There is an analogy that I have heard for Christianity which I think bears discussing. I heard it a few times on radio sermons, and I recently had it presented directly to me in an email exchange that I had with a Christian acquaintance.
It goes like this: Imagine an honest judge in a state with a "3 strikes" law, who has his daughter come before him for the 3rd time (ignoring that he'd have to recuse himself from the case). His beloved daughter has had warnings to change, but she ignored them. Though he loves her, he has no choice but to sentence her, and apply the "wrath" of the state to repeat offenders.
But wait! Then the judge finds a way out: "I must sentence my daughter to prison, but I don't want her to go because I love her. The law demands that the sentence be carried out. Therefore I will go to jail in her place."
The point of the story is that you are the criminal, and God is the judge. By law, you deserve death for your sins, but Jesus came down to carry out the sentence in your place.
This story also tries to deal with the common question, "Why would a loving God send people to hell?" With God cast in the role of a just but sympathetic judge whose hands are tied, the "angry god" image is softened a little.
The story about the judge and his daughter is very cute and heart warming, except for one little thing. Once you stop to think about it, it doesn't make an ounce of sense.
In the first place, the law -- and I'm talking about real world, American law -- doesn't recognize the validity of one person being punished in another person's place. And it's a good thing, too! Just imagine if a serial murderer was brought to trial, and the judge sentenced him to five consecutive lifetimes in jail. But then the murderer's mother steps forward and says "Hold on! Don't put my boy in jail! I'll serve the sentence for him!" The judge would have to be COMPLETELY INSANE to allow that sort of thing to happen. Suppose the guy goes and kills again, then how good an idea was it to put the mother in jail? In principle, we don't punish crimes just because we believe in "eye for an eye" retribution. We put people in jail because it stops them from committing more crimes, and deters others from committing crimes as well.
Which brings me to the second point: Once the daughter is set free, there is no purpose for the judge going to jail, other than symbolism. Who is benefitted by having the judge locked up? Certainly not the judge. Not the daughter. Not the victims of the crime.
No, part of what makes the story sound superficially reasonable is it uses an unjust law as the example. Let's face it, "three strikes" is ridiculous. A kid who is caught possessing marijuana for her third offense has no business going to jail for the rest of her life. Whereas if the crime had been murder, or grand theft auto, the story would make you go "Hey, waaaaaait a minute..."
So if the judge decided that the law was unjust, then there are a few simple solutions: Just let her go! Strike that law from the books! Get her off on a technicality! Find her guilty and then help her appeal to the Supreme Court, hoping they'll rule the law unconstitutional! But the judge actually serving in her place? That's not noble, it's silly.
The bigger problem is that when you apply the analogy to God, you realize that the judge also created the law. Then it makes even less sense. Why does the judge "have no choice but to sentence her"? If the law has a really good reason behind it, then she should fulfill her own sentence. If she girl shouldn't be serving the sentence after all, then maybe it's time to rethink the law.
I'm reminded of Iolanthe, a comic play by Gilbert and Sullivan. In this play, a fairy falls in love with a human judge and marries him. According to fairy laws, the penalty for marrying a mortal is death. There is a dramatic scene in the end, where the fairy queen agonizes over her decision because she loves Iolanthe and doesn't want to kill her. But Iolanthe's husband, bragging about his legal expertise, has a brilliant solution: Why don't they just add a word to the law, so it says: "Let it stand that every fairy shall die who DOESN'T marry a mortal"? So the law is changed, and all the fairies scramble around to find husbands and live happily ever after.
Now that's a hilarious story. But it doesn't seem any more hilarious to me than an all-powerful being who decides that he has to subject himself torture in order to avoid carrying out a law that he wrote himself.