Sunday, September 2, 2018

The failure of repentance. . .

We live in an age of apology.  Nations apologize for their past.  Men apologize for their inappropriate behavior or comments.  Stars apologize for tweets to quickly sent.  Presidents to kings, businessmen to public servants, we have learned that art of apology.  Except that many of our apologies are not quite apologies. 

I apologize if I offended anyone. . . except that under that statement is the underlying idea that I am sorry if you were offended but I did not offend, or at least I did not mean to offend, or I am pretty sure if you would have heard my words differently, you would not have been offended.  In other words, I am sorry for making you upset but not all that sorry about what I said or did that upset you.

Even priests and bishops can speak like this.  Cardinal McCarrick, accused of sexual abuse,  apologized to anyone was offended . . . but did not believe he did anything wrong.  He was not repentant but saw the value in an apology given -- if for no other purpose than to express his sorrow that people were upset. 

Lets face it.  Though we live in an age of apology, we seldom really mean to admit that what we did or said was wrong.  We are sorry but our sorrow extends mainly to the fact that people took our words or actions in the wrong way.  This is a failure of repentance.  We do not confess the sin but only that it bothered some folks.  Is this enough to qualify as an apology?  Contrition?  Sorrow over sin?  Repentance?

While you might think that this happens only in the public sphere and the media frenzy over words or deeds that trigger unflattering publicity, I fear that this has a much greater reach.  We have learned from them (or they from us?) to use the apology --  without meaning it -- if we think it will help us get through the mess.  Unfaithful husbands and wives confess to the affair while longing to still enjoy the rush of a clandestine rendezvous and, confessing to it, have conveniently moved the burden of it all from their own guilty shoulders to the innocent spouse who must now decide if it is over or not and how the marriage will be repaired if it is not to end.  It is a masterful plan to enjoy a clear conscience with the confession and at the same time shift the onus from self to spouse.  Unless, of course, the repentance is genuine.

This is the struggle of the heart still tempted by sin.  It is natural way, at least after sin, and to do something other than this mere appearance of repentance requires something from above, namely the Holy Spirit.  And I wonder if that is not part of the reason why so many Roman Catholics and Lutherans and other liturgical Christians like the general confession that usually prefaces the Eucharist.  Private confession requires something more than merely owning guilt, it requires owning the sin and owning it by speaking it out loud along with taking full and complete responsibility for it.  Private confession requires being open to a question or two from your father confessor who may use this opportunity to pull something more from you (not the juicy details of the wrong but rather the clear acknowledgement of the sin and all its consequential wrongs).

We like apologies but we like them even more when they apologize for offense without actually apologizing for the offense.  We watch it work on TV for those caught in public wrong and, if they can get away with it there, we figure it ought to work before God.  Except that God sees through the failures of our repentance in ways we people do not.  The formal words of confession once used  sought to prevent this loophole with stark and even shocking language.  More modern day confessions, especially those creatively written, tend to apologize more for feeling guilty that doing the sin from which the guilt came.  They tend to confess failure to act more than admitting the act itself and hardly even raise the bar to equate thoughts and deeds.  And they love to confess corporate sin more than individual to relieve us from the messy part of having to own up our own role in it all.  It is the failure of repentance.

Regret is not repentance.  Apologies that don't own the sin are not real apologies.  I have tried it more than a time or two. . . but it has not worked out so well for me.  I consider that a good thing.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

Here is an example of a Pecksniffian nonapology:

"I made a pledge very early on to take seriously those who differed with me. So in the area of specific wording, to whoever has had problems and criticisms, I am sorry that I didn’t get the words out more clearly or accurately or completely. Although it was never intentional, I know that my words have offended some in my denomination, and for that offense I apologize, sincerely, and ask for forgiveness."

Here are some more Pecksniffian nonapologies:

"Thus, to those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies."

"I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event. However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why. I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology."