Before I get to far into this post I think it is necessary to state that the two issues that I will discuss concerning Penal Substitutionary atonement (PS) are not the only major problems with the doctrine but these are merely the problems that dissuade me from confessing it. The first problem that I have with PS is that it requires the character of God to be such that God cannot simply forgive sin without relieving the wrath that is due to the offender.
While very few adherents will make this claim explicitly, it is found implicit (and fundamental) in every explanation of PS that I have ever heard. Matter of fact, I cannot understand how this doctrine is necessary unless one brings this supposed attribute of God along with them as they interpret Scripture. Unfortunately, though, this need of God to be “propitiated” is simply not true since there are many examples of God forgiving without any request for sacrifice. (Remember sacrifice is thought to fulfill the ‘punishment’ aspect the penalty for sin.)
Think about the Deuteronomy 32-34, the story of the Golden Calf, where the Israelites, led by Aaron commit idolatry and are clear violation of the 1st commandment. Moses implores God to forgive the Israelites, which he does, without any sacrifice from the offenders. Now someone may object that God did send a plague to kill the offenders and this satisfied his wrath. True, God did send a plague but the problem is that all of the offenders did not die. The most notable, and maybe most guilty, of the group who didn’t die is Aaron, the high priest himself. This shows that Gods wrath, or the plague, was not a result of his justice since justice was not satisfied; it must have been the result of something else. The other story to think about is found in Numbers. You know when the Israelites complain against God and say they would rather be in Egypt so go allows the fiery serpents to start biting them. Once again, Moses gets God to allow a way out that does not involve sacrifice. The merely must look at an impaled bronze snake. Hard to see the justice in that story.
There are other stories that could be brought up (King David anyone?) but those two should suffice to show that God does not have to punish sin; he can do whatever he wants. Often in the Scriptures major sin gets forgiven without God relieving himself of his wrath. Because God is God and does what he sees fit.
Now someone may think that I am reading to much into this doctrine by saying this attribute of God is not necessarily implied. If you believe this then please explain how the doctrine is necessary? If God does not have to punish sin according to its crime then why have Penal in the name that describes the atonement of the Scriptures?