The guilt or reparation offering is the last of the five offerings that made up the sacrificial system of Israel’s public worship. Instead of one Lord’s Supper they had five as it were and each of them had a particular contribution to make to that worship. With three others of the five offerings, the guilt offering made atonement for sin. The distinctive feature of this offering was the part it played in the worshipper’s repayment for harm done, hence the term “reparation” offering. This offering differed from the purification or sin offering that we considered last time in two ways. First, the animal required to be used was more valuable; second, as we will learn later in 7:2, the blood was thrown against the sides of the altar, not put on the horns of the altar. Precisely what difference in the nature of the offering was conveyed by the different application of blood to the altar is hard to say.
The Hebrew Bible, our OT in its original text, has a different chapter break. Chapter 5 runs through to our 6:7, placing all the regulations concerning the guilt offering in the same chapter. We have them divided in parts of two chapters.
v.15 The sin in this case was the misuse or misappropriation of sanctuary property. It might involve, as we will read in 22:14, eating food that had been consecrated to holy use. Or perhaps a person used an inferior animal for sacrifice. [Hartley, 81] Later in Leviticus we learn that a person who had been afflicted with a skin disease had to bring a reparation offering, presumably because while he was incommunicado the Lord was defrauded of his worship. [Ross, 147] Again, from last time, this may have been a genuinely accidental violation, or it may have been the case that the person only later came to realize what he had done or to realize the wrong of what he had done. Again we are not told precisely how the violation was discovered. The price of the ram is not specified: presumably it would have been bought at the going rate, something akin to reading in a restaurant menu that if one orders the lobster he or she will pay the “market price.”
The idea is that the worshipper had the option of bringing a ram himself or providing a sum of money sufficient to purchase one so that a proper sacrifice might be made on his behalf. [Levine, 31; cf. 6:6]
The term translated “compensation,” (it is also translated as “penalty”; Levine, 30) indicates that the sacrifice is intended, at least in part, to repay for a loss the worshipper caused. The term translated “guilt offering” at the end of the verse does mean guilt, but it can also mean “compensation” or “reparation.” Hence the two different names given to this offering in biblical scholarship. In any case, the term came to be used for a sacrifice offered to atone for sins classified as a breach of faith against Yahweh. [Hartley, 77]
v.16 Besides the sacrifice, the worshipper had to make restitution, replacing what was taken and adding 20 per cent. Since it was the priest who had been wronged in the matter of what was in effect the theft of something that belonged to him, it was to the priest that the restitution was paid.
We assume that the ritual of the sacrifice, apart from the way in which the blood was applied to the altar — something we don’t learn until 7:2 — was the same, and we learn that it was in 7:1-7. There we read: “the guilt offering is just like the sin offering: there is one law for them.” [v.7] The worshipper brought the animal, laid hands on it, killed and butchered it, and the priest then splashed the blood on the altar and placed the meat on the altar to be cooked.
v.17 The Hebrew text is complicated here and the result is that there are two quite different understandings of the sin in view. One is as the ESV reads. The problem with that understanding is that no mention is made of repayment in what are regulations for reparation offerings which, in the nature of the case, include repayment. It sounds as if the situation were the same as in the sin or purification offering described in 4:27ff. The second interpretation is that this offering is brought by people who suspect that they may have sinned, but don’t know for sure. They can’t repay because they don’t know if and precisely what repayment is due. [Levine, 32; Sklar, 122] We know, for example, that Job frequently offered sacrifices for fear that his children might have sinned (1:5). He didn’t know that they had; he was just being careful. We spoke last Lord’s Day evening of secret sins. Perhaps the fear of some such sin prompted guilt offerings as well. The pious man or woman assumed the worst and acted accordingly. [Sklar, 123]
6:3 Usually the oath was in the form of self-imprecation; that is, they would solemnly ask God to punish them if in fact they weren’t telling the truth in saying they were innocent of any crime. None of the sins (or crimes) listed in vv. 1-3 of chapter 6 could be tried in court because there were no witnesses. It was one man’s word against another’s. The victim had little recourse, no matter his suspicions. In such cases the suspect was asked to take an oath of innocence. It was for this reason that such sins were considered breaches of faith in the Lord. They had lied in the Lord’s name. [Hartley, 83-84] “Swearing falsely” is mentioned for this reason.
Once again we learn that it was not only accidental sins that were to be dealt with by sin and guilt offerings. Indeed, in Lev. 19:20-22 a man who had sex with another man’s slave who was betrothed to another, had to provide a guilt offering. Again, that is hardly an “accidental” or “inadvertent” sin in the ordinary sense of the terms. Ezra required those guilty of mixed marriages to present guilt offerings after they had divorced their foreign wives. Even the Philistines, after they had taken the ark of the covenant in battle, as you remember from those early chapters in 1 Samuel, and after they had begun to suffer from the plague on account of its presence in their territory, were advised by their priests to return the ark with a guilt offering.[1 Sam. 6:3] They had obviously violated sacred property! In the case of the Philistines, as you remember, the reparation offering was not a blood sacrifice of atonement, but five gold tumors and five gold mice, one for each of the rulers of Philistia. They were paying back for the harm they had done in the way they thought any god would prefer! [Hartley, 79] In any case, you see that the idea of such a reparation offering was hardly unique to Israel, though the theology and understanding of God enshrined in their practice was vastly different from that of the nations round about her. It was not gold that Yahweh sought, but the holiness of his people! As we have seen again and again, the Lord accommodated himself to the culture of that time and place where he could. He took a familiar practice and a common concern — violating the sacred and so incurring the wrath of the gods — and invested it with new and higher meaning in Israel’s life.
Obviously, in explaining why he was bringing this offering, as well as his having to compensate the loss and adding an additional 20%, the one bringing the offering obviously had to confess his sin both to the priest and, perhaps beforehand, to the person he had defrauded. Repentance begins with confession. It doesn’t end there, but it must begin there.
v.5 When the man came to his senses about what he had done, he was to make up the loss to the one he had defrauded and add a fifth. Thus the one who had been wronged got back more than he lost. He was compensated not only for the actual loss, but for the inconvenience and perhaps the emotional toll of it.
An expository preacher ordinarily wants to derive from a text its main point and concentrate on explaining, illustrating, and applying that point in his sermon. The exposition of too many themes dilutes the impact of a text. As it happens, however, tonight our text could be turned into many sermons because it has a number of important points, distinct if certainly related in a general way. In some respects it reiterates the lessons of the other four sacrifices, or at least the other three blood sacrifices. In others it adds to our understanding of some fundamental biblical themes, such as atonement and repentance. It is all in some respect, as all of this material regarding sacrifice, related to our sin.
- First, together with the other sacrifices the reparation offering is a reminder of our comprehensive problem as sinners.
In each of these sacrifices and all of them together we are being provided with an anatomy of sin: its nature and its seriousness. And one part of that anatomy is the assertion that we are sinners in every conceivable way, sinners through and through, that we are systematically corrupted by our sin. The Bible teaches us that in many ways, of course. It reminds us, for example, that our omissions are as important, if not more so, than our commissions. We tend to notice the bad things we do; we tend often to be unaware, or at least much less caring, of the good things we should have done but did not. But omissions are equally sinful. Indeed, since the Lord summarized our entire duty to God and man with two positive commandments, our failure to love God with all we are and have and to love others as much as we love ourselves is perhaps the truest gauge of our sinfulness. We don’t love God or others nearly as often or as intentionally or as seriously or as committedly as we should. That is the real index of our moral condition. Or, we read the Lord Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount reminding us that sinful thoughts are as really sin as sinful deeds. And so on. Both of those facts vastly increase the measure, the extent of our sinfulness.
Here and in some of the other sacrifices, we are reminded of sin’s comprehensiveness, of its presence in the blood stream, nervous system — in every dimension of our lives — by the inclusion of violations of God’s law that nowadays we are likely to consider trifles. You may have had the thought as we read through the regulations for the guilt offering that some of the transgressions didn’t amount to much. I think this is typical of modern readers of Leviticus. But that is precisely the problem: we fail to appreciate the holiness of God to such an extent that violations of or offenses against that holiness do not strike us as very important. So what if he ate food that had been consecrated to God? Well, let’s bring such issues as the liturgical violations that are mentioned here up to date and apply the principle to our own liturgical life. Do we violate sacred things today? Do we steal sacred things? Do we break faith with the Lord in our practice of worship? Of course we do! We do every Sunday and we do it again and again and again. And we hardly ever give it a thought.
Think of what we take to be our little failures at Lord’s Day worship. We say and, at least outwardly, we behave as if we are in the presence of the Lord, but our absent-mindedness even during the very acts of worship themselves (hearing of the Word of God, singing of hymns to God, our offering of prayer, and so on), are so half-hearted, distracted, and double-minded as to betray the fact that the Lord might as well be on the other side of the world. We cheat on our tithes and offerings — defrauding the Lord is it not? — and that certainly is a breach of faith. We are robbing God of the honor he is due. You know it and I know it, however little we sometimes seem to care! We have used the Lord’s name in vain a thousand times when in worship we promise obedience but then fail to practice it in the days that follow as we said we would, or when we declare the praises of the Lord while our concern is really our own praise, not his. For a God who looks upon the heart and is seeing all of that, what is that but the defiling and the stealing of sacred things?
But in this same class of sins are included crimes even we take more seriously: fraud, theft, perjury, and so on. We know very well how we feel when someone steals something from us. Florence and I have been robbed on several occasions and not only was the loss a great inconvenience and expense, sufficient to produce a great amount of irritation (in Florence, of course, not in me), but we felt violated, as if a great evil had been done to us. But we so easily assume the Lord wouldn’t think and feel the same. He does. The whole Bible says he does! Our experience of grievance over injustice, whether little or great, is due to our being made in God’s image!
The sacrificial system of Israel was a constant reminder to God’s people that they needed atonement because they were inveterate sinners. They sinned in this way and in that. They sinned generally and specifically. And they sinned again and again and in all kinds of ways. A whole new list of sins for which the guilt offering was appointed reminds us again of this dismal fact about ourselves. We are sinners up to our eyeballs. We drink sin like water and breathe it like air and realize only the smallest part of how far short we fall of God’s standard. A faithful Israelite knew this, accepted it, and acted on the knowledge by bringing sacrifices, one for this sin, another for that.
We cannot proceed in the Christian life unless and until we face this fact. Sin is our problem, our very great problem, and unless this problem is resolved nothing else we do is going to matter. Now don’t imagine that you know this already and hardly need reminding. There is some real measure of liberation in the full acceptance of this truth but few of us really live in the experience of that liberation! We are all sinners; real sinners; comprehensively sinners; inexcusably sinners.
But that means, you see, that we’ve all got the same problem. That means we are all in this together. That means we cannot look down on others for their sins without condemning ourselves for sins equally inexcusable. We should be the humblest people in the world, and the most sympathetic and large-hearted people in the world. Take to heart what you read here in these first chapters of Leviticus. “If a person sins in this way, he needs to bring this offering; if he sins in this other way, then another offering.” If you can, in your mind’s see eye a typical day at the tabernacle during a time of Israel’s spiritual health. There would be a long line of people seeking forgiveness in the approved manner because they knew they were sinners. They had done some bad things. They had offended God. They had offended their neighbor. You’re there waiting your turn, so is your neighbor. Both of you need to be there. Both of you know it. Nothing controversial about that! We sometimes behave toward one another as if, my goodness, he committed a sin!
Do you appreciate how easy everyone seems to be about this? The tabernacle was open for sinners. If you needed to confess and seek atonement, it was available for you. You didn’t have to wring your hands wondering if God would forgive; he would. Seek it from the Lord in the way he had taught you to seek it and you would have it! We’re all sinners, but we can all be forgiven. You came to the tabernacle; you confessed your sin; you made your sacrifice; the Lord was pleased, and you went home and got on with your life knowing that your sin had been dealt with and could be forgotten by you and others because the Lord had promised to forget it. If you are a sinner, as all men are, could there be any more liberating truth than this?
So many people in this world live with the weight of their moral failures — though they may very well not explain their troubles to themselves in those terms — because they don’t know what to do about them. They can’t seem to change. Well here is the answer and the only answer there is. Confess your sin; don’t hide it; seek its forgiveness in the way God has taught us to seek it; then square your shoulders, give thanks to God with your equivalent of the grain offering, and go home, love your wife and children and get on with your life. Liberation indeed! Start with God’s forgiveness; it makes everything else possible.
- Second, sins against other people are likewise sins against God.
We tend to minimize our sins in this way as well, however little we may admit that we are doing so. We count our sins against others as less significant than our sins against God perhaps in large part because people, are, well, less significant. But the fact is every sin is a sin against God. Every sin committed against another human being is first a sin against God, a breach of faith in God. That is the point of the statement of 6:2 that we break faith with God when we deceive our neighbor or in some other way injure him.
That point is made in a number of ways and places in the Bible. Famously, in his psalm of confession and repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah her husband, David says to the Lord, “Against you, you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.” David is not denying that he had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. He most certainly had and admits as much in the psalm. But in a fashion typical of the Hebrew mind, David uses an exaggeration to emphasize where the greatest offense of his sins was to be found; viz. in the dishonor that he had showed toward the Lord.
Well the same point is made here in the regulations for the guilt offering. Sins against the sacred things, sins against the sanctuary of God, which are obviously sins against God, belong to the same class as theft or fraud, sins against one’s neighbor. Taking holy things that belong to the sanctuary required the same offering as stealing one’s neighbor’s livestock. It is God’s will that we live a life of honesty, generosity, kindness, and integrity. When we do not, in whatever way we do not, we disobey and dishonor him. That is all the more for his people who add ingratitude to every sin they commit against the God who has done so much for them and given so much to them.
Now this is the second great implication of this material. We’ve already said that we are all sinners. But that is not a small thing. What that means is that we are thumbing our noses at the Almighty himself again and again every day. Our sins, everyone’s sins are not peccadilloes. They are high crimes and misdemeanors. The greatness of their offense is precisely due to the majesty of the one whose will we are flaunting, whose glory we are making a mockery of, whose kindness we are treating with contempt, and whose Word we are blatantly ignoring. Some people may still claim that the ordinary sins of ordinary people are of little real importance, but they themselves pass severe judgment on the sins of others all the time; they constantly condemn others for things they did or failed to do. And, in particular, they feel deeply aggrieved when others treat them with disdain or contempt, ignore their wishes, or belittle them. Why then should we imagine that God himself has less of a moral sense than we do? The fact is, our moral sense comes from him and his is and must be much, much more fully developed than ours. Sin is not simply people being people. Sin is the real peril of human life because it is such an offense to God. Even when you are treating others badly in your own family, your own marriage, at work, God is the one who is offended first of all and an offended God is something no one should think a small thing!
And so this elaborate system of confession and sacrifice. Sin must be removed, it’s that serious; it is too dangerous a thing to be allowed to remain!
- Third, true repentance invariably involves restitution where it is possible.
The sacrifice was to secure atonement and so the forgiveness of sins. But the sacrifice was also a repayment for a loss suffered by someone else. What is more, if possible the sacrifice was to be accompanied by a repayment of the loss with an additional 20% for the victim’s trouble. This is fundamental to the biblical concept of repentance. The principle of restitution is shot through the Law of Moses and we have the same in the teaching of Jesus. And remember the example of Zacchaeus who not only confessed his sin to Jesus and sought forgiveness from him, but promised to make restitution to those he had defrauded.
“…if I have defrauded anyone of anything I will restore it fourfold.”
It was after Zacchaeus said that that Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house…”
Too often we are content to believe that being sorry for our sins is sufficient repentance, or even to confess our sins to someone else, someone beside the person we have actually harmed. But here in the regulations for the guilt offering or reparation offering the need to add to confession repayment or restitution is explicit. A person who takes his or her sins seriously will want to undo the harm they have done as much as possible.
I heard recently of a church that is suffering all manner of troubles; is withering away after years of robust and healthy life. One of the members of the church thinks that the Lord is visiting judgment upon it because there is a member of the congregation who did great harm to some other people who at one time were part of the congregation and has convinced the elders of his repentance without ever having dealt directly in confession and restitution with the people he harmed. Reading Leviticus 5 and 6 do we think there is any reason to doubt the possibility of the Lord judging a church for failing to require a thorough-going repentance?
If a man or woman really faces the reality of his or her sin, we learn here that confession, seeking forgiveness, and the effort to repair the damage will follow in turn. Not one or the other, but all together. True enough, it is not always possible to repair the damage, but where it is possible that will be an essential ingredient of repentance, indeed the capstone of the repentance.
This is the third piece of the view of life and salvation taught in the sacrificial ritual of Israel and especially of the guilt or reparation offering. We are all sinners. That we should accept as a matter of course and act accordingly in regard to ourselves and others. We should all be seeking forgiveness and offering it to others because God has offered it to us. We can get beyond our sins because he stands ready to forgive and forget what we have done or failed to do. Then, our sins are serious things because they are an offense to God who dwells in unapproachable light. Precisely for this reason as we seek forgiveness, we should also seek, so far as it depends on us, to undo the damage we have done and to make up whatever losses we may have caused. We should take neither our sin nor God’s forgiveness to be little things. Restitution is the behavior of someone who doesn’t make that mistake!
It is worth asking ourselves whether we are repentant in this way? Do we confess not only to God but to the one whom we have wronged? Do we seek forgiveness from God and our neighbor? And, where possible, do we show ourselves ready to make up the loss that we have caused someone else? Have you thought about how you might actually do that?
I want to read to you an article from the Wall Street Journal more than a year ago. It was the anniversary of something and that is what prompted the article by Peggy Noonan.
“What a scandal it was. It had everything—beautiful women, spies, a semi-dashing government minister married to a movie star, a society doctor who functioned, essentially, as a pimp. And the backdrop was an august English country estate where intrigue had occurred before.
Unlike modern political sex scandals, which are cold and strange, it was what a scandal should be: dark, glamorous Human. No furtive pictures of privates sent to strangers, no haggling over the prostitute’s bill. [She means it was not so juvenile as some of our recent political scandals!]
President Kennedy loved hearing about the story, and when he was on the phone with his friend the British prime minister, as he often was, asking advice on Cuba or de Gaulle, he was as likely to be asking, sympathetically but pointedly as one who loves gossip would: How’s it going with Profumo? What’s the latest?
It came out that the secretary of state for war, John Profumo, 48, had become involved with a group of people who gathered at Cliveden, the country estate of the Astor family, about whom controversy had swirled since World War II. Years later Macmillan would write in his diary: “The old ‘Cliveden’ set was disastrous politically. The new ‘Cliveden’ set is said to be equally disastrous morally.”
It was for Profumo. At a pool party hosted by the society doctor, he met a young woman, 19 year old Christine Keeler, who was either a dancer or a prostitute depending on the day and claimant. They commenced an affair. But Miss Keeler was also, she later said, romantically involved with the Soviet naval attaché in London. Yevgeny Ivanov was there the day Profumo met her. And as all but children would have known, a Soviet military attaché was a Soviet spy.
The affair lasted a few months and was over by 1962. But there was a letter. And there were rumors. They surfaced in Parliament, where the Labour Party smelled blood.
When Profumo was caught, he panicked—and lied. That’s what did him in. And his lie was emphatic: He’d bring libel charges if the allegations were repeated outside the House.
Nearby, as he spoke, sat Harold Macmillan, glumly hoping or believing in his minister’s innocence. When Profumo, on the urging of his wife, came clean, Macmillan was left looking like a doddering Tory fool, a co-conspirator in a coverup, or at least a bungler of a major national security question. Mortally wounded, he considered resigning. His government collapsed a year later.
Profumo—humiliated on every front page as an adulterer, a liar, a man of such poor judgment and irresponsibility that he mindlessly cavorted with enemy spies—was finished. Alistair Horne, in his biography of Macmillan, wrote of Profumo after the scandal as a “wretched” figure, “disgraced and stripped of all public dignities.”
Everyone hoped he’d disappear. He did. Then, three years later, he declared himself rehabilitated. In the midst of a classic Fleet Street scrum—“Do you still see whores?” demanded a hack from the Sun—Profumo announced he’d deepened and matured and was standing for Parliament “to serve the public.” Of course, he said, “It all depends on the voters, whether they can be forgiving. It’s all in their hands. I throw my candidacy on their mercy.”
Well, people didn’t want to think they were unmerciful. Profumo won in a landslide, worked his way up to party chief, and 12 years later ran for prime minister, his past quite forgotten, expunged, by his mounting triumphs.
Wait—that’s not what happened. Nothing like that happened! It’s the opposite of what happened.
Because Profumo believed in remorse of conscience—because he actually had a conscience—he could absorb what happened and let it change him however it would. In a way what he believed in was reality. He’d done something terrible—to his country, to his friends, to strangers who had to explain the headlines about him to their children.
He never knew political power again. He never asked for it. He did something altogether more confounding.
He did the hardest thing for a political figure. He really went away. He went to a place that helped the poor, a rundown settlement house called Toynbee Hall in the East End of London. There he did social work—actually the scut work of social work, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. He visited prisons for the criminally insane, helped with housing for the poor and worker education.
And it wasn’t for show, wasn’t a step on the way to political redemption. He worked at Toynbee for 40 years.
He didn’t give interviews, never wrote a book, didn’t go on TV. Alistair Horne: “Profumo…spent the rest of his life admirably dedicated to valuable good works, most loyally supported by his wife. At regular intervals, some journalist writing ‘in the public interest’ would rake up the old story to plague the ruined man and cause him renewed suffering. His haunted, unsmiling face was a living epitaph to the ‘Swinging Sixties.’”
In November 2003, to mark the 40th anniversary of his work, Profumo gave an interview to an old friend. “Jack,” said W.F. Deedes, “what have you learnt from this place?” After a pause for thought, Profumo said: “Humility.”
He was president of Toynbee by then, respected, but nothing quite said what needed saying like what happened at Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday party, in 1995. To show their countrymen what he’d done—and what they thought of what he’d done—they invited him, walked him through, and put him in a particular place. They seated him next to the queen. People wonder about the purpose of establishments. That is the purpose of establishments.
When he died in 2006, at 91, the reliably ironic Daily Telegraph wore its heart on its sleeve. “No one in public life ever did more to atone for his sins; no one behaved with more silent dignity as his name was repeatedly dragged through the mud; and few ended their lives as loved and revered by those who knew him.”
I don’t know anything about John Profumo’s faith, whether he had faith in Jesus Christ or not, but I do know that’s the way Christian’s ought to behave in regard to their sins. And all the more when their sins have caused real harm to others.
I know a man who fell into sexual sin, a minister. He was so shattered by what he had done that he not only confessed his sin to those involved and to his church and sought forgiveness, he drove across the country, thousands of miles, to apologize to the man who had years before led him to Christ. He felt he had betrayed that man and he owed him some form of reparation and the trip was that restitution. That is the spirit of the guilt offering! A spirit you and I can embody in any number of ways throughout our lives. I know other people who feel a special obligation to the children of people they sinned against in some way years before. That’s what people do who know themselves sinners and who take their sin with a proper seriousness!
- Fourth and finally the conquest of sin is not and cannot be our achievement but has been done on our behalf by another.
Did you notice that while restitution was required if appropriate, one still had to offer sacrifice!
Forgiveness came not from the actions of the sinner, but from the sacrifice that was offered. We know, of course, how all of this blood sacrifice pointed forward to the cross of Jesus Christ. We have made that point several times already.
But take note of the direct link between the guilt offering and the cross. In the OT’s clearest prophecy of the saving work of Christ, we are told that what the “servant of the Lord” would offer on the cross was a guilt offering. In that famous passage, the servant song of Isaiah 52 and 53, we read this:
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days…” [53:10]
The term we find in Leviticus 5 and 6 translated “guilt offering” (the Hebrew noun asham) is the same term used in Isaiah 53:10. Is there any passage in the Bible, OT or NT, that more clearly explains precisely what Jesus did for us on the cross: “He was wounded for our transgressions,” “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all,” and so on. Now, as you know, the Bible gives us a variety of ways to understand the cross: Christ’s suffering and death turned away God’s wrath against us on account of our sins (propitiation), it covered our sins and took them away (expiation), it overcame our alienation from God (reconciliation), it delivered us from bondage to sin, both its guilt and its power (redemption). But here we learn that the cross also paid God back for the harm we had done to him, made up for the losses he had suffered because of us. When God received that offering he could say, I have been paid back and more for the sins my people committed against me. [Ross, 153]
That doesn’t mean, of course, that we needn’t confess our sin, or repent of it, or make restitution where we can. If we take sin seriously and forgiveness seriously, we will do those things because it is a way of honoring the Lord and seeking forgiveness in the way God has taught us to seek it. But the atonement is God’s, the forgiveness is God’s. All the rest is simply our way of receiving his gifts in a manner that honors both the gift and the giver.
All of that we find in the liturgy of the guilt or reparation offering. How fundamental all of that is to our life and our happiness — the reality of our comprehensive sinfulness, the readiness of God to forgive it, the seriousness of the sins that we commit, the necessity of restitution — I say, how fundamental all of that is to our life and happiness both in this world and the world to come is demonstrated by the fact that every Christian knows the truth of it and every Christian struggles to practice that truth in his or her life. We all do. We all see with perfect clarity how if only we will think about our sin, our repentance, and God’s grace and forgiveness in this way, all will be as it ought to be, as we want it to be, and as God deserves for it to be.
For some years after the translation of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters into Italian, Lewis carried on a correspondence with an Italian priest, one Don Giovanni Calabria, who had admired the work and written his gratitude to the English professor. Since Lewis was not comfortable in modern Italian and Calabria did not have English, they corresponded in Latin. Lewis’ letters make fascinating reading and are full of charm as well as matters of real interest. What is more Lewis wrote Latin as clearly as he did English. I have used some of his letters in my Latin classes at Covenant High School.
In one letter, written near the end of 1951, Lewis included this personal note.
“For a long time I believed that I believed in the forgiveness of sins. But suddenly (on St. Mark’s day) this truth appeared in my mind in so clear a light that I perceived that never before (and that after many confessions and absolutions) had I believed it with my whole heart.
So great is the difference between mere affirmation by the intellect and that faith, fixed in the very marrow and as it were palpable…
This emboldens me to say to you something that a layman ought scarcely to say to a priest nor a junior to a senior…
It is this: you write much about your own sins. Beware (permit me, my dearest Father, to say beware), lest humility should pass over into anxiety or sadness. It is bidden us to ‘rejoice and always rejoice’. Jesus has cancelled the handwriting which was against us. Lift up our hearts!” [Latin Letters, 68-71]
There is the teaching of Leviticus again and beautifully put. There is forgiveness with God; it is a great, great thing, and those who wish to receive it, will in the nature of the case, hate their sin and seek both to overcome it and repay whatever loss they may have caused. That our heavenly Father’s forgiveness should be the ordinary stuff of our daily life casts a warm and beautiful light over our life and you and I should be living in that light all the time!