Thursday, 27 September 2012

Learning to say 'Sorry'

The news over the last couple of  weeks have been dominated by apologies. 

And also by some non-apologies!

It all started last week with 'TUITION-FEE-GATE' - Nick Clegg's video apology over the Liberal Democrat's broken promise regarding student tuiton fees.

Before the election Clegg was outspoken in his oppositon to raising the fees students would be charged for their university courses. However once in coalition, this pledge was unceremoniously dumped in a breathtaking display of political pragmatism. Universities in England and Wales can now charge up to £9,000 for some courses.

And so last week Nick Clegg said 'sorry'.

And what was the reaction? A mixture of contempt and amusement! One result of which was a brilliantly worked remix of Clegg's apology, which was released itunes and you can watch at the bottom of  this post!

And then there was 'PLEB-GATE' at the end of last week.

When Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell decided to give a verbal tongue-lashing to one of the policemen guarding the gates of 10 Downing Street, little did he know how it would come back to bite him! Among other things, he called him a 'pleb', which is ironic, because 'pleb' was a word originally coined in ancient Rome to refer to upwardly mobile middle class freed men and women, who were considered to be doing pretty well for themselves.

To be fair to Mitchell, he has apologised - sort of - for his tirade, but it was an appology that was heavily qualified. And as a result he is facing increasing pressure to quit his job. 

And then there was 'TERRY-GATE' -  the news that Chelsea captain John Terry has been banned by the Football Association for four matches and fined £220,000 for racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

And his response?

Despite admitting to swearing at Ferdinand, a reprehensible act in itself for a  national role-model like him, Terry has steadfastly refused to accept any fault whatsoever for the incident.

Why do we find it so hard to say a genuine, sincere, undefensive, unqualified SORRY?

The Bible says that the answer is a three letter word: SIN

Any time human beings live near each other, they hurt each other.

Our sinfulness often brings with it the capacity to hurt others. We hurt one another with the words we say and with the things we do or forget to do. Sometimes we injure our relationships with others through carelessness or negligence. When this happens, we need to learn to find the grace to admit our wrong and ask for forgiveness. Our motive for doing this is love for the person we have hurt and a desire to see them healed.
However sin also makes us proud people who don't like to admit we need anything - least of all forgiveness.
But we can learn a great deal about biblical apology from David.

In Psalm 51, we get a glimpse into the heart of a man of God after he'd committed an array of sins. His heart was broken, and he knew he'd damaged his relationship with God.

So, in a desire to restore the joy and intimacy he once enjoyed, David offers a sincere apology to God.
From David’s confession we see the four elements of an effective biblical apology:
1. Remorse and Regret

The starting place for a biblical apology is expressing remorse and regret. When our actions hurt people, the injured party needs to know that we are remorseful - that we can identify with their injury.

We can encapsulate this principle in three simple words: ‘I am sorry.’

It's impossible to miss David’s remorse over his actions in Psalm 51:
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (51:4)
David was truly sorry for what he had done, and he wanted God to know it. He recognized his actions hurt others, and he sincerely acknowledged that to the Lord.
2. Responsibility
The second component of an effective biblical apology is encapsulated in saying the three most difficult words known to mankind: ‘I was wrong.’

These words take us beyond remorse to responsibility.
David was not only remorseful for what he had done, he also accepted full responsibility for his actions.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (Psalm 51:3)
David acknowledged his sins and admitted they deserved judgment.
3. Reconciliation
The third step in offering an effective biblical apology is learning to say, ‘Will you forgive me?’
While expressing remorse communicates that we understand we have hurt someone, and admitting that we were wrong is accepting responsibility,  saying ‘Will you forgive me?’ seeks reconciliation.
These words are more than a question; they are also a statement. They say to the offended party, I want our relationship to be restored.’
4. Repentance
While the first three components can be communicated with words, this fourth component is communicated by action. True repentance is the final component to an effective biblical apology.
It will never be enough to simply apologize. As sinful people, we also need to change. Repenting not only recognizes that what we did was wrong, but it also expresses a desire to do right.
As a Pastor I regularly come across people who struggle, both to say sorry and to forgive. But in my experience, failure to do either is a recipe for spiritual disaster. Failure to apologise leads to hard-heartness and loss of love, and failure to forgive leads to bitterness and resentment.
Neither lead us to be more like Jesus who, when he had most cause to be hard-hearted and  resentful said
‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:42)

Who do you need to say sorry to this week?
(And to get you into the mood - here's Nick!)