During the summer of 2013, when I was staying for a period of some weeks at the home of close friends who I did not realize at the time were distant relatives, a young woman of the family kept on playing the hit song “Apologize” from OneRepublic featuring Timbaland on the piano while she was at the house where I was staying. This song’s driving and insistent point is that it was too late to apologize, and I asked the young woman whether she indeed thought it was too late for me to apologize to her, given my own awkwardness in our dealings. She seemed not to be particularly sure whether it was or not, but although we are not hostile with each other, the sense of mutual awkwardness with each other remains to this day between us. Offenses are not an easy matter to deal with, and the question of forgiveness and reconciliation is one that both deeply fascinates me in the complexity of human relations (and human relationships with God above) but also troubles me given the details of my own personal life. What is necessary for us to do and say when it comes to interpersonal relationships for us to be right with God? After all, we may find it impossible to reconcile with other people whom we have offended and who have offended us. We may say we forgive or may hear others say that they forgive us, but the awkwardness and discomfort remains. To what extent do these issues need to be resolved before we are right with God? Is even making an honest attempt enough?
Regardless of one’s answers to these questions about the correlation (or lack thereof) between our success at reconciliation on earth and our relationship with God, there is definitely a time when it is too late to apologize. Once we die, we are unable to reconcile with others and come to grips with our troubled relations with others. I was reminded of this fact over the past few days when I heard that a minister with whom my own personal interactions became increasingly trouble died in our area. This particular minister had been one who I had originally respected for his obvious intellect and profound biblical knowledge as well as his considerable shrewdness, but whose standing with me (and vice versa) drastically declined over the course of 2010, culminating in my sending to him a copy of his own sermon from 2004 that spoke out against the demonic spirit of rebellion exhibited according to the judgment of the minister by those who were leaving our church during that year (in part due to some of his own personal actions as our church’s director of ministerial services), telling him that this message spoke eloquently about the problems that he and some of his confederates were having at that time. Admittedly, I was both being serious and rather snarky in quoting someone’s own words at them, especially when they equated secessionist behavior in organizational politics with demonic spirits of rebellion, but his response saying that I ought to drop dead seventy times seven was still something that was quite beyond the pale of even the fierce discourse I participate in with those whose worldviews and opinions are sharply divergent from my own.
What was it that made this so offensive, not only to me but to just about everyone else who has ever read it or heard about it. It is expected, if lamentable, that there is a fair amount of rancor between people whose worldviews and perspectives are in opposition. For example, here is the comment one of my negative book reviews about racial politics received from someone just this morning: “Your profound (willful?) ignorance betrays that you never even read the book, or at the very least entirely failed the process the content.” This is by no means a friendly comment, but it is the sort of comment that is common when one comes across an adverse review of a book that is persuasive to the person making the comment. Obviously, if someone has strong opposition to a persuasive book in one’s own mind, that person must either have a) not read the book or b)been willfully ignorant in processing the book. There is no room in their biased minds for c) the book really isn’t that correct/good/persuasive at all, or that it fails in reaching out across the chasm of political disagreement between the author and the skeptical or hostile reader. Reaching hostile audiences is not an easy thing for writers–I speak from experience–but the presence of adverse reviews does not mean that either the writer or reviewer is defective, but rather that both of them happen to see things differently in ways that are incommensurate. Neither of them, being possessed with all knowledge, is equipped to know who is right, or whether neither of them is in fact right.
This is something that is important to remember when it comes to unfriendly interactions between people on different sides of a dispute, including the late pastor whose reply to reading his own words being quoted against his own behavior was so violent and hostile. I frequently wish for my opponents to be converted to my side, and there are even times where I wish never to see someone else so long as they remain in violent hostility to me and to my own worldview and perspective, but I cannot think of a time when I have wished someone to be dead, much less 490 times. After all, that was the daily limit of times that Peter was commanded to give forgiveness by Jesus Christ, a limit that is essentially infinite. One can think of far more savvy replies that an intelligent man, like this pastor was, could have given. Perhaps he could have avoided a reply at all–admittedly, this is not an easy course for many of us to take. Perhaps he could have replied that the circumstances were different in 2010 than in 2004 that did not make this particular split motivated by the same sort of demonic rebellion that he had averred in 2004. Instead, he was so cut to the heart, but not in a good way, by reading his own words judging his own rebelliousness that he wished me to be dead the amount of times he should have forgiven me for any sort of offense that I had made against him. And given his own behavior afterwards, I never saw that he had ever made any move to own up to the immensity of his sin in attempting to usurp God’s role in judgment, or in refusing to repent for his own rebelliousness that made him an unfit judge of those who were merely pointing it out to him, albeit in somewhat cheeky ways.
Ultimately, I am no more his judge than he is mine. Had he been able to show some contrition, I think that I would have been able to show him the same sort of genuine respect for his intellect and knowledge that I had before our unfortunate contretemps. There are plenty of people with whom my interactions have had a fair amount of awkwardness and unpleasantness with whom I can deal with with a great deal of solicitude for their well-being and respect for their character and perseverance in the face of life’s difficulties, regardless of what they feel and think about me. Ultimately, God alone knows what is in their heart, and I am responsible for what is in my own. But even if I am not the judge of this dead minister whose personal interactions with me took such a hostile turn and were never repaired, I still wonder how God will deal with both his own unjustified condemnation of me and his own rebelliousness against godly religious authorities who were holding the offices that he had once held so controversially. Did he ever have any dark nights of the soul where he suffered and agonized over the way his relationships with other brethren had soured so much, and where he had put himself in a position where he could find his own words against rebellion speaking eloquently against his own conduct, implicitly accusing him of both succumbing to an ungodly and rebellious attitude as well as being a rank hypocrite in having condemned others for something that he was no doing? Only God knows. Let us hope, for his sake, that he did. But he certainly never let it on to me that he had softened his harsh view of my own rebuke of the behavior of him and his fellow rebels of 2010. And for that matter, I have yet to receive any apology from any of them, even though I am not a hard man to find, and not one who can at this time of life run away very quickly should someone wish to find me.