Much has been made in recent times about recognizing disenfranchised groups, and apologizing for the traditions and processes that led to their condition. However, less has been written about how such apologies and recognition can be achieved.
I thought it would be useful to look at the anatomy of an apology — beginning with the person who taught me to ‘apologize properly’: my dear, departed wife.
An apology must clearly acknowledge the nature of the offense for which you are apologizing.
The blanket ‘Sorry’ mumbled by a newlywed husband, who has difficulty expressing his emotions, may be enough to reignite his wife’s passion.
But when we are apologizing to native Indians for attempting to obliterate their language, a blanket apology is not likely sufficient. This is one of the reasons corporations and governments struggle with apologizing.
To plainly state the nature of an offense is to invite criticism and (possibly) legal action. That is why big apologies often need to be orchestrated.
The offender or the offending group must ‘own’ their past behaviours, acknowledge with some precision the nature of the crime, and be prepared to make substantive changes directed at preventing future abuses.
As Christians, we must plainly acknowledge our guilt before God, as King David does in Psalm 51. This may not be enough for some victims, because this Psalm is a declaration to God: “against You, and You only, I have sinned.”
However, we acknowledge that all things belong to the Lord. He alone can forgive us, and He alone can bring healing to both the perpetrator and the innocent victim.
Having admitted our guilt, we then must look at the underlying circumstances, and be prepared to make changes.
David’s great sin began when he decided not to accompany his armies on the spring campaign, “during the time when kings go to war.” David may have thought he deserved a break; his generals may have thought it was too risky for him to go; but in this simple decision, the king laid the groundwork for his possible destruction.
We must be prepared for the consequences of sin. The prophet Nathan was quick to inform a penitent King David that his sin had been forgiven, declaring: “You shall not die.”
However, the consequences for the king and his nation were legion: a baby died; the war David was trying to avoid would beset him for the rest of his life; his son Absalom would become a thorn in the king’s side.
Thus, we must be prepared to accept both the earthly and spiritual consequences of our crimes.
God will pardon us, but our debt to society may not be automatically erased. We must do “works meet for repentance.” Before God, we must demonstrate a genuine change of heart — or else plead with Him to change our hearts. Before other people, we must outwardly model behaviours which lead us away from committing the same sin twice.
We must participate in healing and restoration. If I steal my neighbours goat, he may forgive me and have mercy on me; but the requirement of Mosaic law is that I restore his loss three or four times. In other words, if you steal a dollar, the universal law of God (which is awfully similar to karma) requires that we pay a penalty.
Christians rely on the Father’s mercy, obtained by Jesus’ work on the cross. But a prudent, mature Christian would never presume upon God’s mercy, because to do so might invite a chastisement in which — as Jesus states in Matthew 5:26 — we will not be “let out of prison” until the “last farthing is paid.”
This correction can come directly from God, or from the earthly authorities — who, Paul reminds us, are God’s appointed agents for justice on earth.
As Christians, we are called to love what is good, and hate what is evil. When we err, we must confess — prudently (preferably not on The Jerry Springer Show.)
We must examine ourselves before the Lord, as it says in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart… See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We must express our guilt and sorrow before the offended party, and we must express a knowledge of the overriding principles which we violated in premeditating our crime.
We must make systemic changes and personal changes which publicly repudiate our past behaviour; and we must be willing to make future sacrifices — personal, financial and/or political — in an effort toward achieving restoration and healing on both sides.
In all this, we should not murmur, and we shouldn’t complain.
That is an effectual apology.
I hope all the persons (both in and out of church) whom I’ve offended recently won’t read this editorial.