Skip to main content

Unsweet sorrow

Apologizing to those we’ve wronged is a painful but important thing to do

Unsweet sorrow

Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times via AP)

In 2006 I wrote a column on forgiveness and why it’s the hardest thing we ever do, accounting for why we hardly do it.

Recent currents in American life have shifted my focus to that correlative activity to forgiving: apologizing. Apologizing is surely the runner-up for the most difficult of human activities, and I would venture this reason: Your problem in forgiving is my problem in apologizing.

What I mean is that if you were better at forgiving, it would be much easier for me to apologize. Your reluctance to do that brutal work of forgiving (that is, of canceling my debt and bearing in your own person my past wrong against you) makes it all the harder for me to work up the nerve to apologize to you.

That sounds like the height of hutzpah, doesn’t it? Like wounding you twice—first in the initial slight, then later in the request that you suck up my injustice and no longer hold it against me.

To apologize in any situation is to hand over power to the person one has hurt. You are placing your immediate fate in his hands.

But there you have it, ladies and gentlemen—Jesus’ command to do the 70 times 7. And it stands to reason that God should underscore the duties that are most against the grain. He exhorts the wife, for example, to “respect your husband,” and the husband to “live in an understanding way with your wife,” because these are the very areas they are respectively weakest in.

Just think of how hard apologizing is. First of all, to apologize with honor entails refraining from mentioning the fact that the person or persons one is apologizing to may also not be entirely innocent in the matter. Right? Thus the more honorable potentially becomes prey to the less scrupulous, and casts his pearls to swine. While onlookers revile the apologizer for the horrible thing he did, no one is allowed to mention that the party being apologized to has done wrong too—and indeed may be continuing to do wrong.

To apologize in any situation is to hand over power to the person one has hurt. You are placing your immediate fate in his hands, which is a vulnerable position for you. The ball is now in the offended party’s court, and you know very well how heady the taste of newfound power can be. There is nothing like a little moral leverage to make us swell into cruel lords extracting a “pound of flesh.”

Then there is the little-apprised logical fallacy which can be stated like this: “A wrong has been done. Therefore the wrong can be fixed.” This is illogical because, as a matter of unpleasant fact, there are plenty of problems in life or history that cannot be fixed. Or whose fixes cannot ever be 100 percent complete, equivalent, or satisfactory. All of us have been sinned against in the past, and we bear the scars of another’s wrongs. That’s just life.

Or sometimes persons A, B, and C have done an injury, but they cannot make good on it because they are long dead and buried. Indeed, even if they were alive, they could not make the injury be as if it never were—which is the unreasonable insistence of some injured people. These people will give us no peace until the past is rendered nonexistent. This is a fantasy.

Those of us who have been sinned against by another (and that’s all of us, to one degree or another) have a choice: We can do the hard work of overcoming (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:12, 21)—which always has something to do with duty, values, lifestyle, daily moral choices, and presently available resources. Or we can be perpetual victims, lighting our votive lamps to the patron saint of Unappeasable Victimhood, never lifting a finger to improve our own lot. But if I run over you with my car, you may get all my money—and may deserve to—but you yourself must still do the hard work of daily physical therapy to get your life back.

The CEO of Starbucks flew from Seattle to Philadelphia to apologize in person to two men reportedly badly treated by the manager at the coffeehouse at 18th and Spruce. The issue may be complicated, but anger continues. Good luck with apologizing.


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Tue, 05/15/2018 11:34 pm

    A bold and insightful article in our current climate of expecting those who have offended us to apologize - or on the other hand believing that apologizing will bring healing. We've turned the imperative of our Lord to forgive regardless of the attitude of the offender on its head. That's the world's way of reconciliation which is usually not the goal in any case. Just think of how a child processes things when they are "forced" to apologize. Ah, but when they are encouraged to forgive in the face of being hurt? Forgiveness makes true reconciliation at least possible though it still takes the Spirit of God working in the heart of the one who has offended to close the deal on reconciliation. That is never a given but reconciliation is even more unlikely without forgiveness of the offended one and the mercy that comes with it. And there may always be consequences that cannot be undone and for which there will never be enough apology.


    Which act, apologizing or forgiving, imitates the Lord's mercy (mercy that I didn't deserve) in  my life? Indeed, it is hard work. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 05/17/2018 02:08 pm

    Forgiveness and apology are both essential to reconciliation.

    Genuine apology shows that I have reflected on what I have done to wound another.  That other then can feel safer letting his guard down a wee bit.  We have taken one step toward reconciliation.

    Apologies filled with ifs and buts show that I have not reflected on my sin.  I still want to blame something or someone other than myself for it.  Therefore the person who I have wronged does not feel safe letting their guard down.  Reconciliation cannot proceed.

  • Daniel A Breithaupt
    Posted: Thu, 05/17/2018 02:11 pm

    Dan Breithaupt

    St clair MO

    I guess I'm a slow reader but I found an article I wanted to respond to from April 15/2017 called "Living Skillfully". 

    At the end of the article you mentioned, "We have nothing we have not received so boasting is eliminated."

    I think you answered your own question about the North American Indian not having use of the wheel.  If all we have we have received then who do we receive it from?  I do believe the answer is only Jesus Christ.  Seeing as he Native Americans did not worship Christ they were left to their own Ingenuity and that was limited to dragging sticks around.

    Someone wrote a book about scientific advancement in the last 1000 (yes thousand) years and discovered that 98.6% of major discoveries were given to humanity by people who took the Bible seriously.

    That would conclude that Jesus Christ is the sole giver of pertinent usable information within the scientific realm. 

    With regards to Einstein, Walter Isaacson in his book Einstein states that as a young man Albert would compose and sing songs of worship to God.  As the Lord honored Ahab, king of Israel for repenting in sackcloth and ashes by postponing judgement on his house until after he died so Einstein received certain understandings from the Lord due to his earlier worship.

    With that in mind when the Lord gives us understanding how much of it do we reveal to the world?  In less than one hundred years the enemies of the world are attempting to build weapons that could destroy both them and us. 

    Jesus is in full control of what we discover and what is classified as false information so He can accomplish His work of building His church.