In many faiths, there is an idea that I must present myself clean before my god. But as we know from Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of God’s holiness. This means that none of us are qualified to enter into the presence of our God. But if we read the Bible carefully we see God does something no other gods do. “Here is where we find the Bible making a significant break from other religious traditions. Rather than having a God that simply needs to be appeased, the God of the Bible requires cleansing for the purpose of relationship, because He wants to be with us. Much like a parent welcoming home a child after a summer’s day at the park—a child who is probably hot, sweaty and dirty—God wants us to be clean because He wants to enjoy our company. Our impurity is not something God permits in His presence. And so, He says to us much the same thing a parent would say to that child—go wash up before you come to the table to eat because I want a person who is clean at my table.”
“He must then take the two goats and stand them before the LORD at the entrance of the Meeting Tent, and Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and one lot for Azazel. Aaron must then present the goat which has been designated by lot for the LORD, and he is to make it a sin offering, but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the LORD to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.” Leviticus 16:7-10
The Hebrew breakdown for a azazel is “goat” and “go away”. Literally, scapegoat.
New York Times columnist David Brooks says this ”’ We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were. But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.””
In each of our lives we know where we sin the most. And often times we have our standard excuses for these sins. That’s where scapegoating comes in. By placing our sins and transgressions ‘upon the head’ of someone or something else, (we) send it away from ourselves, perhaps we can be free from the shame that we cannot bear. We are deflecting the shame of our sin away from ourselves.
And without a scapegoat and a sacrificial goat, as we continue to sin, we must continue to pay the price for our sins, which in the Hebrew book of Genesis says that means “dying we die”. Which basically points out that sin may not and often doesn’t kill us instantly but it slowly kills us and then at the end we have an eternal death. This death is a separation from God for eternity. But wouldn’t it be better to have an eternal separation from our sin instead?
How does scapegoating work? Consider those subtle non-apologies we are so good at. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, I’ve just been so stressed lately. Or I’m sorry I’m late, the kids were really dragging their feet this morning.
It’s rarely just, “I’m sorry I snapped. There’s no excuse,” or something equally responsible. We ‘admit’ the guilt, then quickly transfer it—often in the same breath. External circumstances (such as stress) and other people (such as the kids) become our scapegoats. We have even mastered the trick of making our own psychological states (depression, medical illness, inherited conditions) the causes of our negative actions, rather than what they really are: the conditions that incline us to act in certain ways, but do not cause them. The temptations to act in certain ways may come from specific external sources, but the acts themselves are my full responsibility.
But that’s just the problem. Most of the time, we seem unable bear this responsibility. We need a scapegoat, and by hook or crook, we often find one, for a time at least. Eventually, when we commit more or different wrongs, we need new scapegoats, and the process of blame transference begins all over again.
Like all sinful tendencies in the human soul, scapegoating is a natural instinct used for unnatural purposes. The truth is, we can’t really bear our own wrongful behaviors; left to fester, they will destroy us. Unless we find someone else to bear our shame and guilt, our shame and guilt will begin to poison us.
Confession, however, is only one part of being cleansed. Our admission of sinfulness needs to be coupled with God’s prescribed remedy. (Even) when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., (along with the Jewish) sacrificial system, the idea of a peaceful transition of sinful guilt was transferred to a scapegoat still. Through the years it became more and more of a spiritual, theoretical and psychological scapegoat in lieu of a physical one. And God wants us to have that assurance so that we can enter into close relationship with Him.
However, some 40 years before the Temple was destroyed, He provided a once-and-for-all scapegoat who suffered and died a horrific death on a wooden cross. The prophet Isaiah spoke of him, declaring, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
He has already taken the blame for all of our wrongdoing. But we must acknowledge him as (our) scapegoat, the atonement for our sins.
Are you willing to be made clean? And in the cleanness that only Jesus has provided we can have an eternity separated from our sin, which means we get to live with God forever!