You’ve heard them, the non apology apology.
“I’m sorry my [words,actions,deeds] hurt your feelings.”
“I’m sorry for any misunderstanding there may have been.”
“I’m sorry you’re upset.”
You’ve heard people say things like this. I’ve said things like this. You might have too.
It’s almost an apology, but not quite. I have not really taken responsibility for my actions. I am sorry that you are upset or offended. It’s an apology I offer without admitting any wrongdoing on my part. If I’m skilled at the non apology apology, I can subtly shift the blame away from me and on to you. The problem is your feelings, your reaction, not my deeds.
“I’m sorry you didn’t understand what I did”
“I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.”
In his essay “Difficult, Very Difficult, (in Against the Tide) Miroslav Volf writes,” When perpetrators reluctantly mutter their ‘sorry’, they often show regret for what others have suffered, not remorse for what they have done…”.
Why is it so difficult to admit our trespasses?
We might be tempted to blame modern culture. We might be tempted to blame modern parenting. We might be tempted to blame anything and anyone but ourselves.
But the Bible tells us our refusal to admit our guilt is as old as humanity. In Genesis 3, when God asks Adam if he has eaten from the forbidden tree, Adam immediately blames Eve. Eve immediately blames the serpent. In the next chapter when Cain has killed Abel, God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” The Biblical story is clear, right from the start,we humans don’t want to acknowledge our wrongdoing.
Strange as it may sound, genuine repentance seems more difficult than forgiveness. This should not surprise those who have pondered the gravity and power of human sin. Its most notable feature is that it unfailingly refuses to be sin. We not only refuse to admit the wrongdoing and to accept the guilt but seem neither to detest nor feel sorry about the sin committed. Given the sin’s misrecognition of its own ugliness, early Reformed theology insisted that a genuine repentance before God is possible only through the work of the Holy Spirit. The same may well be true of repentance before human beings. (171-172, Against the Tide)
In my Christian tradition (PCUSA), one of the first things we do in worship is to confess our sin before God and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness. It is, of course, necessary to recall and confess the ways we have sinned. And we ought to do this on a regular basis, not only when our conscious catches up with us. It seems to me, confession is a spiritual practice, a discipline. It is all too easy to go through life mouthing non apology apologies. In church, each week we practice telling the truth about our lives and actions.
It is also important to hear the assurance of God’s forgiveness. The reason I can have the courage to be honest about my life is that I know God is willing to forgive and for our relationship to be restored.
It is hard to offer an honest and sincere apology. There are not many places where we are expected to be honest about our sin and our guilt – except the church. I wonder if this isn’t part of the work of the church, shaping us into people who can name our wrongdoing, our sin. Shaping us into people who can confess, repent, receive forgiveness and then live as reconciled and reconciling people.
I wonder. I’d like to know, what do you think?