I love the transaction of the accepted apology. I used to hate it. I used to loathe swallowing my pride, either to apologize or grant forgiveness. I found it an annoying aspect of human existence.
But Jesus changes people; that’s part of his gig.
Through Christ, I see the beauty in not only forgiving but asking forgiveness, and doing so is much easier than it was once. These days, I recognize that the acts of asking pardon and of granting it are grounded in love, full of joy, and an echo of man’s ultimate reconciliation to God.
Forgiveness is an amazing phenomenon when one considers just how prideful we tend to be, particularly in modern western civilization. Individualism, personal rights, and self-worth are ingrained into us from toddlerhood, and now more than ever, the average person’s narcissism and fascination with celebrity culture inform his or her desire to be noticed, speak his or her mind, and be validated. Within said context, the transaction of the apology should give us pause, for the act of asking forgiveness and granting it puts our relationships above our desire to be celebrated and exalted. This is a beautiful thing.
First, on apologizing. Learning the importance of apologizing was difficult for me, but through my study of Scripture it became easy. You see, through the truth of Scripture, I know that I am fallible, and furthermore, I am not as “good” as society constantly tells me I am. In many ways I know how lacking I am compared to the standards of God and Jesus Christ, the greatest being ever to walk this earth. When considering his life, my failures and shortcomings are clearer to me. Consequently the need to seek others’ forgiveness becomes more apparent and doing so becomes more comfortable, because I know I will need to always. Failing to love people correctly is part of human life; there’s no getting around it, and if you want to live a life full of relationships with others, you will need to apologize at times.
Now on to granting forgiveness. The Christ ethic not only demands granting forgiveness to others (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35, Mark 11:25) but also provides a paradigm for why it is so necessary. For Christians, forgiveness works like this (or at least it should): God has forgiven my sins against him, and I have wronged him more profoundly, more gravely, and more unabashedly than any human being could wrong me; therefore, I cannot withhold forgiveness from someone else when such overflowing and abundant forgiveness has been given to me. For the Christian, failing to forgive when another asks it of him or her makes no sense and is wholly and completely indefensible. When I consider that the expanse of my depravity against God is forgiven, how could I possibly fail to forgive another person?
You see what’s driving that? Not guilt. Not mere reason. No, it is love—love for God and the other person. See, we are saying, “You did this for me, Lord? Through Jesus, you forgave me? Well, then of course I can forgive that person. Of course I can value our relationship more than my pride. Of course I can show them the same love that you showed me.” And to the person we are forgiving, we are also saying the same, that through our love for God, we are able to love them well, fully forgive them, and embrace our relationship as in good standing, as has been done for us.
So love drives forgiveness. But that’s just the beginning.
See, people take no pleasure in their bitterness, grudges, and resentment; I think we all know that such attitudes wound their holders more than anyone else. But when we forgive and let go of those self-destructive attitudes, we receive joy from our freedom from them as well as the exchange of love. For the Christian, there is ultimate joy in the forgiveness from God, that’s true, but for all human beings their is joy when our apology is accepted and a relationship, repaired (or moving in that direction). When we carry guilt as a burden and another lifts it from us, we have great joy in their act and love them for it, sure. But do we not also have joy in granting forgiveness when asked of us? When we see a person wounded by their failures, needing our love in order to heal their guilt, is it not joyous to grant it and return the relationship to good standing? I think it is.
Thus love drives forgiveness, and forgiveness yields joy.
And I think that it’s important to recognize that this love-driven, joy-inducing transaction has another high value: reconciliation. You see, all human reconciliation echoes the greatest interaction of God and man in history, that of humanity’s being justified through Christ, of each true believers asking forgiveness of God and his mercifully granting it. The renewal of any relationship is beautiful because it echoes this highest beauty. The act of apologizing and receiving a pardon from the person you wronged certainly endears you to them, and contrastingly, when someone wrongs you and shows you their heart of contrition through apology, you see them as more worthy of love. This reconciliatory shift in perception is the basis for continued love and joy in each other–as it has been between Christ and his church, wherein we constantly need his forgiveness, he loves us, he grants it, and we in turn love him all the more for it.
This is not always easy and not always instant. These things can take time, and a person can hurt on the way to these realizations. But they are real. And this is good stuff, is it not?
Now, am I saying that the beauty of this transaction is limited to Christians? Far from it, but I am saying that I believe that in all cultures, at all times, the transaction of the accepted apology echoes the great reconciliation of God to man through love, and as such, said act is—in all cultures and at all times—beautiful. I hope I never lose sight of its power and value. Ever.
Sorry, I feel like I kind of soapboxed today. I do that sometimes around here. But all that being said, dear readers, I encourage you to be open in asking forgiveness when necessary and offering it openly and graciously when it is asked of you. And if you don’t, well, I forgive you.
Thanks for reading,