he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year Exodus 30:10
Sin – The Hebrew God is a God of community. Everything He does has corporate consequences. Do you truly understand just how important this is? Our civilization has moved from the Hebrew view of communal interdependency to individual freedom and independence. When Man is the center of the universe, then individual man becomes the focal point of life. That means I assume that God’s actions are centered on me! It’s my sin that needs forgiveness. It’s my plans that need assistance. It’s my nation and my people and my church and my family that matter. Finally, it’s my God. This kind of thinking comes from a deep misunderstanding of the nature and character of God and sin. Nevertheless, this self-centeredness is woven into the fabric of our way of life, even in our view of Christianity. It’s time to listen to the Torah. It’s time to discover the meaning of chatat (sin).
For the Hebrews, sin is basically an offense against someone who is part of the same covenant community. In other words, if you and I share a covenant agreement, any of my actions that offend or harm you is sin. We are part of the same community and we are expected to treat each other as equals (neighbors). Sin victimizes another member within the covenant. But here’s the kicker: God is also part of this covenant community. Therefore, sin victimizes God. Every offense against my neighbor also makes God a victim of my covenant-breaking action.
In Hebrew, sin contains its own consequence. You can think of sin like a sphere. The sphere surrounds the action and the results of the action, including the punishment for the action. There is no real separation between the crime and the punishment. There is no distinction between the verdict and the sentencing. Sin has the same relational character as the community that gives sin its meaning. Koch says that sin is “pregnant with disaster.” That’s a good summary. Once sin is conceived, it will always result in the birth of tragedy. But in the Hebrew mind, this tragedy is not confined to the individual. It is a community calamity. Whenever sin occurs, the perpetrator, the victim, the community, the environment and God Himself are involved. No man sins by himself.
Our Greek culture is repulsed by this communal connection. Because we prize our individuality and independence, we can’t imagine why God would punish an entire group of people for the sin of one person. We can’t understand why the sins of the fathers result in calamity for the great grandchildren. We think God is unfair. We have missed the point. No man sins by himself. We can argue with God about what is fair, but that won’t change the nature of sin. Sin is a communicable disease. It spreads. It infects everyone around it. It is never contained in the single person. Why? Because the very nature of sin is relationship-breaking. Your secrets are not secret to God, and eventually, not to anyone else. You can’t change the nature of sin by complaining that it isn’t exclusively individual. Sin is relational. Period! No wonder the whole community needs atonement. No matter how tiny the offense, everyone is involved.
Here’s the first lesson: My sin is not mine alone. Therefore, repentance and forgiveness are also not mine alone. So, who’s involved with you? What community did your sins infect?
Topical Index: Sin