64) Repentance Includes Atonement

Contrary to what is commonly taught in many Christian denominations, the Bible does not teach that those who want to be reconciled to God can simply “accept his forgiveness as a free gift.” to be saved from hell.

By itself, God’s forgiveness does not restore a spiritual connection providng eternal life any more than a human forgiving an abusive spouse restores a marital relationship. A grudging, “I’m sorry if I did something that upset you” – implying that you’re just overly sensitive and need to grow up – doesn’t work.  As anyone who has ever experienced a damaged relationship knows, restoration requires forgiveness by the victim plus repentance by the victimizer. We understand this in human relationships, which, being in the likeness of God, are equivalent to our relationship with God.

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in usIf a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:4-21)

This is not an arbitrary rule. The foundation of a godly, i.e. righteous, peaceful relationship is, logically, sacrificing our self-righteous attitude of entitlement. Holding grudges and making demands for payback can only result in fragmenting relationships and ultimately resulting in death / isolation and devastation, not just to people we hate but to ourselves.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation [lifestyle] his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:6-18)

It takes two to make a relationship. Restoration of a broken relationship requires action by the injuring party.

I think we all agree that the woman whose boyfriend destroyed her life could only begin to consider getting re-involved with him if he restored all he took from her. And then set some serious boundaries until he proved himself, right?

If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,)…Yet if they shall bethink themselves…and repent / return to a former condition, a previous good relationship and make supplication unto thee…saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul… Then… forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion” (I Kings 8:46-50)

To re-pent / return, means that the victimizer takes responsibility for the relationship problem, usually in increments because this is a huge change of direction for the victimizer. The complete process is the essence of the recovery program in Alcohol Anonymous’ Twelve Steps.

  1. Acknowledge the damage done by his / her actions. Honestly, most relationships just limp along at this level, with continued trauma and apologies, harbored resentment and anger, and increasing distance between the parties.
  2. Offer to repair the damage done to the extent possible, also called repairs / reparations.
  3. Take action to prevent a recurrence. This gets to the source of the problem. Stop drinking. Get counseling. Stop interacting seductively with co-workers or online resources. Take medication for neurotransmitter imbalances cause by neuron damage from emotional traumas expressed as PTSD, depression, Bipolar disorder, etc. Be humble enough to admit you need help.

Acknowledging that your actions harmed someone, and giving something of value to the person who suffered loss by your actions, is called atonement.  To some extent it repairs (the action, verb) the damage that was done, with reparations (the things, noun).

  • In politics, monetary reparations are often imposed on the countries that started, but lost, a war, to repay the winning countries their cost of fighting the war (taking the place of the older system of plunder and slaves).
  • In a court of law, a monetary fine is often imposed on the offender, which puts a value on the damage caused by the wrongdoer’s actions.  This allows the judge to maintain his integrity (honesty, righteousness, faithfulness to the law) while allowing mercy to the person who broke the law (which by definition harms another individual.) It “put things right”, in some mystical way restores balance to the universe.
  • In the physical realm, tax payments are one means by which damage to the environment is repaired.
  1. Acknowledge the damage done by his / her actions. Honestly, most relationships just limp along at this level, with continued trauma and apologies, harbored resentment and anger, and increasing distance between the parties.
  2. Offer to repair the damage done to the extent possible, also called repairs / reparations.
  3. Take action to prevent a recurrence. This gets to the source of the problem. Stop drinking. Get counseling. Stop interacting seductively with co-workers or online resources. Take medication for neurotransmitter imbalances cause by neuron damage from emotional traumas expressed as PTSD, depression, Bipolar disorder, etc. Be humble enough to admit you need help.

King David committed multiple sins against 1) God who had entrusted the kingdom to him, 2) his subjects, 3) his faithful general Uriah, 4) Bathsheba, and 5) their illegitimate child.

To achieve justice by Judaism’s national law he should have been punished with death for any one of them. However, God forgave him, and in the process, God suffered the loss of his own authority and credibility.

“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit…by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme…Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me…Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house…I will do this thing before all Israel… (II Samuel 12)

Next, because David repented and pleaded for it, God allowed him to make atonement in order to restore their relationship and God’s reputation. Because this case was so extreme, God required the greatest sacrifice any parent can make – the death of his children. David called for a judgment of paying four times restitution in the parable of a man who killed another man’s lamb, and God held him to it. David lost four sons.

  1. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth…And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died…Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped…I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (II Samuel 12:7-23)
  2. “Amnon…is dead: for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.” (II Samuel 13:32)
  3. “.And Absalom met the servants of David…Then…Joab [David’s top general] took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive…And ten young men that bare Joab’s armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him…And the king was much moved…and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18)
  4. Then king Solomon sware by the Lord, saying…as the LORD liveth, which hath established me, and set me on the throne of David my father, and who hath made me an house, as he promised, [my rebel brother] Adonijah shall be put to death this day. And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he fell upon him that he died.” (I Kings 2:23-25)

David didn’t actively kill his children, but he did sacrifice his children when he gave them up to God to do as God willed. You can best be sure that David realized that each time one of his sons died he knew it was in his place. Listen to his heart-wrenching scream “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” This isn’t just an abstract wish. This is for real. David would much rather have pleaded guilty in a court of law and have been executed for his crimes to end his emotional pain. But he was needed to govern this new nation or Israel would have collapsed even earlier than it did into chaos and potentially utter obliteration.

Notice that David also made atonement to Bathsheba, both in giving her another child, and as we saw earlier, giving her son the kingdom instead of his older and politically-connected brothers. Most sinners shift the blame, claiming exculpatory circumstances with claims like “It’s her fault, she made me do it, she shouldn’t have tempted me…” David accepted responsibility and, highly unusual for a man in a powerful position, made reparations to the woman he had wronged.

And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.” (II Samuel 12:7-24)

But his reparation was only possible because Bathsheba accepted his atonement, a life for a life. She could have despised him, as his first wife Michal did, and consequently died childless.

God can unilaterally forgive sinners but even He can only offer restoration of relationship, which must be accepted.

To be just, reparations have to be equal in value to the damage that was caused. The only equitable atonement for a sin unto death is  – another death.

“Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them…

  • He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death…
  • if men strive together, and one smite another…and he die not…then shall he…pay as the judges determine…
  • thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot [in other words, fairly, equitably]…” (Exodus 21:1-30)

The only reparation for humanity bringing death to all Creation is a death sentence.

11

In ancient Israel, the Day of Atonement laid the foundation for God to forgive the people of any sins committed since the previous year’s feast. Thus, the Day of Atonement was a yearly reminder that all of Israel’s daily, weekly, and monthly ritual sacrifices and offerings were not sufficient to permanently atone for sin.

Yom Kippur was the only time during the year when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the innermost chamber of the Temple (or the Tabernacle)…

Altar of Burnt Offering
High Priest at the Altar of Burnt Offering (Exodus 29), wood engraving, published 1886. ZU_09 / Getty Images

Today, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance, when Jews express remorse for their sins through prayer and fasting. Yom Kippur is the final day of judgment.

David’s willingness to bear his suffering throughout his life in order to be identified with YHVH provides us with our clearest example of atonement. It lasts forever.

Yahweh’s Savior / Yeshua / Jesus was given away – sacrificed – by humanity. He had inestimable value. He was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Israel who could have freed Israel from Roman bondage and elevated the priests as rulers over the entire world – but they gave him up to be killed. And it is not just the Jews who sacrificed him. He could have freed Pilate and Herod from the tyrant Caesar. He was executed in “the times of the Gentiles” when the Romans ruled. All humanity is represented in Yeshua’s sacrifice.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for

  • our transgressions, he was bruised for
  • our iniquities: the
  • chastisement of our peace was upon him; and
  • with his stripes we are healed.
  • All we like sheep have gone astray;
  • we have turned every one to his own way;
  • and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all…he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter…
  • for the transgression of my people was he stricken…by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for
  • he shall bear their iniquities…
  • he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:3-12)

Yeshua’s death on behalf of humanity allows our sins to be remitted, i.e. legally pardoned.

He was sinless, so his death was not in punishment for anything he did wrong, therefore can be applied to someone else’s punishment. As a human, he was able to represent all humanity, so his death can be attributed as payment – atonement – for the sins of every human.

“ Who did no sin…when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

This is the good news, the gospel – that we can be reconciled to God, and be at peace with him. Only a death that finalizes the death penalty on humanity could bring about the kingdom as planned before creation, a world filled with perfect humans made in God’s image and matured into his likeness.

“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in The Chosen One / Messiah / Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22)

“…we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to GodFor he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Corinthians 5:20-21)

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