The Divine Answer
by Adam Hamilton
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:1-5 NRSV
To all of the customers of the local florist who got sneezing powder in their flowers last Tuesday, I apologize. You were really not the intended victims. I just wanted to make you angry at the florist, my stingy employer. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. Bill
I’m sorry. You were waiting for the car to get out of the parking place so you could back in. I slid in frontward–I had to do this because I was desperate to get into the store so I could use the men’s room, and there were no other spaces. My apologies. I hope you read this and understand. Driver of gray Honda.
To all my high school classmates, I am so sorry for those mornings when I came to school without brushing my teeth. I don’t know where I got the idea that if I didn’t eat, I didn’t need to brush. I know you tried to hint, but I didn’t “get it.”
For all the things that happened to you as a kid that I never knew about. Maybe you were told not to tell me, but I should have been there for you, and you should have been able to tell me anything. For the fact that you weren’t and I wasn’t, I am truly sorry. Mom
Recently, I discovered several websites on which people can anonymously post apologies like those above. Some who post on these sites apparently don’t know how to reach those they have wronged. In the case of others, the person wronged is deceased. Still others seem unwilling or not yet prepared to apologize directly to the individuals. Some of the postings are humorous; some are far more weighty. I think all of us can find a part of ourselves in one of them.
In a sermon called “To Whom Much is Forgiven,” twentieth-century existentialist theologian Paul Tillich offers a perspective that speaks to people such as the above, and to all of us. Tillich wrote, “Forgiveness is an answer, the divine answer, to the question implied in our existence” (The New Being [New York: Scribner’s, 1955] ).
I would suggest, however, that there are least three questions “implied in our existence,” to which forgiveness is God’s answer. For example, in the apology of the mother, if you are the child who has been wounded, who perhaps experienced abuse when you were little, and whose mother did nothing to stop it, the question implied is How do I keep bitterness, anger, hate, or the desire for revenge from consuming me? If you are the mother who feels great guilt because you didn’t step in to stop the abuse, there are perhaps two questions implied: How can I be reconciled to the one I wronged? and How can my burden of guilt be removed?
Every one of us asks questions like these, and God’s answer to each of them is forgiveness. While abuse may not have been a part of our story, at some point we’ve been wronged, at some point we’ve failed to intervene to stop someone else from being wronged, and in one way or another we’ve all wronged others. If we are not to spend our lives stumbling in the dark as wounded, angry human beings, we must know and carry with us the answer–God’s answer: forgiveness.