Sins, Forgiveness of, one each

Lemme try provoking a debate here. Principally for religionists of one form or another.

(For those outside Christianity, what if anything constitutes sin? can it be forgiven? or is that using a wrong paradigm? if so, what is the right paradigm?)

For all religionists, Christian and otherwise: How can sin be forgiven? What are the consequences? What is required in order for them to be forgiven?

I’ll speak for the Godless heathens here…

The concept of sin to me is, from what I undertand, akin to what I simply call a conscience.

One does not need to have religious beliefs to have and subscribe to a moral code of some sort. In fact, the moral codes of some Atheists may be more stringent than some quasi-spiritual folk.

The fear of consequences do not come from retribution from a pissed-off God showering threats of a firey afterlife, but from the dissapointment in letting down loved ones, hurting people, and generally letting ourselves down.

I know when I did things which were not up to the moral standards I set for myself, I felt more than enough grief just from myself.

Brian O’Neill
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I will not try to provide a definitive answer on this. I will, however, try to provide some basic material; cmkeller, David B, etc., can provide corrections and explanations as they think necessary.
“Sin” (in Hebrew het, “missing the mark”), simply, is violation of the Law (Written and Oral Torah). Halakhah (the Way or the Path), although it has many of the aspects of law, is actually the practical guide to what the Law means (what is “honoring Shabbat and keeping it holy”). Halakhic sages have found 613 mitzvot, or commandmants, in the Law (the notorious “Ten Commandmants” are among them, but have no greater or lesser stature than the other 603). Since even the Holy One, blessed be He, has no authority to introduce new commandmants (there’s a subtle bit of reasoning in arriving at this conclusion), we can say with assurance that if a Jew does follow the mitzvot, he or she is free of sin.
(Different rules are in effect for non-Jews. It is considered by Jewish authorities that a non-Jew need only follow the Noachide laws (exactly how many there are depends on what is considered a “law”, and what is a consequence of a law, but seven is the generally accepted number) to have a part in the World to Come.)
If a sin is committed, it is necessary to ask forgiveness from the Holy One, blessed be He, in an act of atonement. A proper act has the three parts of confession (“I did ‘X’”), repentance (“I’m sorry that I did ‘X’”), and resolution (“I will not do ‘X’ again”). Public confession is not necessary, although it may be thought advisable if the sinful act is publicly known, or directed harmed another person. Likewise, no intermediary with Heaven is required or, indeed, is acceptable, although again the penitent may find the aid of such persons helpful. Restitution may or may not be considered evidence of repentance, depending on the sin.
Previously, the act of sacrifice removed the threat of punishment for sin. Except in a very few cases, sacrifice did not atone for the sin per se. Since the sacrificial service is in abeyance until the building of the Third Temple, it is not now required.

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Just to slightly amend Akatsukami’s excellent explanation of the Jewish concept of forgiveness:

If the sin did involve another person (e.g., theft), the sin will not be atoned for in heaven unless the sinner a) returns any material gain he received through the sin, and b) asks the wronged party for forgiveness (and has it granted).

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Brian and I have very different perspectives, so let me say some things which I hope he will agree with:

I do agree that <<< the moral codes of some Atheists may be more stringent than some quasi-spiritual folk. >>> But it is very sad and unfortunate that some people - too many people - have not refined their conscience to a point where they feel the grief and disappointment letting down their selves and their loved ones.

It is not enough for each individual to define sin by their own moral codes. It must also include some other standard. If not that of some religion, then that of some society. But almost no one in the world seriously percieves of themself as a real sinner. Everyone likes to think that, in general, they live up to their own standards. Even the most hardened felons have standards which they succeed at living up to.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977. On the news that night, I saw a man carrying a large television which he had looted from a store only seconds earlier, and he told the reporter, “God sent us this blackout so we can feed our families.”

I think the OP is asking not so much about the details of the rituals involved in acquiring forgiveness, but about how that mechanism works.

As I understand Judaism’s view, there are two steps. First the effects of the sin need to be fixed, and then the sin itself can be erased.

By the “effects of the sin”, I mean that (as Chaim said) the sinner needs to repair the damage he has done to the finances and feelings of his victim, to whatever degree is appropriate. Depending on the situation, the victim might not insist on financial restitution, but unless the victim accepts the sinners apology, God certainly won’t. The effects of the sin must be remedied before the sin itself can be.

The above step will not apply to victimless crimes. Brian will point out that there are no victimless crimes, because even in such cases he has hurt his own self. I agree, totally. That brings us to the next step, which remedies the sin itself, by performing the steps which Akatsukami listed. By firmly acknowledging the act, regretting it, and resolving to never repeat it, Jewish philosophy says that the sinner becomes a new person, one who has severed his ties with that act, and is now a new person, to whom that sin is irrelevant. It is not in this new person’s past, and there is no point in God punishing him for it. I suspect that psychologists have an understanding of this metamorphosis, and probably have a fancy term for it.

Akiva Miller

Since Christianity derives the notion of sin from Judaism, and the aspect of forgiveness is, for the most part, the same, Akatsukami’s explanation is excellent for Christians as well. The one aspect not really covered was consequences. In the Christian faith we percieve consequences to be just that: not the wrath of G-d (in respect to the Jews here in case you were wondering about the spelling) but merely the result of a choice that we made. Therefore, if I choose to exceed the posted speed limit and I lose control of my vehicle and wreck it, G-d was not punishing me by causing my car to be damaged, nor was Satan out to get me (see the Theists and Satan thread). It was merely a bad choice and the result of it. Note: I am not saying that G-d doesn’t punish us ever, because he can and does. It’s just that He’s not constantly punishing or giving us trials.

“There are many sweeping generalizations that are always true” -Space Ghost

In Judaism, what if the victim does not accept the sinner’s sincere apology? Of course he should, but if he doesn’t is the sinner SOL? Or if you make a sincere try and the victim is wrong not to accept it, are you off the hook?

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

I would like to agree with LongHrn, as a Christian, I believe the same process as my Jewish brethren have stated is the one necessary for the forgiveness of sins. And I agree with LongHrn in that God can punish us, but usually it is the result of our bone-headed decisions.


LongHrn99: Acts and consequences are a big part of the Jewish view too. The problem is that it is rather simple to match them up when dealing with traffic laws, and a lot harder to find the consequence for violating the more ritual laws.

Judaism believes very strongly in a principle called “mida kneged mida”, which translates as “tit for tat” or “what goes around, comes around”. One of my favorite examples of this, as explained to me by one rabbi, is that when it comes time for some real punishment, a person who was a frequent gossiper will find that Whoever metes out that punishment will have a lot to talk about; in contrast, a person who frequently spoke good about others and gave them the benefit of the doubt, will have the consequence of a corresponding amount of leniency.

Gaudere asked

That’s an excellent question, which the rabbis do discuss. I believe that if the victim refuses to forgive, the sinner has to ask him again on two more separate occasions. If he messes up on that, his sincerity was lacking. If the victim refuses to forgive after even three times, then the sinner is indeed off the hook. This is another example of the “consequence” concept I gave above: This victim is unforgiving and wants the sinner punished, so that punishment comes down on his own head.

Thanks, Keeves.