By Leonard Lauriault
As mentioned in my previous article last Wednesday, Sept. 23, was the Jewish Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34; 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11). The purpose of the original Day of Atonement in the Old Testament was forgiveness from God for the penitent; otherwise, equal vengeance was commanded for offenses among men (Exodus 21:22-25; Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).
The little else I know about the Day of Atonement came from an experience with a Jewish coworker many years ago who’d been wronged terribly by another coworker. I was clueless that it was the Day of Atonement, when he mentioned it and asked me if he should or could forgive such a great offense by one who was unrepentant. Apparently, the contemporary celebration includes extending forgiveness along with seeking forgiveness.
That fits the concept of the two goats used in the Jewish Day of Atonement as well as in New Testament Christianity (Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 17:3-4; Colossians 3:13). That is, under Old Testament law, the bull and one goat were sacrificed for atonement, while the other goat was led into the wilderness and released bearing the sins of God’s people. No one knows what became of that goat, but it symbolizes the removal of the burden of sin against God and now, seemingly, fellow men. That is, the offended party is relieved of the burden of having been sinned against – they experience the other side of forgiveness as the forgiver.
There are two components to extending forgiveness.
First, Jesus said that if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven (Matthew 6:9-15). When we are unforgiving, we retain the guilt for our own sin (including the sin of unforgiveness) and we share in the guilt of the offender by continuing to be offended – that’s an unnecessary burden to bear.
Second, one of the prayers on the Day of Atonement is: “Forgive us the breach of positive commands and negative commands, whether or not they involve an act, whether or not they are known to us (http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday4.htm).” If we want God to forgive us of sins that we are unaware of, we should do that for those whose sins include unrepentance based in a lack of awareness of the need to repent and seek forgiveness (Luke 23:33-35). In the case mentioned above, the offender was neither Christian nor Jewish and had no basis for seeking forgiveness.
This being said, and knowing that when we’re aware of the sin, we must seek forgiveness to be forgiven by God (Acts 2:36-39; 1 Peter 3:21 NASB), Jesus’ request that God forgive those crucifying him may have been a request that their heart would change so that they would seek God. And some did (Acts 6:7; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). It also could be that Jesus was simply willing to forego his right to be offended.
For the blood of Jesus to continuously cleanse us and for him to continue to intercede for us, we must maintain a forgiving attitude, along with other Christian traits (1 John 1:5-9; Hebrews 7:25).
Are you forgiving?
Leonard Lauriault is a member of the Church of Christ in Logan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org