whatever happened to being sorry?

“remorse”  – oil on canvas by peter lloyd (to purchase or browse, view his gallery)


Whatever happened to being sorry for what you’ve done?

Remorse, regret, responsibility, and repentance…

have been exchanged for excuses, explanations, exemptions, and exonerations.

  • “Well, I didn’t mean it that way.  So I’m sorry if that’s how you took it.”
  • “I hate that you were hurt by what I did.”  [Not “I hate what I did.”]
  • “Well, that’s just the way I am.  I can’t help it.”
  • “I really had no choice in the matter.”
  • “I think it all goes back to my upbringing.  My parents weren’t around and…”
  • “Hey, who are you to judge me?!  The Bible says not to judge.”
  • “Well, maybe it would be wrong for you, but it’s not for me.  My conscience is clean.”
  • “Everyone else does it.”
  • “It was only a small lie.”
  • “Seriously, you’re going to hold me responsible for that.  I was drunk!”

Garrison Keillor writes (in jest):

In 1976, a major Protestant denomination narrowly defeated an attempt to destigmatize the Prayer of Confession by removing from it all guilt or guilt-oriented references:  “Lord, we approach Thy Throne of Grace, having committed acts which, we do heartily acknowledge, must be very difficult for Thee to understand.  Nevertheless, we do beseech Thee to postpone judgment and to give Thy faithful servants the benefit of the doubt until such time as we are able to answer all Thy questions fully and clear our reputations in Heaven.”

The apostle Paul writes (not in jest):

Even if the things I said made you sad, I don’t regret them.  It was really difficult to see you hurt like that, but because was your sadness was short-lived, I know it was for the better.  I’m really happy now — not because you were heartbroken — but because your sorrow prompted you to change your lives.  That’s because you were sorry just as God intended.  Godly sorrow brings a change in your heart, mind, and actions; and this is the path to salvation and true life.  Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, leads to depression and, eventually, death.  — 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 (my paraphrase)

And I write (not sure whether in jest or not):

I’m not sure Christianity the way we’ve done it is going to work anymore.

A few thoughts:

  • As Christians, I don’t believe it’s within our job description — or within our power — to change the worldview of a nation.  So we ought not complain about the loss of remorse in modern-day America.  Rather we should focus on this next point….
  • While we can’t put a stop to postmodernity, the loss of remorse in the church is a completely different story.  There is a sorrow that is Godly.  And without it, I fear we cannot have salvation. Some of us are just playing games.
  • We also might do well to consider another way of first presenting the gospel to non-Christians in our communities.  I don’t know for how much longer the old “you-have-guilt-and-need-to-be-forgiven-through-the-blood-of-Jesus-Christ” thing is going to work as an introduction.  [I’d argue it probably already isn’t.]  Perhaps we should think about some other portion of the good news with which to begin.  It just doesn’t make sense for us to have to convince people of their guilt, so that we can sell them our religion.  I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t know for sure that there exists a whole lot more good news than the forgiveness of sins spiel alone.  [For my idea of a more complete definition of the gospel, see this post and those preceding it: the full and complete gospel.]

What do you think?



Filed under modern-day retelling, musings on the Word, repentance

19 responses to “whatever happened to being sorry?

  1. Thou bringest up many and very heavy issues in thine dialogue, good sir.

    “We also might do well to consider another way of first presenting the gospel to non-Christians in our communities” is a huge piece of thought.

    However, the problematic section of that is this – many consider the method of presenting the Gospel to be the Gospel itself. To be simplistic, to many – if not MOST – Christians, reciting the Four Spiritual Laws IS the Gospel.

    Sound-bite Christianity that relieves MY guilt (catch the irony…) by telling you that YOU are guilty is much easier than actually BEING CHRIST to the world around us.

    • good thoughts, bernard.

      i myself don’t buy into the four spiritual laws. i find them lacking. if for no other reason (though there are other reasons), we’re once again trying to sum up a beautiful (and complicated) story in four laws. i have no problem with trying to summarize the story — i do it myself. but to be willing to call them the laws that “govern the individual’s relationship with God” is more than a little presumptuous.

      there’s so much more to the gospel than a legal dispute.

      • As a genuine “graduate” of the F.A.I.T.H. evangelism strategy, I became very, very, very dissatisfied with virtually all those “quick and easy” ways to “be saved”. In my opinion, those are only introductory and should never be advertised as “the Gospel” or “the way to grow your church….”

        You’re delving deep into things that have, quite literally, nearly destroyed my faith in the past three years. It simply baffles me that “salvation” can be made into a simple thing – four laws, FAITH, or Evangelism Explosion, or whatever – and yet it seems so much bigger than that for me. How can I “lead someone to Christ” in a five minute encounter when I’ve been chasing Him for years and still struggle with so many things?

        I don’t want to discount the importance of telling others about Christ and “baptizing” them, but there’s something(s) about evangelicalism in general that leave me hollow, haunted, and painfully dissatisfied. Your statement “I’m not sure Christianity the way we’ve done it is going to work anymore” is deeply truthful and simultaneously as frightening as hell. And that’s not a curse word.

        • i said i wasn’t sure christianity the way we’ve done it is going to work anymore.

          but honestly, i’m not sure it’s been working very much at all. i fear that in many cases those who have really “gotten it” have done so despite the modern church.

          but i don’t think it’s all bad. just a few of the biggest assumptions we’ve made.

  2. Sean

    Hey Brett,
    I see this as apples and oranges. The forgiveness that we offer one another out of our own authority is watered-down with intent, perspective, cultural difference, apathy, sin, selfish ambition and pride. We simply cannot compare the activity of “forgiveness” that occurs in popular culture to the life-changing, cleansing, totally gracious and merciful act of God in forgiving sin. The problem is not that we do not think we are guilty, it is that we work hard to suppress the awareness of our sin-guilt. We have artfully filled our lives (both followers of Christ and followers of the world) with a balance of activity and self-appeasement as to dull the ache of our hearts to be cleansed of our sin. I do not think changing the message is as important as changing the method (and the object). It is in relying on the power of forgiveness that I have experienced in Christ and offering that grace to the broken relationships in my life that has brought about the awareness of sin-guilt and the need for restoration to God in other people.

    • sean, i’m not sure what you mean about apples and oranges and the forgiveness we offer one another. i didn’t intend to speak at all about our forgiveness for one another (that’s tomorrow or the next day’s post).

      i certainly do agree with you, though, that some of us “work hard to suppress the awareness of our sin-guilt.” but i think that’s generally the older generation’s solution. i’m not sure postmoderns — and that’s what we’ll all be in 50 years — feel guilt. i think it disappears along with objective truth.

      you said, “It is in relying on the power of forgiveness that I have experienced in Christ and offering that grace to the broken relationships in my life that has brought about the awareness of sin-guilt and the need for restoration to God in other people.”

      and i believe that; i know it sometimes happens this way. i’m just not sure it’s always going to come in this order. and since forgiveness and sin and guilt aren’t the whole gospel, i see no reason for us to necessarily begin there.

      if a non-christian legitimately feels no guilt, why work first to convince him that he is. maybe we start with where true joy comes from? i can take your exact words and substitute joy, and it still rings true:

      in sharing with others the joy i experience in Christ, they become aware of their own brokenness and their need for restoration to God.

      • Sean

        I agree. I guess by apples and oranges I was saying that I don’t think our forgivess and God’s forgiveness can be compared. All that to say that the opening statements that didn’t see the need for forgiveness also don’t know what a truly grace-filled gift forgiveness is.

  3. The first salient encounter I recall having with this worldview was when, aged 21, I rear-ended a pickup truck. The damage was minor, and it was my fault. There was no question in my mind, and still isn’t.

    I called my (Godly, Godly) grandfather to ask what to do, and he replied very sternly,

    “Do not admit liability.”

    This meant that I couldn’t apoligize to the nice people I’d inconvenienced through my carelessness. Made me feel twice as terrible as I’d felt already.

    I do believe that the legal necessities of insurance are one thing that make American Christians (Christian entities at any rate) hesitate to publicly admit guilt. Our system does not encourage repentance– it punishes the penitent and rewards the evasive.

    • JMF


      I concur completely. However, I do not like that I concur.

      “System” and “insurance” could be more readily replaced with the word, “MONEY.” It isn’t the insurance that bothers you (me) — it is the RISE in premiums (money). It is the lawsuit (money). It is losing your license so you can’t drive to work (money).

      I’ve concluded that if I didn’t care about money — and then I emasculated myself — I’d have no more earthly concerns.

      Brett, perhaps that is the answer to your dilemma as to how we communicate in our fallen, postmodern world: Take a poverty vow, then remove our genitals. I’m kinda joking, but this is the best answer I’ve come up with thus far to the dilemma of which you speak.

    • yeah, there seem to be a whole lot of systems that punish those who admit they’ve erred, while rewarding those who lie. i don’t think it excuses us, but it sure makes it difficult to take responsibility for our actions.

      what really gets me, though, is why people won’t admit they were wrong in situations in which they lose nothing (and might actually gain). admitting to a spouse i was wrong, apologizing to a colleague for being impatient, and saying, “yeah, i think you tagged me with both hands — i was down back there at the 40.”

      • Perhaps the ‘system’ that rewards lying influences our tendency to avoid ‘fessing up in other situations… but it’s far from the whole reason.

        • i think pride has a whole lot to do with it. that’s what is at the stem of what i’m going to post today, which is nothing more than an illustration of this post.

          and it involves your florida gators…

  4. JMF


    Your first post resonates with me. I’d have responded with a “reply” to your post, but the reply would have only been about one inch wide, thus rendering it difficult to read.

    I grow weary thinking about this sort of thing — especially when solutions are rarely offered.

    Let’s see —

    *I can’t give out tracts.

    *I can’t go talk to a stranger about Christ. He becomes a “John” at that point. I should become his friend first.

    *If I randomly try to become a guy’s friend in order to share Christ with him, that is selfish.

    *Don’t invite people to church. Way too Modern.

    *Don’t try to get people to come to your church. We shouldn’t bring them to us, we should go to them.

    *If I go to him where he is at, I have nothing to share. If I try to share the gospel, then I immediately take doctrinal stances (Who is Jesus? God or God’s Son? Both?! Too confusing).

    *”Doctrine” is by far the un-coolest word on the planet (as I straighten my wire-frame glasses and strut around in my see-though V-neck.)

    Guy: “So why are you here helping me do things with which I don’t really need help?”

    Me: “Jesus, bro. Jesus.”

    Guy: “So what church do you go to?”

    Me: “Dude, church is wherever you are. It is closeness to God.”

    Guy: “So you don’t go to church?”

    Me: “Yes, I do. But it doesn’t define me.”

    Guy: “So how can I learn about Jesus?”

    Me: Broseph, you’ve just go to “be” with Him, and spend time in His Word.”

    Guy: “Will you teach me?”

    Me: “No. I am ten times as much of a sinner and you are. I am soiled, damaged, and fallen (oh, yeah: and broken). Thankfully I have Jesus.”

    Guy: “Cool. Tell me about Him.”

    Me: “He can’t be defined in words.”

    …And so it goes. It’s like an endless Canadian argument loop. This is what Christianity feels like to me right now. I don’t like it. Sometimes I just wanna be left alone and love God and love others.

    • that conversation is hilarious, fife. i may reprint it later, with your permission?

      though i don’t think it’s a horrible template if somewhere around “will you teach me” you teach them how to do a simple bible study. or just give them a few verses to read, so that you can talk about them next time you’re together. or maybe encourage them to begin a group in which to study (if they’re that interested).

      but funny. really funny.

  5. Pingback: dodging apologies « aliens and strangers

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