When apologizing is not enough

“My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).

Bill Glass played a full career with the Cleveland Browns as an All-Pro defensive end before retiring for another career spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In his mid-70s now, Bill is still “in the game” and “on the field.”

In his book, “Get in the Game,” Bill Glass tells of the time his team was battling the St. Louis Cardinals (back when they were still in that city).

That day, Cleveland had St. Louis backed up to their own 5 yard line. Cardinal quarterback Charlie Johnson took the ball and was running around in the end zone looking for someone to throw it to. Meanwhile Bill Glass, right defensive end for Cleveland, was bearing down on him from his blind side, while Paul Wiggin, left end, was barreling toward Johnson from the other side.

It was a defensive end’s dream. They are about to sack the quarterback in his own end zone. This can be a game-changer. Bill could just hear the crowd cheering.  This was going to be great.

At the last nanosecond, just before Glass and Wiggin smashed into the quarterback, the referee just couldn’t stand it. Five hundred pounds of defensive backs were about to clobber this poor little scrawny quarterback.This just isn’t right!

The referee yelled, “Watch out!”

Instantly, the quarterback ducked, causing Wiggin and Glass to hit head on, knocking both of them out cold.  Charlie Johnson ended up gaining ten yards and a first down.

When Bill Glass came to, he felt so weak he could barely speak above a whisper. He reached up and pulled the referee down close so he could hear him. “You know,” Bill said, “You really shouldn’t have done that.”

The ref, whom Glass does not identify in his book, said, “Aw, Bill, I’m sorry.”

Then the referee went over and apologized to Paul Wiggin and to the Cleveland Brown coaches.

It was the only time in Bill Glass’ career a referee apologized to him for anything.

These days, that scene would be on Sportscenter and replayed a hundred times.  Within days, that ref would be looking for a new job.

Sometimes an apology is not enough.

I went to the Cleveland Brown history for the year of that game and saw they played St. Louis twice, winning one and losing one.  If the referee’s error resulted in that loss–and there’s no way to know–an apology is just insufficient.

1) It is important to apologize when we have done wrong; do not overlook this.

Nothing we’re saying here is meant to dismiss the value of a well-placed and sincere apology.

2) Words can be potent weapons for harm and powerful forces for good.

The words “I’m sorry, please forgive me” may not be everything, but they are often worth a great deal. Words have value.

The Old Testament prophet said to Israel, “Take words with you and return to the Lord!” (Hosea 14:2)

Sometimes, we need to hear the words. This is true, whether the words are “I love you” or “You did a great job” or “I sincerely thank you.”

3) But after the apology–or alongwith it–action is needed.

“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue (only), but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18).  It’s not enough just to say the words and let it go at that, when remedial action is required.

4) An apology cannot undo the wrong.

Everything changes when a key decision-maker gets it wrong. In a game like football, a quarterback being thrown for a loss in his own end zone or gaining ten yards and making a first down could mean winning or losing.

We can just imagine King David, getting up off the ground where he has been brought low by the confrontation with the Prophet Nathan and then riding in his chariot to the home of his warrior Uriah.  The servants assemble Uriah’s mother and father along with his siblings and their families.  “Everyone,” the king announces, “I just want you to know I’m so sorry for what I have done. I stole Uriah’s wife and had him killed in battle. Please forgive me.” Later, as they drive back to the palace, David turns to his chief of staff Joab and says, “I feel so good after that! An apology gives closure.”

It doesn’t. Sometimes all an apology does is assign blame.

5) With the apology needs to come a new way of life.

After the end of the Second World War,  Corrie ten Boom traveled Germany urging citizens to repent and seek God’s forgiveness for their crimes. Revelations of the millions gassed in Hitler’s ovens had thrown Germans into shock, and many were groveling in their own guilt and self-recriminations.  But Corrie ten Boom–who had herself been incarcerated in one of the worst of those hell-holes and whose father and sister had both died as a result of Nazis–was a Christian and knew the healing power of repentance and forgiveness.

On one occasion, at the end of her speech, a man stepped out of the crowd, walked to her, and introduced himself as a former prison guard at Ravensbruck. “How well I know,” thought Fraulein ten Boom. She had been held at that horrendous place and had memories of this very man’s cruelties. He said, “I am so ashamed of some of the things I did. I’ve become a Christian and God has forgiven me. But whenever I find someone who was in one of our prisons, I ask them to forgive me, too. Fraulein ten Boom, will you forgive me?”

“Just so easily does he think he can erase all the pain and suffering and deaths he caused?” thought Corrie ten Boom.

She tells this story in one of her many books–readers unfamiliar with Corrie ten Boom have a delight in store; start with her autobiography “The Hiding Place”–and describes how with great difficulty she forced herself to extract her hand from her purse and to take the hand of the apologizing guard. Resisting all the protesting emotions welling up in her, she managed to utter the words, “I do forgive you. I forgive you with all my heart.” And when she did, the love of God flooded her body as she had never known it. Thereafter Romans 5:5 became a mainstay in her life.

An apology alone is rarely enough, but it is a necessary first step.

We can only hope the penitent Nazi guard dedicated his life to helping the survivors of his prison camps.

6) Constant apologizing can be a substitute for repentance and changing one’s behavior.

I once knew a woman who could not quit apologizing. When the pastor arrived at her home, she apologized that the place was a mess, that she had not swept the front porch, and that she was wearing an apron. Inside, she apologized for the slight disarray in the living room, for her oldest son not being home, and for interrupting the pastor’s “busy schedule.”  He had heard quite enough of this and with a huge smile on his face, he said, “Katherine, would you please stop apologizing?!” She said, “I’m so sorry!”

A couple whose marriage was in trouble went to a counselor. The wife said, “Johnny stops by the tavern with his co-workers every evening, making him late for dinner. He spends all day Saturday fishing with these men, and on Sundays, they’re together in front of the television watching football.”  The husband said, “I’m sorry.”  To that, the wife said, “That’s his answer for everything: I’m sorry.”  “Well, what else do you expect me to say?” he said. “I am sorry.”

The wife said, “I don’t need an apology. I need you to change your ways.”

7) Saying “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” is a cheap shot, indicative of a manipulative personality, and completely unworthy of followers of Jesus Christ.

When we insist on getting our own way–“I can apologize later!”–we brutalize our colleagues, betray our loved ones, disappoint our co-workers and insult our Lord.

There! So much more could be said on this subject, but this seems to be a good stopping place. I’m tempted to add that if anyone needs more from me on this, well–I’m sorry.  (But I don’t think I will! )

6 thoughts on “When apologizing is not enough

  1. thanks for the 7 sexual line that a pastor should never cross. I think that it is a shame that other men of God can not just say thanks or keep their mouths shut if they disagree with someone’s position. Your article was your desire to be helpful. None of our experiences are exactly the same, however the enemy’s tactics are the same. thank you for the reminder, the heads up and the exortation to Godliness…bless you man.

  2. Great article Joe. Thanks for calling out “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission” for what it is.

  3. When David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, he said “against God and against You only, have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight, that You might be justified when thou speak, and be clear when thou judge”. All sin is ultimately against God. Acknowledgement of your sin against God is what must come first. David goes on to acknowledge his state of sinfulness from birth, as we all are. His desire for truth in his inner being led him to ask for cleansing with “hyssop”, the leafy plant that was an integral part of purification of the leper and the removing of the defilement resulting from contact with a dead body. He then goes on to ask God to “Bara” (the Hebrew word) for “Create” in him a new heart, which is used in the Old Testament in Genesis to refer to God’s ability to create something out of nothing. Only the creator God can create a new man (2 Cor. 5:17). Only when a man realizes his sinfulness before God and is recreated into a new being (Jesus refers to it as being Born Again) can he then recognize what his responsibility should be to the victim and others and apologize for the hurt he has caused. The New Life he now has in Christ, by the faith of the son of God (Gal 2:20), leads to an understanding that the shame and guilt you feel for having committed that sin has been forgiven by Jesus, the One true God. David asks that God’s cleansing be that which causes him to be “washed clean”, “as white as snow”. That sin has been forgiven and He will never bring it up again. Satan may come and say that because you have sinned you can not be forgiven. But, he has no power apart from what God allows him to have. And as a new creature in Christ, Satan has no power over you. As a Born Again citizen of the Kingdom that believer can go on to live a life glorifying their Savior, free from the guilt of sin, teaching transgressors the way to conversion. Apologies may not be enough for the victim, and agony and pain may continue, but healing from pain and grief are never impossible. Rose Kennedy said that she did not believe time heals all things. She had two sons murdered and grieved for them throughout her life. She said the mind covers them with scar tissue, but they never go away. That is not the healing that she needed, to cover the pain with scar tissue. Corrie ten Boom knew that God would give her the true healing she needed to forgive the man that had caused her and many others the pain she experienced. She knew the healing we all need for the pain and heartache we experience comes only in Christ and letting Him take it away. What is ‘impossible with man, is possible with God”. Continuing to wallow in self-pity that accompanies hurt and pain prevents Jesus from giving you what you really need and that is a “Bara’ (creation) of a new heart. I think many people go through life holding others responsible for their misery. I believe many people think they are saved, but are not. Saying a prayer and going to a church does not save you. Even professing you’re a Christian, does not save you. The majority of Americans say they are Christians, but have no clue why. And if they do know why they continue in their sin that robs them of the real joy God wants to freely give them. Knowing who Jesus is doesn’t save you. Satan knows who Jesus is and does not worship Him. Some don’t know who Jesus really is. His disciples did not know who He was until after His resurrection. I didn’t know until I was 56 years old. I think it is possible that many that sit in pews Sunday after Sunday have no clue that they are lost in their sins and sit idly in their false belief system. I know I will get criticized for this but I think doubting your salvation is a good thing. It is simple enough for a child to understand, if you have not been “Born Again”, your name is not written in the Book of Life. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 70, you need to make sure of your salvation.

  4. I believe in the power of forgiveness from and through the blood of Jesus. I was saved from self destruction when I was able to forgive myself, for doubting the love of Jesus, and trusted in the finished work of the cross.

  5. Great article. I took exception wrt a few things. Asking for forgiveness actually is self-serving…. the Nazi Guard… etc it’s a way to cleanse his conscience. Forgiveness between others cannot be demanded, it has to be offered. We ask forgiveness from God in Christ, because it is offered because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is the grace of God. Thank God for that!

    The football analogy… it could have gone either way. For the two players barreling down on the quarterback with no regard to his possible injury, i.e. concussion, or career ending injury is also an issue. Perhaps that’s what the referee had on his mind, which in my mind is honorable. If one of the players had signaled the other that he was going to feint off so that the other could tackle the quarterback, that would have been best. I’ve just seen too many players, football and baseball alike, taken off the field on stretchers because of bad sportsmanship and bad playing behavior for the purpose of revenge or winning the game. Intentionally injuring someone on the field is not a good practice whatever the motive. Especially in just winning the game… let alone revenge.

    But, with King David, the analogy was spot on… the illustration of him going to apologize and ask for forgiveness was clearly illustrated as self serving without any regard to the household of Uriah. The whole sordid affair really had no good ending… for the house of David or the house of Uriah…. but, God used it for good.

  6. Pingback: Assignment: Pastoral Counselor’s Identity - Collepals Plagiarism free Writing Website

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