‘Sorry’ is Hardest Word
Dear Church Family,
What a beautiful week we’ve enjoyed. When I see the Facebook-plastered panoramic pictures of white-limbed trees and Midwestern whiteouts, I almost miss the snow. I did say, almost!
If you watched any college basketball this week you saw a beautiful example of conflict resolution. We hear so many ridiculous apologies in the political, sports, and entertainment worlds these days (along with the insincere ones we’re all so inclined to utter), so those that appear genuine (and are consistent with scripture) are to be celebrated.
Case in point: After viciously elbowing Villanova’s basketball player Ryan Arcidiacono in the face during a mad scramble for a loose ball, Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs said almost immediately: “I’m sorry to my family, friends, fans, and team … and even more sorry to Ryan … I let my emotions get the best of me and that wasn’t acceptable at all … It really is weighing heavy on my heart … I hope you’re alright and I will face any consequences coming.”
A quick survey of the Scriptures reveals at least four elements evident in true repentance, elements decidedly contained in Gibbs’s apology:
1. The uncoerced confession: “I’m sorry.”
While everything in us (in our flesh) wants desperately to shift blame and make excuses for our failures, the quintessential declaration present in all true demonstrations of repentance is this: “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” When James, the brother of Jesus instructs us to “confess our sins to one another” (James 5:16), this is precisely what he has in mind. Literally acknowledging with humility our shortcomings. And not our generic shortcomings—“I’m sorry that I’m such a lousy husband”—but specific grievances, “I’m sorry for responding impatiently to you when you asked for my help in the kitchen” (a purely hypothetical example that took me all day to dream up!). Specific sins demand specific confession, without any trappings of equivocation. Notice in the aforementioned apology from Gibbs to Arcidiacono, the former makes no attempt to justify his behavior; he simply says, “I’m sorry … that wasn’t acceptable at all.”
2. A hatred for our own sin.
The next element present in true repentance is a hatred over our own sin. After committing adultery and planning a murder scheme, King David grieves over his own actions, and says this to the Lord in Psalm 51: “My sin is every before me … I have done what is evil in your sight … cleanse me … let me hear joy and gladness, let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” This is raw, weighty stuff. David is in real pain. Likewise, when we see ourselves, and our rebellion, in light of God’s holiness, we become devastatingly aware of our own brokenness, sinfulness, and need for forgiveness. Repentance is a revulsion of the soul toward our own sin. I have no idea whether the basketball player in our case study is a Christian, but even he feels the burden of his offense: this is “weighing heavy on my heart,” he says.
3. A humble willingness to accept the consequences of my actions.
The most often overlooked (and controversial) aspect of forgiveness is the willingness on the part of the offender to accept the consequences of his or her actions. The person who is truly repentant is not angry over equitable repercussions. “This is unfair.” “I don’t deserve this.” “You don’t understand what I’ve been going through.” These aren’t statements that come from the mouth of the contrite. Instead, like Seton Hall’s Gibbs, phrases like this flow from the repentant resemble this one: “I will face any consequences coming.”
4. A deliberate choice to no longer respond in the same way.
Finally, the truly repentant resolves to do things differently next time. This may be the hardest part. Committing to change takes a work of God. How often do we hear people brazenly profess, “If I had things to do over again, I wouldn’t change anything.” That’s not the way the repentant person speaks. Instead she says, “I wish I hadn’t responded that way, and in the future I will …” Again, King David says, “purge me … renew my spirit … and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.” The very essence of repentance is a change in direction. The image is of a person walking confidently down a path, coming to an abrupt stop, making an about-face, and then proceeding in the opposite direction. Such is the case with biblical repentance: there’s an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual re-direct.
Of course, here’s the beauty in all this for the believer: when we confess our sin and repent—even though our standing with God doesn’t change; that is forever secure because of Christ’s finished work on the cross—our enjoyment of His communion is deeply enhanced. The same can be said of our relationships with one another: confession and repentance open the door to a sweetness of fellowship not present when conflict is unresolved.
May God help us to be the peacemakers He has called us to be!