When you damage another person’s car, everybody knows an apology is not enough. A responsible person does whatever is required to repair the automobile as well. That’s why most drivers carry liability insurance. Ironically, many of us have this misconception that when we damage another person’s life, we are required to do nothing more than utter those magic words “I’m sorry.” We feel as though an apology entitles us to invoke three more magical words “Let’s move on!”
In real life, an apology covers only the offense I have inflicted on another human being. When a husband is unfaithful and his trusting wife discovers the truth, she is both offended and injured. The offense relates to the fact that she feels rejected, insufficient, and foolish. The damages will likely include the loss of joy in her life, her inability to completely trust her husband again, the stress and insecurity in her marriage that will now become painfully real. So once you apologize, how do you cover the damages?
Atonement is the act of repairing the injury and making the things right. If you damage someone’s reputation, you apologize and then try to repair that reputation. You go to great lengths to inform others that you were wrong and that your comments were inaccurate and inappropriate. If my behavior costs another person money, I ask for forgiveness and then repay the money that had to be spent. If I break a friend’s camera, I apologize and replace it.
But what if the damages are intangible or emotional? For example, how does that unfaithful husband atone for the damage he has inflicted on his wife? He gives her time. He offers patient understanding as she tries to recover her balance over the coming weeks and months. He refuses to minimize his role in the problem. He never, ever invokes that glib phrase, “It’s time to move on!” He demonstrates his repentance through his kindness and willingness to wait.
1 John 2:2 says of Christ, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” An apology might have been enough for the offense you and I committed against the Most High God, but only the blood of Christ could cover the damages to God’s reputation, our world, our neighbors. That is the point of Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”
Next time, we’ll examine the requirements for true reconciliation. In the meantime, lift up the cross!