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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.