The forced apology: it’s one of those classic, I-can’t-believe-I’ve-turned-into-my-mother scenarios that most parents have tried. Two kids are bickering, and a parent intervenes, telling the troublemaker to apologize. Cross-armed and scrunched nose, the kid yells, “I’m SORRY!” with no inkling of remorse.
We can make them say it, but we can’t make them mean it. We can even make the other one comply with an obligatory, “I forgive you,” but we can’t make them mean it, either. Remorse and forgiveness are choices that we have to make for ourselves. Let’s look at a couple of what-not-to-do stories from the Old Testament about asking for and receiving forgiveness:
Pharaoh had a knack for saying one thing and doing another. Check out the story in Exodus for the full scoop, but suffice it to say that he was pretty indecisive. He would tell Moses that he and his people could leave Egypt, but as soon as they left he’d send soldiers chasing after them to bring them back. He begged Moses to ask God’s forgiveness so that the plagues would stop, then he would reject God and refuse to let Moses go [again]. Moses was faithful to intercede for Pharaoh, but Pharaoh kept digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole of deceit, which ultimately cost him everything he held dear.
Back up a few chapters to the end of Genesis and consider the story of Joseph. This was a guy whose jealous brothers threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, then faked his death. Years [and many more trials] later, Joseph was faced with a choice during a devastating famine: deny his brothers food and let them die for what they did to him, or forgive and save them. He chose to let go of the grudge, but even after the family was reunited and reconciled, Joseph’s brothers still doubted whether he really meant it. They suspected that as soon as their father died, Joseph might renege on his offer. See how he responded in Genesis 50:19 (NIV): “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’” Joseph knew that God is the judge; his job was just to forgive.
So, we are faced with a choice: Do we give God lip-service and tell him we’re sorry, when we don’t really mean it? Or, will we fess up to our shortcomings and accept his forgiveness?
Originally posted April 17, 2011