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September 15, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

“The trumpet sounds within a my soul.  I ain’t got long to stay here.”  So sings the spiritual.  Well, I don’t know how long I have to stay here, but the trumpet will sound at 6:42 pm on Sunday (September 16) to ring in Rosh HaShanah (Tishri 1), and a season of reflection and repentance.  The period on the Hebrew calendar between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is traditionally a time to begin the year with a clean slate, created by repentance for our trespasses before God and our neighbors.

This focus upon repentance is unique to the Hebrew and Christian faiths.  Obviously it derives from the Bible.  Both John the Baptizer and Jesus entered their ministry with the message, ”Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”  The Hebrew Prophets pled with Israel to repent and forsake their idolatry and moral impurity.  It points to a relational faith.  That is, God does not simply exist and rule the universe.  He desires a relationship with the persons he has created in his image, a relationship which can be offended and mended.

The emphasis in non-biblical religions tends to be on God’s sovereign power and on a code of conduct, but not on repentance.  Repentance has a way of minimizing our “good deeds,” and accenting our failures.  It is more pleasing to human nature to be congratulated on our goodness than to be reminded of our transgressions.  The exhortation to charity and righteous acts is acceptable because it offers a way to balance out and downplay our not so charitable conduct.  Repentance is painful and requires change.  It is not user friendly.

Repentance involves at least two biblical assumptions that arouse resistance in the human heart.  The first is that God is holy.  The Hebrew word is “kodesh.”  It means totally separate.  The separateness is not isolation from humanity.  This is evident in the early chapters of Genesis where God meets Adam regularly in the garden to commune with him.  The separation is moral.  God is morally perfect and exists in absolute harmony with his own character.  The Almighty has no tolerance for sin, or transgression of his law.

The other premise involved in repentance is that God is willing to forgive those who repent, who agree with him and ask for forgiveness.  God wants an intimate relationship with every person created in his image and capable of such a relationship.  God is merciful and has made provision to “cover,” or atone for our sins.  The breach which is created by our transgression is mendable.  However, it requires repentance.

Agreeing with God that we are in need of forgiveness is difficult.  When Cain offered an unacceptable sacrifice, and it was refused, the Lord said, “Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But, if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door.  It desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Cain could not admit his sin and ask for forgiveness.

The ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur offer a time to make things right, first between those we may have offended, and then with God.  It is a time to repent.  It is time to be reminded that God wants us to be in close personal relationship with him, but this requires our sin to be “covered,” and this requires repentance.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at