When a friend came to me this past week and apologized for something he had said that he felt may have offended me I expressed my appreciation for his gesture and accepted the apology assuming that would be the end of the matter. But the next day he came to me a second time still troubled by the incident. This time, though, instead of apologizing my friend asked for forgiveness. There’s a difference, as he explained, in that an apology is only a matter of good manners. But seeking forgiveness is born out of a deeper level of humility, an admission that we are not perfect and that in order to receive forgiveness suggests we must in turn be willing to forgive others.
In the movie “Get Low” Robert Duvall gives a stunning performance playing the main character Felix Bush, a reclusive backwoods hermit who had sentenced himself to a life of seclusion because of a despicable act he had done forty years prior. Then one day Felix appeared in town with a wad of cash, knocked on the door of the local undertaker, and explained to the man that he wanted to pay for his funeral in advance, but with one stipulation, the event was to take place BEFORE he died so he could hear what people had to say about him, to clear the air of all the rumors and gossip that had circulated for years. When the big day arrived, though, Felix had no interest in what others had to say, instead he did the telling – revealing to the community his deep dark secret and why he had been hiding in the woods all those years. What Felix had discovered, you see, was that his lifetime of self-imposed punishment had failed to relieve the pain of guilt from his wrongdoing. His only hope was to seek forgiveness from those he had harmed.
Neither punishments nor apologies, no matter how severe or sincere, can restore relationships to their right place. Only forgiveness can do that. That’s what my friend understood and why he came to me the second time, to restore a relationship he feared had been damaged – which he did, and at an even deeper level than before.
Nothing I have ever read in Scripture mentions apologies, but there is a great deal about forgiveness. As my friend pointed out, there is a difference, and thanks to his humble gesture I have a much better understanding what that difference is.