We teach little children to “say sorry” and we expect people who do wrong to say sorry, and mean it.
As we shall see in this lesson, saying sorry to one another, or saying sorry to God, is not the finish of righting a wrong. However saying sorry is certainly a necessary and excellent beginning. A sincere apology for wrong done can go a very long way to healing and reconciliation.
In this lesson, we are not talking about manners. It's manners to say sorry when you accidentally bump someone walking past them on the footpath, even though very little harm is done. We are not thinking about small matters like that. Rather, in this lesson we are addressing wrongs which have caused grief, loss, sorrow, harm, and pain.
1 We Ought to Say Sorry.
Jesus said, "If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go —first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering"(Matthew 5:23-24). This shows us that God is involved when you have wronged someone, and reconciliation to God at his altar is not possible if you are unwilling to seek reconciliation with someone you have wronged.
How can people know you are sorry for the wrong done to them, if you don't go to them and say so? "Who knows the thoughts of a man except his own spirit within him?"(1Corinthians 2:11). People cannot read your mind. You have to tell them what's on your mind. You have to say sorry, not just be sorry.
James says, "Confess your sins to one another"(James 5:16). Now this does not mean that you must confess every sin to everyone. However, you do have to confess a wrong to the victim of that wrong. And when you have confessed it, can you say, “But I'm not sorry”? That wouldn't do, would it? The point of confessing a wrong is to say sorry for that wrong.
2 Then We Ought to Change
Paul says, "Godly sorrow produces an unregretted repentance"(2Corinthians 7:10). Repentance is a change of heart. Without that, saying sorry is meaningless.
John the Baptist said, "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance"(Matthew 3:8). In other words, do something that proves you have changed your heart, and you really are sorry.
Zacchaeus was a good example of this (Luke 19:1-10).
3 Else We Can’t Be Reconciled
There are three ways you can properly respond when a wrong is done to you. You can hold it against the wrongdoer (3John 1:9-10), or hand it to God (Romans 12:19), or forgive it (Luke 23:34). Which of these you do, depends very much upon the wrongdoer. If you know the wrongdoer is aware of the wrong, and not sorry for it, you can respond in the first or second way. If you don't think the wrongdoer is responsible for the wrong, or the wrondoer has come to you and said sorry, then you can respond in the third way.
Jesus Christ is the great example of forgiveness. However he does not forgive unconditionally. If people won't say sorry to him and mend their ways, they are not reconciled to him and do not have his forgiveness (2Thessalonians 1:8-9). Of course he is deeply grieved at this lack of reconciliation, but there cannot be reconciliation unless people are sorry, and say they are sorry.
We may think that forgiveness and reconciliation is needed by wrongdoers, and it is a gift granted to wrongdoers when they say sorry and show they are sorry. However, when wrongdoers say sorry, they grant an even greater gift to the wronged —because by saying sorry they enable reconciliation to begin and healing of the hearts of those who were wronged. That is why, when someone truly says sorry for a grievous wrong, the people they say it to weep with relief and joy.
The word of God shows us that saying sorry is a necessary and noble act. When people say sorry, and mean it, the Lord lifts up his face upon them, and he smiles.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s motion of apology in Parliament Feb 13, 2008.
"The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia."