UI 071: Forgiveness and Atonement

Jakub Weinles "On the Eve of Yom Kippur"[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jakub Weinles “On the Eve of Yom Kippur”[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Since there seems to be a theme that’s developed over the last few podcasts, I figured why not continue the series.

So where are we now?

Now, we are coming up on Yom Kippur the “Day of Atonement.”

This is a very special and holy day.   This is the day were we stand before God and atone for what we’ve done, and He listens.  Now before you tune out, just bear with me.  Once again, regardless of your faith or no faith this ultimate issue can impact your life as well.

The issue or issues are: Forgiveness and Atonement.

Here is an interesting thing I’ve discovered: Many people don’t recognize a difference between forgiveness and atonement.  Many people think Yom Kippur is the day of forgiveness because they think it’s synonymous with atonement.  But they are not the same.

I would argue that in talking with folks forgiveness is terribly misunderstood and becoming a lost art for many people.

Even worse, atonement is nearly extinct in our modern American society.

Think about it.

How many people have asked for your forgiveness for a specific wrong they have done?

Have you asked forgiveness and been specific about what you did?

What about atonement?

Do you know anyone who is atoning for the wrongs they have done?

The language of forgiveness and atonement is foreign today, and the meanings of these terms are uncertain for many people.  It’s a sad loss for our society.

So I’m going to try to offer you some explanations and help so as to promote the lost arts of forgiveness and atonement.

First lets get a better understanding of forgiveness.  Below is the video of the audio I played on the podcast.

Excerpts from UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Marmer’s course on PragerU.com

Forgiveness actually embodies three different things, each of which applies to different situations and provides different results. 

The three types of forgiveness are:

  • Exoneration
  • Forbearance
  • Release

Exoneration is the closest to what we usually think of when we say “forgiveness”. Exoneration is wiping the slate entirely clean and restoring a relationship to the full state of innocence it had before the harmful actions took place. There are three common situations in which exoneration applies.

1. You realize that the harmful action was a genuine accident for which no fault can be assigned. 

2. When the offender is a child or someone else who, for whatever reason, simply didn’t understand the hurt they were inflicting, and toward whom you have loving feelings. 

3. When the person who hurt you is:
• Truly sorry, 
• Takes full responsibility (without excuses) for what they did, 
• Asks forgiveness, 
• And gives you confidence that they will not knowingly repeat their bad action in the future.

In all such situations it is essential to accept their apology and offer them the complete forgiveness of exoneration. You’ll feel better and so will the person who hurt you. In fact, not to offer forgiveness in these circumstances would be harmful to your own well-being. It might even suggest that there is something more wrong with you than with the person who caused you pain. 

The second type of forgiveness I call “forbearance.”

Forbearance applies when the offender makes a partial apology or mingles their expression of sorrow with blame that you somehow caused them to behave badly. 

(Your forbearance would be) similar to “forgive but not forget” or “trust but verify.” By using forbearance you are able to maintain ties to people who, while far from perfect, are still important to you.

But what do you do when the person who hurt you doesn’t even acknowledge that they’ve done anything wrong or gives an obviously insincere apology, making no reparations whatsoever?… Still, even here there still is a solution. I call it “release” – the third type of forgiveness.

Release does not exonerate the offender. Nor does it require forbearance. It doesn’t even demand that you continue the relationship. But it does ask that you, instead of continuing to define much of your life in terms of the hurt done, allows you to release bad feelings and your preoccupation with the negative things that may have happened to you. Release does something that is critically important: it allows you to let go of the burden, the “silent tax” that is weighing you down and eating away at your chance for happiness.

So what about atonement?  As I learned from Chabad:

Contrary to popular misconception, atonement and forgiveness are not the same thing.  Yom Kippur is not only about being forgiven by G-d. Forgiveness you can get all year round; Yom Kippur is primarily about atonement. Big difference. Forgiveness – as in the form of exonerations – means that after I make my apology, you forgive me, and I’m free.  Atonement means that I am engaged in hard work to restore the relationship to its original or even better state.

The word for atonement in Hebrew is kaparah, which also means “wiping up.” If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven. But the stain is still there. Atonement only comes when I get the carpet cleaners to come clean your carpet.

And this is exactly what is done in the Ninth Step.  Just like in the last podcast, this is more of the wisdom that people get in a good religion and/or a good 12 step program.  Amends are not apologies. Making amends means trying to remove the stain, making things right again, and eventually… Restoring the relationship to how it originally was or making it even better. If an apology will make the person feel better, then we should include an apology in the amends. But the main thing is that we make it up to the person in a way that is significant to them.  This is where it’s good to know the Five Love Languages.

Our amends to God are not our apologies, but rather a sincere attempt to restore the relationship on His terms — the way He likes it. Of course, if you just come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, then that’s not really an amend either. The making of amends is a long-term project where we show the one we have harmed that we have honestly changed and changed permanently. When we behave differently all year round as a result of our Yom Kippur amends, then we are proving that we really atoned.

When we make amends to our friends, family, and others we must work relentlessly to earn their trust and restore the relationship.  Yes it take effort.  Yes it take humility.  Yes it can be painful.  But what is your choice?  You can either dismiss your behavior and how it affects others, or you can take responsibility and do your best to repair the damage you have done.

Were our modern American society to rediscover the lost art of forgiveness and atonement, we would begin modeling heaven on earth.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah

May you be finally sealed for a good year by God.

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