You’ve seen it: the snarky post, the blistering meme, the sarcastic tweet followed by the hashtag #sorrynotsorry.
Have you ever been really, really hurt by someone who is genuinely contrite and makes all kinds of promises to “never do it again” only to do it again? Sorry. Not sorry.
And you…Ever felt terrible about something you did only to get over it and, oops, mess up once more? Sorry…uh, not sorry.
Let’s face it: Most of us are good at moments of regret or remorse but bad at, ahem, repentance.
I know. I just slung the biblical dung (as in fertilizer, not excrement, though that’s kind of how folks respond to it…) there, didn’t I?
Yeah. We mess up. We see how badly it hurts somebody. We get sad. We apologize. We lay low for awhile.
Maybe while we’re down in the dumps of our guilt, we convince ourselves we couldn’t help messing up, we had a good reason for it, that it wasn’t as bad as what some other person did, or it was all someone else’s fault anyway. We feel better; we feel justified. We’re all ready to move from sorry to not (very) sorry.
Maybe we even take it one step further and blame our victim. If you hadn’t… If you weren’t… Or (the one that frankly makes me want to punch people in the throat #sorrynotsorry) we play the victim: Can’t-you-see-how-bad-I-feel-for-hurting-you?
Um…huh. Maybe when the searing pain stops and the blood is mopped up and the glass of my shattered confidence is picked from my open wounds I’LL HAVE THE STRENGTH TO SYMPATHIZE! For now, not so much. Sorry…
This all reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, there was a guy named Judas who became…disappointed in? disgusted with? determined to manipulate? (you pick; I don’t know) a Man who was really a King who was actually the Son of God. Since he knew some religious, law-loving guys who hated the man, Jesus, and since they were some of the most powerful guys in town thanks to an inherited privilege provided to them under a humble leader and slave liberator, Moses, a friend of the God whose son was being pursued by these haters (#irony), he took the money these religious law-lovers bribed him with and ran with those coins jingling-jangling in his pouch and kissed Jesus on his sweaty, tear-stained cheek so the religious law-lovers would know which friend of sinners/Author of the Law/breaker of bondages/Savior of the world to turn over to their “godless, lawless” oppressors (#andtheironykeepscoming) for torture and crucifixion. Sorry–It’s a really sad story.
But that isn’t the sad part. This is.
Sometime between betraying Jesus to the chief priests and elders and Jesus breathing his last breath for a few days, Judas had an epiphany: He was “seized with remorse [some versions read ‘he repented’] and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.'” The religious guys basically said “not our problem” so our money-lover-turned-betrayer-turned-sick-with-regret Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver at their feet and threw himself into his despair (Matthew 27:3-5).
And I cry every time I read about it. Because I want it to have a happy ending, but it doesn’t. Some stories just don’t. Even stories where you see people “repentant” and attempting to undo their actions. It’s not because some actions are permanent. That’s a given. An abused child will never be un-abused.There are no do-overs for childhoods colored by turmoil and trauma. A rape can’t be taken back. An alcohol-related crash won’t rewind, the victims won’t suddenly live again if the drunk has enough remorse. Adultery leaves a permanent mark on the heart of a spouse. A bit of delicious gossip is a bitter gall in the mouth of the exposed.
And Jesus wasn’t going to be pulled off that cross and restored to his mother, his apostles, his people just because Judas felt bad that he helped put him up there. (#weallhelped #blogforanotherday)
No, that’s not the issue. It’s not the permanence of our actions but the impermanence of our remorse that destroys our lives and the lives of others. The wronged child, the rape victim, the surviving loved ones, the wounded spouse, the slandered neighbor cannot be “fixed,” but they can be healed, restored, renewed even as those who harmed them can be. It is not magic. It is hard work. And the results are nothing short of miraculous.
So Judas felt bad. Really, really bad. And he confessed. And he returned the money. And isn’t that what he was/we are supposed to do? Isn’t that what repentance looks like?
Yes, Judas was remorseful. The Greek word for how remorseful is metamellomai, which means “to regret” and is the first step toward true repentance. True repentance is indicated by the Greek word metanoia, which means “a change in one’s way of life” as a result of remorse. Judas changed his mind, but he did not endure his sin (another of those icky, biblical terms) long enough to change his life.
Judas’s remorse, his sorrow couldn’t save him any more than it could save his victim because it is “Godly sorrow [that] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret; worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). And once convicted (gah! I just keep throwing those holy roller words around, don’t I?) of our wrongdoing, we are to “produce [there’s that hard work I was talking about] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
In other words, there are two kinds of “sorry”: the temporary, emotionally-charged kind full of if-onlys and I-wishes and oh-woe-is-mes and the permanent, life-altering, never-again, how-can-I-resolve-this kind ready to take its licks and keep on ticking. One beats its breast in private penance; the other bares its breast in true repentance.
Here’s what Judas missed out on, the thing that makes his story such a tragic one: “…This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance (metanoia) for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
Judas let regret destroy what repentance could have redeemed. Not the ending I hoped for. Please don’t let it be yours.
That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.