There is a strong narrative in many religions–in fact, as far as I can tell, it is every religion with a conscious God–that God is the only thing that can forgive us for our behaviour. In the Abrahamic religions, the narrative is clear: the Creator expects us to be perfect, but the Creator does not create us perfect and then the Creator blames us for how It created us; It then demands our love and servitude (and a human sacrifice, if you are Christian) so that It doesn’t hold us accountable for Its failure to make us perfectly.
“Created sick and commanded to be well”
There are no prizes for guessing whether I accept that narrative; I don’t. That narrative is not compatible with a loving God for many reasons: the narrative depends on a God without introspection and who is capricious enough to blame us for Its actions; God must be completely incapable of creating an improved human to whom the expectation God has is more realistic; God clearly isn’t capable of managing his own expectations and is comfortable defaulting to blaming us.
There is another reason I don’t accept this narrative as being compatible with a loving and moral God: it’s not Its job to forgive. The freedom to forgive a person, or not, is granted upon you when you become a victim. There is nothing just about an assailant asking God for forgiveness after stabbing a child; the forgiveness that person should seek is that of the child and family. Instead, the idea of the God has allowed institutions to set up based around the promise of something which appears, to an outsider, indistinguishable from self-excusal: religion.
When I was about 10 I was in a grading class for Kung fu. My friend Simon was there with his step dad. There were some youths (16 years old, maybe) outside making a lot of noise. Simon’s stepdad went outside to ask them to keep it down or move along so that we could concentrate. He was consequently and immediately stabbed in the kidney multiple times. I would find no peace in knowing the knife wielder has found forgiveness from God. The person he should seek forgiveness from is Simon’s stepdad. It’s not God’s kidney, and God is not the primary victim.
In 1260 AD Pope Alexander IV gave his Inquisitors the right to absolve each other of any “irregularities” that occurs during their investigations. That is what it looks like to ask the wrong person for forgiveness.
Something I find continually astounding is that there are people who genuinely would prefer it if the questions of morality were easy but horrifying, like that supposed by an objective dictated morality from God (where forgiveness is about saying sorry to the wrong people), instead of a complicated answer where the results can be about love and health and societal and personal wellbeing. Although the religious are often very quick to accuse the atheists of constructing a world where all things are permissible, think about the consequences of really believing the right thing is completely divorced from the world of human experience and that, in a complete role reversal, all things are permissible so long as you seek forgiveness from a Being that always forgives if you ask nicely.