have done.
To another human. That harm, sin, crime, wrong, was done to a fellow human. Who might still be suffering and far from being in a place to forgive us themselves.
Seeking forgiveness from God, then, is arguably a cop-out and morally lazy because it essentially involves making stuff up. And it can also excuse habitually uncorrected behaviors, “It’s okay, God will forgive me.”
I often wonder about sex-abusing priests: Do they really believe in God given that they continually commit such crimes? Most probably, because forgiveness is easy when it is essentially the perpetrator deciding by proxy that God has given them forgiveness. This then excuses the harmer from ever properly facing their crimes in the form of their victim. The “real victim” is God—that abstract entity that exists in their mind.
Thus, seeking God’s forgiveness can act as an excuse for not having to deal with the human realities of causing pain and harm to others.