There are many broken relationships in our world today. And the best way for a broken relationship to heal is through forgiveness and reconciliation. But many times reconciliation between parties doesn’t take place because the person offended has problems with the apology.
There are a few reasons why apologies don’t work. And to better understand why apologies don’t work, we’re going to be looking at a Bible text that explains how to give confessions and apologies.
Leviticus 5:4-5 says, “When he realizes it, then he shall be guilty. So it shall be when he becomes guilty in one of these, that he shall confess that in which he has sinned.”
The beginning part of this text says, “when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty”.
This is saying that before one is to confess what they have done, they must first realize that what they have done, is wrong.
I know at first glance, this may sound like an obvious statement. But many times, people are giving confessions and apologies for things they feel they haven’t done anything wrong for.
For example, they may give their meaningless apology only as a means to reconcile their broken relationship.
Or they may apologize out of duty simply because it’s the right thing to do even though they don’t mean it.
Or they could be apologizing because they were pressured or forced to apologize with absolutely no sorrow for the wrong they’ve done.
But this is not how God wants us to apologize. God doesn’t want us to externally go through the motions and form of an apology, when on the inside we don’t really mean it.
You see, in order for an apology to really mean something, we must first realize that what we have done is wrong and then we must have genuine sorrow for the wrong that we’ve done.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen interviews of mass murderers after they killed multiple people. But I’ve seen a few. And I think there is only one thing that troubles me more than the actual murders itself. And that is the lack of remorse or sorrow from the killer. To me, to see them not be sorry for what they’ve done wrong is very chilling.
And in the same way, to see someone do someone wrong and then apologize to that person with no sorrow or remorse for what they’ve done wrong, is also cold and heartless.
This meaningless performance of apologies has its roots way back to our childhood when we were forced to apologize to our siblings or friends even though we didn’t know the reason why we were apologizing or maybe we apologized when we didn’t even do anything wrong.
Have you ever seen this happen where some children were in a fight and the parents commanded the children to apologize to each other for fighting so that they could then go on and play?
This is an example of just an external compulsion of giving an apology regardless of what one feels on the inside. It is not an apology from the heart. Sadly we condition our children to do this and then wonder why adults aren’t sincere in their apologies anymore.
A better way to do this would be to take the time to find out exactly what had happened between the children and then to explain to the child who was in the wrong, specifically where they were in the wrong. You would then ask the child in the wrong to think about apologizing to their sibling or friend and to give them a choice to apologize or not. You may even want to give the child time to apologize and even give the child a choice as to when they would want to apologize so as to give the Holy Spirit some time to work and build up a conviction within that child.
It is almost better that they don’t apologize than to force them to apologize without them meaning it.
The second part of this text says, “he shall confess that in which he has sinned”.
You see, the sinner was not to ask for forgiveness in general. But instead, they were to ask for forgiveness specifically, in the very thing in which they had sinned.
You see, when it comes to confessions, God is not looking for blanket confessions. Instead He is looking for a specific confession that the Holy Spirit is currently convicting one of.
Maybe you’ve heard it prayed, “Lord please forgive me of all my sins. And if there be any sins which I have forgotten to ask forgiveness for, please forgive those too.”
I think we need to realize that God is not expecting us to ask forgiveness over the sins we don’t know anything about or the sins we can’t remember.
It’s like we’re making God out to be someone who is only rewarding those with the best memory.
But I thank God that forgiveness is not only given to those with the best memories. Instead, forgiveness is given to those who are convicted by the Holy Spirit for what they have specifically done wrong and who then chooses to agree with that conviction.
In the same way, our confessions and apologies to people are not to be blanket confessions. Instead our confessions need to be specific in exactly what we have done wrong.
Have you ever been told by someone who had hurt you, “I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to offend you” or “If I have ever done anything to offend you, then please forgive me”?
When you hear someone say either of these statements, you may have thought to yourself that these statements are beautiful statements. But let’s take a closer look as to what these statements are actually saying.
Now first of all, when someone says, “if I’ve done anything to offend you”, what they are really saying is that they don’t know of anything that they’ve done that is wrong.
Now many times they aren’t aware of what they’ve done to you. But sometimes they do know what they’ve done to you but they don’t want to apologize for it. But in either case, there is no admitting of a wrong done.
The second thing about these statements is that they are not asking you to reveal to them what they have specifically done wrong to you. Instead they are skipping that segment and going straight to you forgiving them for something they did to you that they know nothing about, and also in which there is no remorse or sorrow for what they did to you being that they don’t know what they did. Basically they’re saying sorry and asking for forgiveness from you without ever finding out what they did.
If I could rewrite what they are doing, it would be written out as such:
“I don’t know of anything I’ve ever done to hurt you. But if there is anything that I’ve done, then please don’t tell me about it. Just forgive me because I asked you to forgive me. Forgive me even though I’m not sorry or remorseful for what I did to you because I don’t even know what I did to you. In fact, I don’t really want to know what I did to you because then I would become uncomfortable in finding out specifically how I’ve hurt you”.
You see, this is just a way for people to get you to forgive them without even asking you how they’ve hurt you and also to get you to forgive them without them having to feel sorry for what they’ve done to you.
Now if you really want to find out what you have done wrong to hurt someone, then this statement would be a much better way towards reconciliation:
“Have I done anything wrong to offend you? If I have, please tell me what I have done so I can make it right”
And if they do tell you where you have hurt them, then you can talk things through and even clear things up. Because sometimes the hurt they feel may be there because of a misunderstanding. But if there is a misunderstanding, you can still apologize for the misunderstanding.
But if after talking things through, you find out that you have done something wrong to them, then you can apologize to them in how you have hurt them.
When you do it this way, you open the door for reconciliation to take place.
Now I’ve not only heard these statements said in a one-to-one conversation but I’ve also heard these statements said in a public speech. I’ve heard it said in public, “If there’s anybody here that I’ve offended, then please forgive me”.
Again, a better way to say this statement would be to say, “If there is anybody here that I’ve hurt, then please come up to me privately and let me know how I’ve hurt you because I would like to make it right between you and me.”
And if they do come up to you and let you know how you’ve hurt them, then you should be humble and receptive rather than defensive so that you can listen to what they are saying. And if you realize you have done something wrong, then you should apologize to that person specifically in how you have hurt them.
And if you are not in a place where if someone were to come up to you to let you know how you’ve hurt them; and you would become defensive or not be sorry for how you’ve hurt them, then you should not be giving a public apology.
These healthy methods of asking for specific forgiveness are a powerful means in bringing about healing and reconciliation to broken relationships.
And the joy and peace of having one’s relationship healed and reconciled is all worth the uncomfortableness and humility that is needed for relationships to be restored.
I want this healing in my own growth with God as well as this healing in my relationships with others. How about you? Keala
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