Updated: Apr 24, 2020
“Say you're sorry.”
I'm sure you've either heard or said that oft-repeated phrase in childhood. Parents work hard to teach children to feel sorry for a wrongdoing, and to accept an apology in turn. A toy taken. Hair pulled. Rude words. Even as a child we soon learn that someone telling us they are sorry doesn't always make it right. It still hurts. It's still broken.
As an adult, that hard knowledge only grows. Can “I'm sorry” erase cruel words that cut as deep as physical wounds? How does an apology fix something unfixable? When we're the ones at fault, how do we ease the guilt that haunts us?
Is repentance ever enough?
My older kids and I just wrapped up watching the series Once Upon a Time. (Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen it!) The most intriguing characters on the show are the Villains, in particular, Regina, the Evil Queen. All she wants is happiness, but she chases all the wrong things in her quest to capture it. Eventually, the love of her friends and family sets her feet back on the right path, even though she's often tempted to stray. Still, despite her new direction in life, her past keeps returning to haunt her, and not all her wrongs can be made right. It's hard to watch her desperately trying to convince everyone she's changed when they're holding her sins up before her nose.
The other main Villain is Rumpelstiltskin. Known as “The Dark One”, he has lived many lifetimes preying on others. Several seasons in, he finally learns that power is empty next to the love he feels for a certain woman. He desires to cast his evil aside, an evil embodied physically in something called the Dark One Dagger. We watch him spend an entire season trying to get rid of this Dagger, all while desperately trying to be “good enough” to deserve to be with the one he loves.
Now, these are just stories, of course, but they speak to a real need that so many of us feel. We wish to be forgiven, and our troubled history erased—never to haunt us again.
The simple steps of forgiveness
When the final episode of Once was finished, I used the opportunity to attempt a meaningful conversation with my pre-teen and teen son.
“It was hard watching Rumple try so hard to get rid of that Dagger, and nothing working, right?”
“What do we need to get rid of our sins?”
“Belief.” (Teens are never particularly wordy in serious conversations, are they?)
“Belief in what?”
“Yes, and that His Son, Jesus, died on the cross for our sins.”
And it's just that simple! One slightly stilted conversation is enough to encapsulate the hope offered to each and every one of us. Repent, Believe, and Ask.
It's almost too simple for many people's tastes. If I could have jumped through the screen and offered that hope to Rumple, he would have laughed at me. He believes he needs to earn his forgiveness.
Don't believe me that forgiveness is this simple? Read Acts 2:37-38.
“. . . they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the disciples, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)
So, seriously, that's it? And why do we need to do this in the name of Jesus? We didn't do anything wrong to him, did we?