To say “Forgive me” is difficult because we do not want to admit we have done something wrong or done something that is offensive to someone else. That is a basic trait of all humankind. It began with the story of Adam and Eve in Eden: we want to be autonomous and run life the way we want to.
I can think of many examples where parents ask their child to apologize to someone for saying or doing something offensive, but the effort was far from being sincere. We go through life saying “I’m sorry” without meaning it and without thinking about why we should ask for forgiveness.
Asking for forgiveness is not asking someone to forget our offense. Sometimes we hear people say, “Forget about it” or “Suck it up.” We don’t forget wrongs and carry them with us as excess baggage.
To say, “Forgive me,” is not asking the another person to excuse our behavior. We are not asking for our offensive behavior to be tolerated. We need to seek his or her forgiveness because what was said or done has not been excused or tolerated by them.
To say, “Forgive me,” is asking for reconciliation with another person. It may not be possible for the other person to accept us. It may not be possible for us to be friends or colleagues again. Reconciliation may not happen, but we still need to ask for forgiveness for our sake. We need to be assured that we have done everything possible for reconciliation to take place.
The biblical word for “forgiveness” means “to dismiss” or “to let go.” This is what God does in his forgiveness of us. As an example, we read in the newspaper of a judge who dismisses a charge against a defendant. That person is then forgiven of any wrongdoing. His or her record is clean. When we ask God for his forgiveness, we are asking for our record with him be made clean. We are asking another person to give us a clean record with them and a fresh start in our relationship.
In his book “What’s so Amazing About Grace,” Philip Yancey tells a story about a man and wife who one night had an argument about how supper was cooked. It was so heated that night they slept in separate rooms. Neither has approached the other to say “I’m sorry” or to offer forgiveness, and they have remained in separate rooms years after the argument. Each night they go to bed hoping that the other will approach them with an apology and forgiveness, but neither goes to the other.
Here are two people who desperately want reconciliation but cannot exercise the will necessary to bring it about. One of them has to admit his or her part in the estrangement and ask for forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness we admit that we are wrong about something. It might be a wrong belief, wrong attitude, or wrong behavior.
What if you think there is nothing about your relationship with God or another person that requires you to ask for forgiveness? Once I had a very heated disagreement with a colleague and we were alienated. I did not feel good about the distance the argument put between us, but I could not ask forgiveness for my position in the argument. In thinking about it, I discovered I could ask forgiveness for saying something offensive, or for demonstrating a bad attitude toward him, without giving up what I thought was true.
My view was a deep conviction and I could not ask forgiveness for a basic principle of my life. However, I asked forgiveness for anything I had said or done that caused him hurt or embarrassment. I did not want our disagreement about an idea to break our friendship. Unfortunately, he wanted me to apologize for what I firmly believed to be true.
Sometimes asking forgiveness of another person is not effective. However, asking God for his forgiveness is always effective. In fact, when Jesus died on the cross, God gave forgiveness to all of humanity for all time. We are forgiven, but we have to admit that God is right: we are all like sheep that have gone astray. All of us have fallen short God’s being. We are creatures and not the Creator. We are fellow creatures with the rest of humanity in spite of our personal feelings of superiority. Let’s admit our humanity and say, ”Please, forgive me!”