Our outrage culture has produced a great number of apologies. Every week someone will say or do something that angers people. Some of these outrages are warranted and some are not. Pressure will mount and the masses will call for blood. Usually, the figure in question will offer some form of apology that fails to please the masses but is enough to dissipate the situation.
The main problem is that most of our apologies, both public and private, fall short. Part of the reason for this is that no one likes to apologize. Who would? Every apology requires one person to admit that they have erred in some way, shape, or form. This is an act of humility that lowers our own standing and elevates the person or persons to whom we are apologizing.
The issue is that apologies are important because they reveal what we believe about ourselves, others, and the gospel.
Most of our apologies fit this template: “I’m sorry, but…” This is the most common way that we apologize to people. A friend of mine once told me, “In an apology, anything that comes after the word but is a bunch of crap.” He may have been a little crass, but his point stuck. When we say, “I am sorry, but…” we are not apologizing. Instead, we are building a defense for our own behavior.
We know it is a bad apology and we do not like when people apologize to us in this manner. So why do we keep doing it to others? Part of the reason is that apologizing hurts. Admitting our own failures forces us to look in the mirror and gaze at something ugly. We apologize with qualifiers because we want to apologize in the least painful way possible. We do it because we do not want to be confronted with the sins in our own hearts. We cannot say, “I was absolutely wrong and I am sorry,” because it hurts to admit our own shortcomings. We do not believe what the Bible says when it says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
We believe that the instances we have to apologize for are freak accidents. I may have just screamed at you, but it definitely is not because I am an angry person. I may have made a comment that was racist, but that does not mean that I am a racist.
The gospel is wonderfully good news, but in order to receive it, we must first accept the bad news. We are wicked, sinful people who will never be good enough to inherit eternal life on our own. A prerequisite of receiving the gospel is admitting to God how wicked and terrible you are, without qualifiers or “but” statements. Every small apology is an opportunity for a gut check. Do we really believe that we are sinful, or is everything just a misunderstanding?
Our bad apologies do not just deny our own sinfulness, but deny God’s holiness.
The way we apologize reveals what we believe about other people. When we fail to apologize or apologize poorly we deny that the other person is made in the image of God. Being made in God’s image means that one has intrinsic worth and should be apologized to when they are wronged. A failure to apologize for wrongs committed spits on the image of God and denies their worth.
I have tried putting this into practice lately and found it difficult. I have had no shortage of opportunities to find myself apologizing to those around me. Each time I was more aware of my deep rooted desire to defend myself. I saw how my pride swelled and wanted to dimish my own sinfulness and culpability. As time went on, I became more aware of how my inability to apologize to the people around me was affecting my ability to repent to God for my sin.
If I could not apologize well to my loved ones, then how could I repent towards God for my sin? It is easy to admit the idea of my own sinfulness, but admitting the actual instances of my sin is far more difficult.
How can we mar the image of God we find in other people and then turn around and proclaim on Sunday that we need Him? What if we took each moment where we need to apologize as an opportunity to practice repentance? These are moments where we have the chance to live out the gospel in front of other people.