“I apologize for what I said, but…”
…but you had it coming
…but you were wrong
…but you hurt me
…but if you hadn’t…
…but I was so stressed
No doubt you could add to the list from what you’ve heard said to you. Maybe you can add to it from what you yourself have said.
The spotlight of blame can be harsh. It makes us squirm and sweat under its glare. And if we do bring ourselves to step into it by admitting wrong, it is natural to want to shade ourselves. Maybe turn the dimmer switch down a notch.
We find shade in the shared blame of another. In most situations, blame does not reside in one party. Fault can be spread around. We contribute to a conflict in differing measures. We may try to find a degree of refuge to assuage our guilt in the shadow of the blame of another involved.
We dim the glare of the light of blame by excusing ourselves. We had a bad day. We had a splitting headache. The kids were driving us crazy.
But our God calls us to own our sin, to take the log out of our own eye. We are not to cover it with excuse. We are not to rationalize, minimize, or euphemize. We are to take ownership of what we did, whether in action or reaction.
When in conversation with another we bring to the table a wrong we have done and follow it up with a “but,” we virtually negate our admission of fault. The refreshing air brought in by opening the window of blame becomes foul with the scent of pollution.
There were no buts in Jesus’ dealing with sin, our sin. There was no
…but I didn’t do it
…but he deserved the punishment
…but she’s just going to do it again
…but that sin is so vile
No, Jesus took our sin upon Himself – not in part, but whole. He took our unvarnished, unmitigated, inexcusable sin upon Himself on the cross. And He paid for it. He covered it by atonement.
Then again, Jesus had no sin of His own to own. We do. And when we bring that sin to intrude upon our relationship with others, we need to own it. We need to admit the wrong we did, without qualification, with no wiggle room. And admitting it, we need to repent and ask for forgiveness.
Jen and Amy were neighbors. They had a severe falling out. Harsh words were spoken by Amy against Jen. Ultimatums laid down. Threats issued.
For months the two women avoided each other. Jen was hurt. After her overtures to Amy to talk through matters were rebuffed with abusive words, Jen decided to just go her separate way. She would live with the hurt. The ball was in Amy’s court.
One day Jen was outside. She looked up to see Amy coming toward her. Jen’s heart raced. She swallowed hard and braced herself for another barrage of cruel words.
But when Amy spoke, she poured out words of contrition. She admitted her wrong and went on and on to describe how wrong she was. Those words, however, contained no “buts.” She did not try to excuse herself or accuse Jen. She took full ownership of her actions and attitudes. She even made it explicit that her actions were not Jen’s fault; they were her own.
Jen received Amy’s apology. The women embraced. Their relationship was restored. A cloud lifted.
Laura has a different story. Laura had a grievance against Mark. Part of the grievance was due to a misunderstanding; incomplete information. When Mark tried to set the story straight, Laura sent him an email – and let him have it. Her tone was mean-spirited and her words filled with criticism.
After intervention by mutual friends, Laura conceded she had overreacted. So she emailed Mark again. “I apologize for being so hurtful, but….” Before long her apology was covered over by an avalanche of excuses, rationalizations, and veiled accusations. It would have taken a backhoe to dig through the rubble to find the apology.
But here is the sad part. Amy, in the first scenario with Jen, was an unbeliever. She was versed in social graces but not in gospel forgiveness. Laura, in the second situation with Mark, was a professing believer, but her heart and her tone revealed nothing of it.
Two things impress us in this contrast. One, we are grateful for God’s common grace that infiltrates a fallen humanity. Sinfulness is not as ugly as it could be.
Two, we see the necessity of our Lord Jesus in teaching us the practice of forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Even in the archetypal prayer of Matthew 6, Jesus instructs His disciples to model their forgiveness of others on the way their Heavenly Father has forgiven them. Paul spells out the call of God’s children.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:12–13)
The practice of forgiveness is the calling of the Christian. Only when we make God’s forgiveness of us the point of reference for our treatment of others, will we truly put on Christ – no ifs, ands, or buts.