Lent is a season of penitence.
What is penitence?
Is it like apologizing to God?
I bring this up because I have been reading Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’s Five Languages of Apology. Chapman is pretty well known among marriage and family counselors for his The 5 Languages of Love. His idea there was that different people hear “I love you” in different ways. You can say the words, but a lot of people won’t hear that as sincere. They need you to speak to them in their language. Of course, cutting the love languages off at five is arbitrary. You could argue that there are many more. But the book did make the good point that people are different and hear differently.
The book about apologies follows the same pattern. Just saying “sorry” or “my bad” doesn’t speak to a lot of us. It brings up the question of what a real apology is, or, at least, what do I need to say for the other person to hear it as an apology.
If you listen to the news, you will hear some non-apology apologies. You will hear someone say, “If any one was offended . . . .” This puts the blame on the offended person for being too sensitive or overreacting. You are not sorry for what you did. You are just sorry that someone reacted negatively.
A theological question comes up right away in the Five Languages of Apology. Can you forgive without an apology? Or can God forgive without penitence? Sometimes Jesus’ sayings that you have to forgive to be forgiven, get twisted to say that forgiveness is wholly the responsibility of the person who has been offended. But the whole tenor of the Bible is that confessing your sins, having a contrite heart, seeking forgiveness in true sorrow, and even an attempt at restitution is integral to the process of forgiveness.
The fundamental truth is that a lack of apology is a barrier to reconciliation. Yes, if someone has been a jerk to you and they will never apologize, you still need to let it go for you own sake. Holding a grudge will hurt you more than the other. But it is unlikely that there will be any real reconciliation without an apology.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught that cheap grace was the proclamation of forgiveness apart from the requirement of repentance.
Lent is a good time to think about this dynamic. I am convinced that we need to go deeper than mouthing a “sinner’s prayer”. Apology is hard. I suspect there are people who have never done it. Is not apologizing to other people part of penitence toward God? Is this not a place to apply the saying, “If you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you have done it also unto me (Matthew 25:40)?