“I’m not concerned with whether you’re sorry or not. I’m concerned that you don’t do this again.” I don’t know how many times I heard those words growing up. I knew that my parents didn’t mean them literally but I was slow to understand that their first concern was my disruptive and sometimes dangerous behavior. Their hurt feelings mattered much less to them.
As children we learned the Act of Contrition. We memorized, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. We believed we were apologizing to God and for having hurt him by our sins. Such a response would be understandable and even appropriate in a relationship with parents, lovers or friends but it’s misleading, if not harmful, in our relationship with God. It’s not God we hurt when we do evil or ignore the opportunity to do good; it’s ourselves and our community.
Expressing our fear and regret to God for our failures as well as our renewed determination to embrace life is more useful than protesting our contrition for imagined slights we’ve done him. The importance of repentance is realizing that our moral failures we cause pain to ourselves and our community and deny to everyone involved the goodness that God is offering.
It is hard enough to live by faith and hope without worrying that the God on whom we rely to guarantee life’s future rebuffs us for our offenses and must be reassured of our love and appreciation. We need language that reminds us that God is the promise: never the problem.
Tempted as we are to view humanity’s suffering as inevitable and our flaws inherent in our being, it’s an act of courage to express personal responsibility and sorrow, even pain, at our failures. Only a certainty that our God never hesitates in his commitment to us can free us to keep going in the face of our obvious weaknesses.
God never turns his back on us. If Jesus showed us anything, he showed us that.