It is far easier to hide behind humble-sounding admissions that I am a vile sinner deserving of God’s wrath than it is for me to admit to specific sin — and especially to admit to sin without any attempts to minimize or excuse.
It is also easier to make vague reference to unspecified sins or mistakes in a situation that I handled badly rather than to admit to doing whatever it is that has caused the actual offense. (“Perhaps I could have handled things better.”)
This struggle of mine, this reluctance to confess and come clean, is human nature, but that doesn’t make me any less guilty of refusing to be totally honest and completely repentant.
Years ago, there was a big interpersonal mess at a place where I worked, some of it as a result of misunderstandings, but some of it as a result of gossip and back-stabbing. There were lots of hurt feelings all around, and trust had been shattered. Our brave office manager sat us down to get to the bottom of things and to restore the harmony we had previously enjoyed. As we were airing our grievances and forgiving one another, I was accused of gossiping about something. I was able to deny it truthfully and come out looking like an innocent victim.
The problem was that while I had not, as accused, blabbed Juicy Gossip Item A about the person, I had blabbed closely related Juicy Gossip Item B. Someone less cowardly and more honest would have confessed and asked forgiveness. To my shame, I was not that person.
We all know those infuriating types who, when confronted, will argue like the worst of lawyers. (“No, I did not go to bed with that woman, and I’ve never slept with anyone but you!” — only much later, if pressed, might the truth come out, but even then the adulterous husband will trumpet his truthfulness — after all, he’d never fallen asleep with his mistress — and he will blame his wife for not asking whether he’d had sex in the car or on the couch. But, if she had asked that, he would have denied it because he “thought” she meant another car or another couch. And on it goes.) We may not stoop so low, but we can be weasely in our own way.
The generic apology is just another way of not getting caught, and not admitting to the truth. “I’m a terrible husband and you would be better off without me!” is far easier and far less costly than admitting exactly what one has done. As an apology, it’s meaningless, and it’s a ridiculous show of fake humility. It’s designed to get people off our backs, to shut them up.
When people are upset at me for doing something — or not doing something I should have — I need to listen. If I care about people at all, I shouldn’t turn everything into a court case, demanding impeccable evidence and that the charges against me be parsed precisely in the correct jargon. My concern should be far less about defending myself and far more about healing and reconciliation.
I have a hard time with that.
Recently I was in a conflict with someone. I’d observed them treating someone else in a way that I think is sinful and disrespectful , but I didn’t speak up. (I could come up with a myriad of reasons why, but it probably all boils down to the fact that I’m a wimp.) I was already irritated at this person when they launched into me for something out of my control. Venting is one thing — accusing me of believing and thinking things I don’t is another. I did not react well. I still don’t know how I should have reacted, but I do know that my response was fueled far more by irritation and anger than by love.
I’ve been sorting this out in my mind, and it’s really hard not to excuse my reaction. I want to defend myself! In fact, if I took a poll of people I know, quite a few would say that I showed great restraint. After all, I could have told them off…they had no right to act the way they did…and the stuff they said to me??!!!
But that’s not the way of Jesus.
It is also not the way of Jesus, when someone tells me that I handled a situation abysmally, for me to get all snarky and self-righteous…or for me to beat my chest about what a despicable sinner I am — while admitting to nothing. That’s just the religious version of saying, “Hey, we’re all human. Get off my back!”
It is so much easier to see this in the other person than in myself.