Forde says that we move too quickly past the “brute facts” of the crucifixion in search of our atonement theories. He suggests that before trying to look at it from God’s point of view, we would do better to start with looking at it from ours. Only then will we perhaps get “’caught in the act’ in more ways than one: caught at it and at the same time caught by it.
So when we look at the actual facts and consider the question, “Why could God not just up and forgive?”, we find that the simple fact is, he did!
"Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his “Father.” The problem, however, is that we could not buy that. And so we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. Every mouth is stopped once and for all. All the pious talk about our yearning and desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, etc., all our complaint against God is simply shut up. He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it. It is as simple as that."
Forde says we are all implicated in the universal rejection of such unconditional forgiveness. We do not necessarily reject the idea of unconditional forgiveness in the abstract. We could maybe handle that. But we could not handle the actual forgiver himself - the one who actually did the deed - actually forgave sins without conditions. We could not tolerate the one who “actually eats with traitors, whores, outcasts, and riff-raff of every sort.”
The crucifixion exposes us for who we really are “sinners, fakes, liars, deniers, unbelievers.” We don’t really want uncondtional forgiveness, because it is a threat to our conditional world and all our religious ambitions. To consent to such forgiveness would mean that we would have to give up on ourselves - essentially lose our own lives (our old selves). So Jesus had to go. It was a matter of self-defense.
In looking at the facts in this way, from below instead of from above, we are able to see that it is not God who is the obstacle to reconciliation. It is us. This is Forde’s main point. God did indeed have a problem. But his problem was not necessarily how to satisfy his righteous wrath against us. His problem was how to get us to stop rejecting his mercy. Put another way, the problem was never reconciling God to us. The problem was reconciling us to God. God needed a way to put an end to us and our religious ambitions. When we finally let him have mercy on us, only then would he be "satisfied." And this could only be done by killing us.
So here is how we get “caught by the act.” Through faith, we are crucified with Christ. The old self, which refuses to accept unconditional forgiveness, is destroyed. It is put out of business. The final obstacle to reconciliation between God and man is removed.
His death is, therefore, our death. As Paul put it, Christ “has died for all; therefore, all have died” (2 Cor 5:14).
So Forde concludes, when looked at from our point of view, the cross must always be understood as an act of God's mercy toward us - one in which we participate personally. We first participate by killing Jesus (we reject the God of mercy and get him out of the way). Then we die with him (he gets us, our sin and our spiritual ambitions out of the way) and a new us is born. Now there is true reconciliation.
Atonement theories which put us on the sidelines, abstractly assessing the crucifixion from afar (or from above), can distract us from knowing the cross in this way.