I have covered two elements of apology: remorse and taking responsibility. Chapman and Thomas in The Five Languages of Apology present these as different languages of apology. In other words, for some people expressing regret and remorse is what makes an apology seems sincere. For other people taking responsibility is the only thing that will cause them to think you are sincere. If your apology language is regret, then what you want to hear is, “I am really, really sorry.” If your apology language is taking responsibility, then what you want to hear is, “I was wrong.”
In order to bring this book into line with the original book about the languages of love, the authors talk about apology languages. But I think it is important to see that they do not take this idea of different languages as seriously here. For some people one element of apology is more important than another. That is what they mean by an apology language. But. . .each element is important to a sincere apology. You can’t leave any of them out.
I think this is crucial for the use I want to make of their book as a Lenten reflection. Does God have a particular apology language? I would think that repentance needs to include all the elements of apology.
The third element of a sincere apology is restitution or at least the willingness to act to right the wrong you have done. The book tells the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and how Jesus interpreted his intention to repay four times what he had taken as true repentance. When you have been wronged, it will take more than words to make it right.
Now Chapman and Thomas make the point that people differ in the what they will accept as restitution. They go back to the 5 languages of love from Chapman’s older book. In a nutshell, the languages of love are:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
In the older book, Chapman applied these to romantic relationships. Relationships, Chapman argued, get into trouble because people understand different languages of love. Gifts don’t do anything for some people. Praise just make some people suspicious, and so on.
In applying this to apology, the idea is that to right a wrong takes different things for different people. The classic example would be a husband who apologizes by buying flowers for his wife. But if her love language is not gifts, he may get them thrown back in his face.
What does it take to get right with God? Praise, service, gifts, time, and touch (touch as in physical acts like kneeling, bread and wine, the ashes on Ash Wednesday). During Lent, Christians can offer each of these to God as acts of penitence.
Of course, nothing we do is adequate. The one who has been wronged has to accept what we offer or no reconciliation occurs. This is a little beyond my depth today, but thinkers from Anselm to C. S. Lewis have applied this to the atonement. Nothing we do in penitence is truly adequate, but God made up the difference in the life and death of Christ. Lewis thought that what Jesus did on the cross was a kind of substitutionary repentance.