“Say sorry, Jack.”
I’ve just retired from the early morning shift of supervising resident grandchildren, Neve and Jack.
On greeting their late-rising (7.45 am) mother, Jack surreptitiously gave his sister a push/thump. Jen asked him to say sorry. He refused. She persisted. He gave in.
Now Jack is just 16 months old. Saying sorry just does not come naturally: it had to be wrung out. (Here he is, pushing his walker into my study. And now out again).
Clearly had he consulted his lawyer he would have been advised to admit nothing, to refuse any liability.
“Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry, “ writes Erich Segal in indisputedly the worst film it has been my misfortune to watch in my entire life. Even worse than Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
But theology was never a strong point in Love story (1970) Fittingly Harvard never again allowed its campus to be used as a film location.
In total contrast Jesus taught that love means saying sorry, asking forgiveness. All the time. Especially but by no means exclusively before God. So Mark introduces Jesus with his core message: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel. In fact, it is the Gospel.
However, there is all the difference between offering forgiveness and asking for forgiveness. Given our human nature it is the difference between being in control and surrendering control. That’s why Jack’s lawyer counselled against seeking forgiveness. It’s the way this world works.
But the Kingdom of God marches to a different tune, that of ongoing forgiveness. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Such is his love that God does not call us to grovel, to torment ourselves: simply to ask him to forgive us. And he does. There is a no-quibble guarantee, such is the power of the cross.
And receiving God’s pardon becomes the wellspring of our own offering and receiving forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted,” writes the apostle Paul, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness becomes a lifestyle.
Forgiving one another means that within the fellowship of Christ I can ask for your forgiveness with the confident expectation that you will forgive me. And that makes all the difference. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again” has a special resonance. No need for self-abasement or histrionics.
So Jesus teaches: “Be alert. If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Such forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. An undertaking not an overreaction.
Often the decision to forgive – and the willingness to be forgiven – ends a whole cycle of accusation and conflict, especially within families and between communities. It’s sound easy enough but in practice, hugely difficult.
Just do it.