Those are some of the hardest words to say. Whether we’ve just broken a window, hurt a friend or even spilled a glass of milk, sometimes it can be hard to admit that we’re wrong. Our culture tells us that asking someone to forgive us is a sign of weakness, a sign of letting them win. In essence, we win, if they say sorry before we do.
And yet we are just as much idolaters as they were.
God has a different point of view. In our weekly Torah reading we are still poised to enter the land, waiting for the final instructions from God through Moses. Parashat Nitzavim isn’t a vast portion but it goes very deep. It’s also, to an extent, very sad, because God effectively tells us that we’re going to fall away from Him and that He’s going to have to exile us out of the land – before we’ve even set foot in it! God shows us that we will worship other gods, or idols, and just like a cheating wife, forsake Him. We can, of course, perhaps imagine our ancestors worshipping gold or silver statues, but the whole concept is rather antiquated to us today. And yet we are just as much idolaters as they were.
Before I put my faith in the Messiah Yeshua, punk music was my identity. I woke up in the morning to play music, and I went to sleep at the end of the day with music in my mind. Music was my whole world – indeed it was my identity. If I had to define myself, I was a blue-haired, pink bass guitar playing punk rocker. God, however, in His mercy, showed me one day that I had replaced Him with music. Instead of defining myself in relation to Him, I defined myself in relation to music. There is, of course, nothing wrong with music itself; but I had made music my idol. I didn’t worship a litte golden statue, but music had become my reason to be. Without realising it, I had become an idol-worshipper, just like our ancestors.
But I digress. Despite God’s harrowing message to us through Moses, He does give us some hope. He tells us that even if we were scattered to the “ends of the earth” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 30:4), He would still bring us back. There was, however one condition. We would have to say sorry.
Despite God’s harrowing message to us through Moses, He does give us some hope.
That is, of course, the hardest part. Even though God rightly exiled us for our disobedience, it’s easier for us to harden our hearts and blame others. Of course, we also have a tendency, as humans, to justify ourselves. It’s not our fault, we say. It’s our society. Or our parents. Or both. But it’s definitely not our fault! And yet God’s condition for rescuing us is a genuine repentance of our hearts where we acknowledge that yes, it was our fault, and that yes, we really do need him. Yes, we really are idol-worshippers who have put other things first in our lives.
The great hope in all this follows our repentance. God promises to “circumcise our heart” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 30:6) so that we will love Him with all our heart and all our soul. We weren’t capable ourselves – so He would have to do it for us. God is not so much interested in our outward appearance or our external actions if our heart is not really behind them. If we’re circumcised on the outside but idol worshippers on the inside, what good is that?
Yeshua also spoke about being circumcised in heart, except that he called it something different. While speaking to one of our leaders, he says that we have to be “born again” or “born from above” (Yochanan/John 3:3). This is only possible through him, because he is the one who paid the penalty for our sin and rose from the dead. If we admit to God that we have been wrong, that we have been idol worshippers and that we need His forgiveness; if we put our faith in Him, then He is faithful and just to forgive us and to clean us from all unrighteousness (see Yochanan/John 1:9). In other words, He performs an operation and circumcises our heart, or makes us reborn. Then, we have the desire to obey Him, the desire to love Him with everything we are.
The day after I realised that I needed forgiveness for my musical idolatory (among other things) and that I gave my life to Yeshua, I was a different person. Suddenly, the music that had previously defined me was no longer interesting. Indeed, it ended up filling up my rubbish bin. God had given me a desire to obey Him and to live for Him.
As we move into the season of the High Holidays and start thinking about Yom Kippuer and Col Nidrei, it is a good time to look at our lives and work out what our idols are. Mine was music; yours probably isn’t. But whatever it is, it’s preventing you from finding out your true identity in God. If you are willing to bring it to God and ask Him to forgive you, then He will, because of the Messiah Yeshua. If you’re willing to follow him, then God will give you the desire to obey Him. You just have to be willing to say, “I’m sorry!”