“I Am Sorry You Were Offended” and Other Insincere Apologies
|Copyright © 2008 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
When Adam took a bite from the fruit, following Eve into sin, he "apologized" to God by shifting the blame. He said something like, "Lord, this woman that You created and that You put here in this garden with me, she gave me the fruit, so I am sorry if You were offended" (see: Genesis 3:12).
Sorrow and grief-driven sincere apologies always actively acknowledge that the sinner is the one making the apology. By active, I mean the sinner says, "I did this specific sin, and now I am sorry; please forgive me." Those words, "I did this" make all the difference. They say, "I actively committed this sin. I am culpable. With my own head, heart, and hands I have done this thing."
By contrast, an insincere apology, a blame shifting approach, is the passive wording. It is generally characterized by the subtle implication that you are in the wrong for being the victim. "I am sorry if you were offended." Here the key words are "if" and "you were offended." Nothing is admitted by the sinner. In fact, his only sorrow is that he got caught because you took offense, and if you had not taken offense, there would be nothing for which to apologize. So it is all your fault, you easily offended person, you.
Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, wrote:
Many people have never experienced this freedom [from past wrongs] because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead they use words like these: ‘I’m sorry if I hurt you.’ ‘Let’s just forget the past.’ … ‘I guess it’s not all your fault.’ … The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, ‘I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.’ The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. The message you are communicating is this: ‘Obviously you’re upset about something. I don’t know that I have done anything wrong, but just to get you off my back I’ll give you a token apology. By the way, since I don’t know whether I have done anything wrong, I certainly don’t know what I should do differently in the future. Therefore, don’t expect me to change. It’s only a matter of time before I do the same thing again.’ Clearly, that is no confession at all.1
Fault Properly Understood
There are times when the offended party really is the only one at fault. Sometimes an innocent comment is taken out of context and construed as an insult though it was never intended as such. At those times, the one taking offense does stand alone as the both the offender and the offended. This article is not about those times. For more about dealing with the unintentional insult, please read a previous article I have written on resolving insults ( http://www.thefaithfulword/insults.html ). Please also consider comparing and balancing that article against the content of this FAQ which describes how to deal with resolving a sinfully harmful slur ( http://www.thefaithfulword/offensefaq.html#q2 ).
Insincere Apology: Just Another Way to Say Accusation
When a real sin has been committed against someone, a real apology is needed. For example, when one person publishes a lie in the city newspaper about another person, it is an insincere statement to say, "I am sorry if you took offense at my comment." This approach shifts the blame to the victim of the lie and implies that the liar did not even tell the lie, and it does nothing to address the public nature of the lie. Instead, a proper apology is one that acknowledges the actual sin and expresses sorrow, "I am sorry I lied about you and that I published that lie in the newspaper for all to see." It may even be necessary to resolve the situation by having the liar publish a retraction in the same newspaper, "I acknowledge that I sinned against Joe by publishing a lie in this paper about him. I admit my fault and offer my sorrow and apology."
So very often, though, the one who is sinning misses the big picture. Like Diotrephes, they have cast public aspersions against the character of others, calling innocent people by terrible labels so as to harm their reputations by unproven implication, "He is like the prodigal son’s elder brother, only concerned about himself." In such situations, the uninformed will just write off comments like that as opinion, or worse, believe them; nonetheless, the comments should not be permitted to stand. Such labels should be challenged, "OK, so you think I am like the prodigal son’s older brother, please prove the accusation true with specific examples."
Satan accused Job in a similar manner as Diotrephes accused the apostles. He raised accusations without proof or evidence. Thankfully, God does not believe the unproven allegations, but other people and other Christians may. Consider the accusation, "You are only concerned about yourself." That is almost always a false accusation, because even if a Christian does sometimes think about himself, it is rarely true that a regenerated Christian only and always thinks only of himself. Thus, the charge becomes a false generalization, and therefore a lie. The one making the charge ought to apologize with words like these, "I am sorry that I lied, accusing you publicly of always being selfish, I know that is untrue."
Ambiguity: The Son of Insincerity
Sadly, the ways in which a sinner can avoid offering a sincere apology are seemingly endless. They can hide behind ambiguity, "Oh, I did not mean you, Susie, when I said those things, I was referring to a generic Susie. I am sorry you took it personally." Or, "Oh, I am sorry you misunderstood, I meant you were a snake in a good way." Such apologies are insincere for they are verbal trickery designed to shed the sinner of his deserved blame but not to express heartfelt sorrow.
Insincere apologies do nothing to repair relationships or alleviate earned guilt. As a general rule people give insincere apologies because they are not genuinely sorrowful for their actions.2 No victim is obligated to "forgive" an insincere blame shifting apology. Instead, it is far better to call attention to the lack of truth or precision in it, to request clarification, to ask for an apology that clearly expresses the sin involved, and to ask for one that explicitly expresses sorrow because the sinner is guilty.
A Sincere Conclusion
If you were offended by this article, I offer no apology. If you feel guilty for having made insincere apologies to others, I am not sorry for what I have written. To the best of my knowledge, I have told you the scriptural truth in love and feel no remorse for having done so. Do the righteous thing, go back, present a detailed and sincere apology to your victims, acknowledge your guilt, and express true sorrow.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore 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 5:22-24)
1 Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, page 126-127, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004.
2 Matthew Talbert, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, book review accessed November 3, 2008, written 10/1/2008, http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=14285. Even the secular community acknowledges the truth of this matter of insincere apologies. Talbert wrote: “We often encounter apologies that are offensively insincere or otherwise inadequate…On the one hand, it is not likely that the [one] who says, ‘I'm sorry people were offended,’ is really acting under a mistaken impression about what constitutes a meaningful apology. Presumably, people who say such things are often aware that their utterances are not what offended parties are looking for. I also suspect, on the other hand, that most recipients of these apologies are not in great danger of being deceived into thinking that they have gotten a meaningful statement of apology.”