Who’s sorry now? Apparently everybody.
Elizabeth Bernstein’s column on relationships in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday explores the growing tendency to track down people on the web and apologize for something that happened years ago.
Forget to return a library book? Date your ex-roommates ex-boyfriend? Tell your brother-in-law not to marry your sister? No problem. One guy, she reports, contacted a university that admitted him 13 years ago and apologized for not filling out the questionnaire they sent him about why he chose not to attend.
As Bernstein points out:
We live in a self-help culture, where therapists, 12-step programs guides and talk show hosts are forever reminding us that forgiveness and gratitude are the way to happiness (and sobriety). Many times, a long overdue apology, like a confession, does more for the person offering it up than it does for the one receiving it.
That’s the problem, isn’t it. Things often get messy when we do them for ourselves. As I’ve pointed out, our fallenness is not about our inability to do anything good but about our inability to do anything wholly good. The self always gets in the way.
And while confession is good for the soul, it’s often a self-centered project. Forgiving is the really hard work.
Yes, I can see the need in some cases to set things right. A former student sent me a check last year for $150 I had loaned him years ago and, quite frankly, had forgotten about. He clearly needed to set things right for his own conscience sake, and as it turned out, I needed the money. But the point here is not about the apology- it’s about setting things right.
But what the Scripture really requires of us is forgiving others. Seventy times seven. Even when they didn’t ask. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” as Paul so aptly puts it in Colossians 3.
The world isn’t always a better place because we track people down and tell them we are sorry, although saying we’re sorry can be a good thing. But it is always better when we stop keeping score, harboring grudges, keeping track of our emotional or material debtors, and nursing our bitterness. The word for forgive Paul uses here is charizominoi—to freely and graciously give, without expecting or exacting a payment.
We don’t need a website to do that.