Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Apologizing...It's Not Very Christian

I must begin with a request...if you're going to read this post, you have to read all the way to the end.
 
None of this getting mad halfway through over apparent heresy and giving up.  Trust me.  I think you'll be glad you did.  I know I'll feel better.
 
Now that we've entered into that completely non-binding and one sided agreement, let me say this:
Apologizing is not Biblical.
 
There you have it.  Now you know, are least in part, why I made you agree to read to the end.  Saying you are sorry for things you have done wrong is a practice of spiritual discipline we have been taught since before we were young enough to even know the implications of right and wrong behavior.
 
We've all done it as parents:  Our little cherub finally reveals the existence of his or her sinful nature and strays from the straight and narrow.  If we are fortunate enough to have more than one child it is usually first manifested as aggression towards a sibling.  Taking a toy.  Striking in anger.  Lying.  Biting.  Something.  At least in these instances we are able to contain the offense to the boundaries of our own home.  Heaven forbid the youngster make such transgressions out in public-on the playground, at school, in the grocery store!!  But in any case, the scene is usually the same: after sufficiently explaining the error of their ways we generally then make a simple request of the child: "say you're sorry".
 
It doesn't end there.  When we emerge into the older childhood years of life, we begin to be instructed more fully in the concept of what we do if we seek forgiveness for something we have done amiss.  We need to apologize.  We need to say we are sorry.  Even our initial introduction to the forgiving grace of Christ in the Gospel sounds something like this: you need to tell God you are sorry for your sins.  Which means: apologize for what you've done wrong.
 
It doesn't end there.  As teens we are encouraged to apologize to authority figures when we are disrespectful, to teachers when our homework isn't done, and to our boss when we are late for work.
 
It doesn't end there.  As adults we get ourselves into complicated interpersonal relationships, not the least of which may be marriage.  In doing so, we undoubtedly hurt people sometimes.  We say mean things on occasion. Sometimes we are outright nasty.  As parents we sometimes find ourselves committing the very behaviors we chide our children for.  The remedy?  You guessed it...we need to apologize.  Say we are sorry.
 
Before you think that I'm going to try to make the argument that all of these notions of "being sorry" for the things we do wrong are unchristian, cool your jets.  I believe just the opposite.  Recognizing where we have erred and feeling sorrow over our state of behavior is a very good place to be.  Oh that more people would spend time reflecting on their behaviors and attitudes to examine if their spirit is aligned with truth.
 
However, my premise is this: saying you are sorry is not necessarily synonymous with sorrow.  Apologizing not the same as seeking forgiveness.  The first is an action of the lips.  The second a matter of the heart.
 
So, why do I say that apologizing is not very Christian?  Primarily because the concept as we know it appears next to nowhere in Scripture.  In fact, the Greek word apologia only appears 8 times in the New Testament.  Of those, 5 have to do with providing a defense for the Gospel (since the word literally means to give a speech in defense of).  The three others refer to giving a defense for ones own behavior.  Neither of these mean to say you are sorry for something.
 
Speaking of the word "sorry", let's examine that one as well: it shows up once in the New Testament, where its meaning is "to be sad".  Of its 8 uses in the Old Testament, it usually means  to pity/comfort someone.  Only once does it refer to someone being apologetic (contemporary meaning).  This instance is found in Ezekiel where the Lord is referring to Himself and says He will not be sorry for the action He is about to take.
 
To summarize, the Bible never seems to talk about an apology in the way we often use the word today.  Why?  Because God is always more concerned with the state of the heart than a manufactured admittance of possible guilt.  This is critical for us to understand.  Apologies can be meaningful, but too often are given as lip service to a possible offense.  Many times they come with no admittance of culpability on the part of the offender and leave the reconciliation of a relationship completely up to the offended on "accepting" the apology.
 
This is what we train our children to do.  It is how I was taught...and probably you were, too.  The formula goes like this:
Offender does something wrong.
Offended registers a complaint with the offender or higher authority (parent)
Offender apologizes with or without admitting guilt
Offended "accepts apology" or says "it's ok"
 
Unless of course, you're my son...who when I tried to teach him to accept someone's apology to him, generally screams at the top of his lungs "it's not ok!!!!".  Remember that sinful nature I referred to earlier?  Still working on that.
 
My point is this: there is a more excellent way.  And it doesn't have so much to do with saying something other than "I'm sorry".  Those are completely acceptable words.  It doesn't have to do with not accepting apologies.  Of course we should.  But there is so much more to it than that, and if we don't grasp this something more then many relationships will never be healed because we grow up to be adults who want to mumble our apologies and go on our way. There has to be a more excellent way.
 
What is this more excellent way?  It's called Confession.
 
But aren't confessing and apologizing the same thing?  They are not.  Again we return to the Biblical evidence:
 
In the Old Testament, 16 times the idea of confession is used as a description for action of the hands.  Either lifting hands in praise or thanks or bemoaning the state of things by wringing ones hands.  In the first case, the gesture is made to signify a relationship between the one "confessing" and the one to whom they are confessing.  In the second case, the one confessing is recognizing the wrong of a situation.
 
In the New Testament, the word confession is used to mean agree, covenant, or acknowledge.  It draws the picture of someone who is professing something to be true.  In the context of confessing something to God or another person, then, it means we are admitting its truth.  If we have done something wrong, we are admitting the error of our ways.  Being sorry?  Yes.  In fact, as the Old Testament might show us, we are saying we are sick over our behavior.  But it is even more than that.  We are calling as truth the way God sees our behavior.  We are admitting the sinfulness of how we chose to behave.
 
Nowhere in Scripture is this more clear than I John 1:9.  "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins..."
 
Confession, not apology, is the precedent for God forgiving us.  That changes things a bit, does it not?
 
And James 5:16 lays out for us how this affects human relationships.   "Confess your sins to one another...". Apparently confession, which leads to healing, is not just a Divine/Human exchange. It is also a Human/Human exchange.
 
But if confession is just admitting something is true, can't you confess without being sorry?  Well, you could. If you only went by the technical definition. But remember, confession in the Christian sense is to affirm that God's view of us is accurate. So you could admit you did something without being sorry, but you could never Biblically confess it without being so. In other words, you could say you were sorry without meaning it, but you could not confess without Godly sorrow.
 
Too many people enjoy the apology in a relationship because it requires very little of them. Confession takes much more.
 
So, the question is, can you apologize without thinking you were wrong? Yes, because apologizing can be an empty exercise of the will. But Christians are not called to apologize. They are called to confess.
 
Can you say you are sorry just to make a relationship better? Yes but it is only sorrow that will truly help to heal. And sorrow is a function of confession.
 
Can we still teach our kids to apologize? Only as a part of admission of guilt and desire to change. In other words only as part of seeing themselves as God sees them.  This is true confession.
 
Remorse should lead to admission of guilt which should lead to repentance which should lead to changed behavior. This is true confession.
 
What, then,  does this suggest about forgiveness?  I have long struggled over whether or not someone can be forgiven for something they have not apologized for. And the answer is found in this better way.
 
Willingness to forgive is a state of the heart. Christians are called to not hold against wrongdoers the things they have done.
 
The ability to forgive is a state of behavior. It is based on the confession of the perpetrator and the offer of forgiveness from the offended.
 
Reconciliation is a state of relationship that should stem from the action of forgiveness.
This is clearly on display in our relationship with God. He is willing to forgive. It is His nature. He will take the action to forgive if we confess. This forgiveness leads to a reconciled relationship with us, His lost children.
 
So, can we not forgive unless someone truly confesses?  You can choose not to hold their wrong against them, but forgiveness is an exchange between two people. And it begins with the admission of the truth...the reality of the way things are. It starts with confession.
 
Confession is more involved, more difficult, more painful. That is why it accomplishes more. It takes all the good parts of apologizing, of being sorrowful, and takes them to a new, deeper level. It leaves the fate of the offender in the hands of the offended. But, the offended, pursuing the nature of God, has no choice but to offer forgiveness. Or else they themselves become offenders.
 
What shall we say then to all of this?  What should we do?  How should we live?  Pursue the more excellent way. Seek a new status of the heart. Become a Confessor. It is the Christian thing to do.