Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Saying You’re Sorry” first appeared in the March/April 1998 issue of Touchstone.
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Saying You’re Sorry
The 1970 movie Love Story gave us that memorable quote “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Of all the phrases Hollywood has given us, this one ranks just below “yabba dabba do” as an intelligent contribution to American thought.
Love, of course, means always having to say you are sorry. Over and over again. If we care about someone, we immediately try to right any wrong we have committed. Though sometimes saying you are sorry isn’t enough—more substantial forms of proof being required—it is always the first step. For this reason, every relationship requires times of humility and repentance. And this is especially true of our relationship with God.
Consider what would have happened in the Garden of Eden if Adam and Eve had repented. God, of course, knew that they had eaten the forbidden fruit as soon as they had done so. But he didn’t immediately confront Adam with his sin; he gave him a chance to repent. He first said to Adam, who was hiding in the bushes, “Where are you?” God knew where he was, but he wanted to give him an opportunity to explain. But Adam did not take advantage of it. He said, “I heard your voice and I was afraid because I was naked.” What he should have said was, “Oh God, I have sinned and done that which you told me not to do. Have mercy on your unworthy servant.” However, God gave him a second chance to repent. He said, “Who told you you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree which I commanded you not to eat?” The correct answer would have been, “Yes, oh wretched man that I am! Have mercy on me, oh Lord, and forgive my transgression.” But Adam answered, “The woman that you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” That is, he blamed God for giving him a defective mate. And we recall that when given the opportunity to repent, Eve employed a similar tactic and blamed the serpent.
What would have happened if Adam and Eve had repented? St. Simeon the New Theologian says, “Had they repented, they would not have been expelled. They would not have been condemned, they would not have been sentenced to return to the earth from which they had been taken.” Instead, God said to them, “dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
Unfortunately, when confronted with our sins, our nature is to act like Adam. We try to avoid the topic, and if pushed, try to shift the blame. Repentance does not come naturally. But we must learn that when dealing with God as when dealing with a loved one, we cannot expect mercy without sincere contrition. Without repentance, as we learn from Adam, we have a great deal to lose.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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