The man’s eyes were full of emotion as he extended his hand towards Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Gentile survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp*. Corrie recognised him instantly as one of the guards who had been on duty in her camp. She’d just preached on the love and forgiveness available through Yeshua. How could she refuse the man? And yet her heart felt like stone…
Forgiving someone who has hurt us can be one of the hardest things to do. And yet we too all need forgiveness for those times where we’ve hurt people with our actions and our words.
God also thinks that forgiveness is important – indeed He was the originator of the concept.
God also thinks that forgiveness is important – indeed He was the originator of the concept. In this week’s Torah reading, Achrei Mot, we read about the one day each year where we were able to have our sins forgiven – the Day of Atonement.
What a solemn day it must have been! I wonder how my ancestors would have felt as they saw the High Priest disappear into the Most Holy Place with the blood of the sacrifice which was to bring them forgiveness and cleansing for all that they had done wrong that year. And then what joy as the High Priest reemerged alive – the sacrifice had been accepted! The animal had died, but we were free!
The ritual of the Day of Atonement raises an important question. With no Miskan, no Beit HaMikdash, with no altar, how can we still have forgiveness of sins? Is it enough to pray and do mitzvot? The Torah seems to be very clear on this question: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 17:11) The idea here is one of substitution – the animal dies, so we can live. But what do we do, now that we don’t have a temple? Has God changed His mind?
“Greater love has no man than this, than that he lays down his life for his friends.”
As I’ve pointed out before, one of the most famous motifs in the creative arts is of one person sacrificing their life for someone else. It just seems to be such an attractive and honourable concept: “Greater love has no man than this, than that he lays down his life for his friends.” The irony is, that Yeshua is the one who spoke those words. And that’s exactly what He did – He gave up His life, so that we could live. He died so that we could have forgiveness. He was cut off from the Father, so that we could be reinstated. Yeshua’s death and resurrection mirror the ritual of the Day of Atonement – except this time, it was once and for all. Forgiveness is now possible, only because of the death and resurrection of the Messiah – no matter what we’ve done.
Corrie wondered what she should do. After a pause, she reached out her hand and said, “I forgive you.” She was filled with such a peace and happiness, because she had forgiven. But the former prison guard also went away filled with peace and happiness – because he had been forgiven. What about you? *For more about Corrie Ten Boom, see https://www.corrietenboom.com/
“Can you forgive me?”