Sunday, July 20, 2008

Apology at the OK Corral

The door slammed behind them, although neither could be sure whether it was because of the wind outside, or their rather energetic egress into the pub.

The Elder was equal measures of surprise and chagrin, as he continued the conversation begun on the other side of the now-firmly-closed portal. "I'm completely without excuse! It's only a minor scratch, and it's not like my ancient automobile is actually worth a whole lot." Shaking his head, he shook out the rain from his overcoat.

The Younger likewise doffed his jacket and tossed it over the back of the nearest booth, unsure how to respond. "Well... yeah, I've never seen you get so upset, so quickly. Or," he cautiously joked, "heard you use those particular words in conversation with someone you'd just met."

The Elder's shoulders slumped, as he let out a weary sigh. "Yes, I was hardly an example of grace or mercy. I just lost my temper over a trivial, insignificant thing, and there's no excuse for it. I am so very sorry -- for the young lady in the other car, and for you as well." And he sat down heavily in his seat.

The Younger eased himself into the booth, and replied, "You're absolutely forgiven, of course! And... thanks."

The Elder looked up from his study of the worn wooden tabletop, a quizzical look on his face. "You're thanking me? For what?"

"For not asking me to forgive you," replied the Younger immediately, looking suddenly cautious yet again. The Elder continued to regard his friend, his face still showing his uncomprehending bemusement at the Younger's comment.

"Well," blurted the Younger, when he could contain himself no longer, "so many people apologize, and immediately say 'forgive me'. And, maybe this will sound a little weird, but sometimes it feels like they ask for forgiveness as a way of not really dealing with the damage they've caused."

The Elder nodded slowly, comprehension dawning. "Ah, you mean the 'Apology At Gunpoint'; where if you don't 'forgive and forget' immediately, you become the problem." Seeing the look of instant recognition on the face of his friend, the Elder continued, "I've seen that one more than a few times myself -- probably have used it as well, truth be told -- and it's one of those things that looks and sounds spiritual, but it's actually quite manipulative."

The Younger signaled the Barkeep as he warmed up to the topic. "Well, I've had it aimed at me like some kind of gun, to use your phrase. And I always feel like the only response I'm allowed to give is to say that I forgive them. And I'm well aware of Jesus' words about seventy times seven, but...," his voice trailed off.

The Elder picked up the thread, "But you wonder why forgiveness -- which should bring freedom -- instead feels like you've been brought into bondage?" The Barkeep arrived at their table at that moment, wiping his hands as always on the scrap of a towel that he seemed to be carrying at all times. They quickly ordered their drinks.

The Elder paused for a moment, watching as the Barkeep ambled back to the bar, choosing his next words carefully. "You're completely right, of course, about the intent of Jesus' words -- He wants us to forgive because we've been forgiven an unpayable debt; that's why He went on to include the parable of the unmerciful servant in the same passage." He carefully placed his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers as he contined, "But here's where it gets sticky: some people rush to be forgiven, but show completely no interest in making any changes to their lives. They just keep on doing the same things, and become experts at the quick 'I'm sorry' fix -- or the Apology At Gunpoint -- which only leaves others feeling taken advantage of."

"Yes, exactly!" Agreed the Younger, banging his fist on the tabletop and drawing the wary eye of the Barkeep in return. "And they make you feel like a lousy follower of Jesus if you ever try to hold them accountable for their actions. 'Oh, you forgave me'," the Younger mimicked sarcastically, "so I need to 'let it go', or something." He stopped abruptly, suddenly aware that his voice had risen in volume, as nearby patrons began looking their way.

The Elder glanced around and kept his voice quiet as he replied, "Yes, it's a form a manipulation, really. And it may be unintentional (to be fair), but it is a way of using an apology to dodge being accountable for words and actions, which makes honest relational restoration extremely difficult. And isn't that the whole point of apology and forgiveness: relational restoration?"

The Barkeep silently materialized at their table, plunking down two pints of their favourite ales. "Are you gents here for a showdown at the OK Corral? I'd hate to have to cut you off after only a pint each," he growled in his Irish way, as he placed both fists on the table and leaned menacingly closer. "So, I'll be thanking you gents to mind your P's and Q's, or I'll be seeing you out the door on your arses. That'd be a sorry waste of good ale, if you ask me."

The two of them eyed each other sheepishly, hiding their smiles as the Barkeep moved on to the next table. "I hope he'll forgive us," the Elder stage-whispered, winking slyly. The Younger, for his part, hid whatever reply he was thinking in a generous swallow of ale.


  1. I don't think that you are implying that there is no way to forgive and hold someone accountable. But if forgiveness is defined as a releasing of someone from the responsibility of making it right after they have done something wrong, then how would you hold a person accountable? Or should you?

  2. Thought provoking as always. An interesting side point- I have always found "sorry" WITHOUT "will you forgive me" in adequate. Saying sorry isn't really taking responsibility, while asking for forgiveness empowers the one wronged. I'll have to think more on this one. Thanks!


  3. Hey Rob,

    First off, I love these stories you post. They Are always thought-provoking and generate much discussion.

    At some point in my christian walk I have been taught that sometimes one has to give forgiveness even when they don't feel like giving forgiveness. This brings up the idea that although God has given us emotions, we are to not be ruled by these emotions. If we were to give forgiveness to someone whom has wronged us when our emotions come into line with the feeling of forgiveness, I dare do say that time span could be long!!! God does help us to forgive and he is the one that puts that desire - the desire to forgive someone whom has done us wrong - in our heart. There is often time where I - being a typical male - have fallen short in the selflessness department and really hurt my wife. She has chosen to forgive even when she does not feel like forgiving...

    I have to pop out, but I have more thoughts...back in a while.


  4. Rob, I'm sorry I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to this conversation. Will you please forgive me?

  5. Thanks for the story Rob. In good Canadian fashion I did wonder what happened to the beer...but in good quasi-evangelical fashion I must ask what happened to the BarKeep?

  6. Ahhhh...interesting.
    Reminds me of another phrase, "Please and thank you", which also made me feel like my option to decide was already decided.

  7. Steve,

    You're absolutely right: I'm not suggesting that offering forgiveness precludes accountability. But it's difficult to pursue accountability when the other person uses "forgiveness" as a shield to avoid the painful reality and work of change.


    I see what you're getting at -- it probably has a LOT to do with the motivations of the heart, in both parties.


    If some of us waited until we "felt" like forgiving, hell might freeze over first! :)

    I don't think for a second that forgiveness is optional (read the whole chapter of Matthew 18 on that one), but coupling forgiveness with accountability (not revenge, just honest commitment to change) is worth figuring out. Not easy, but worth it.

    Dave Olson,

    Of course I'll forgive you! Now, can I get off this barrel you have me over? ;)


    The Barkeep is keeping your stool for you, and a pint is chilled and waiting. That's what Barkeeps do, after all.

    Wow -- two former Vancouver Island youth leaders in the same comment thread! Is it a sign?

  8. "But here's where it gets sticky: some people rush to be forgiven, but show completely no interest in making any changes to their lives. They just keep on doing the same things, and become experts at the quick 'I'm sorry' fix -- or the Apology At Gunpoint -- which only leaves others feeling taken advantage of."

    I know exactly what that's like. It's utilizing the letter of the law (you must forgive) and forgetting the spirit/reason behind it (to build relationships that are honouring).

    Repentance (saying sorry) isn't authentic unless it seeks to change rather than re-offend and expect or depend on the graciousness of others. I think we can approach God that way sometimes, and attempt to take advantage of His gracious nature as well. He forgives, but He also desires to remove anything in our behavior that separates us from Him, or hinders us from having an honouring relationship with Him.

    Ya, I think that's what this post is about: honour.