Apology, Forgiveness and Christianity

I was raised in a culture in which nobody would admit guilt. “L’enfer c’est les autres” (The Hell is the others) seemed to be a Romanian unspoken guideline. Parents were never mistaken, teachers were infallible, bosses never chose the wrong path, marriages ended with bitter resentment on the mistakes of the other, never self-blame. Oh, sure, “nobody is perfect” would be acknowledged and repeated but it never applied to the speaker. That doesn’t mean that people didn’t feel or know they were guilty. We, the Romanians, are not more stupid than other nations. It’s only that words were missing or when they were coming they never give peace and forgiveness.

In 2003, there was a minor incident at work. I assumed the previous sys admin knew what he was doing and I did a modification requested by the company. Under that correct assumption I managed to wipe-out 110 business email addresses and work email started bouncing. When accused, I defended myself and explained that it’s not my fault that the previous sys admin didn’t know what he was doing. My manager looked at me sad and said “Andi, remember: it takes a great man to acknowledge its mistake”. I didn’t say anything but his words resounded long time in my head. After all, in the situation mentioned, if I had been such a good professional I consider myself to be, I would have double-checked the settings left by the previous sys admin.

I wanted to be a great man and with vanity fighting lack of responsibility, I started admitting my mistakes, taking blame, saying “I’m sorry”. In the beginning it was a daunting task – saying the words felt like ripping my guts. In time, it got easier, especially when I noticed the effect on the ones I wronged. They would calm down quickly, and hey would be forgiving and often give me a huge leeway. Most people want to forgive if we’d only give them the chance. By denying guilt, losing ourselves in long and tedious explanations and argumentations, we only manage to enrage the ones we hurt.

Christianity is NOT a dead, abstract philosophy. I never looked at it that way, at least not at Jesus: a concept, some rituals, shiny or dark clothes and candle smoke. It is alive, if only we try to use it. I was never capable of believing in the fact that Jesus is LITERALLY “The Son of God”. I see him just as very humane person: philosopher, psychologist, politician (in a very lose sense), and many more things. I wonder why the form, spread by St Paul, crossed times and ages yet the essence is very often ignored.

Despite many religions having similar or close concepts, Christianity is the one who established a complete model for “repentance”: acknowledgement of the sin, honest sorrow, making amends and, eventually, forgiveness. Such process is needed because, most of the times, it’s not the other’s forgiveness we seek, but our own. With the exception of a tiny percentage of population, pathological cases, it seems to me that there are no good or bad people. We all did wonderful things and we did things less than laudable. We are simply people doing sometimes good and sometimes bad. But we need, we have this basic human need to feel that we are GOOD, that we are the good guys/gals. If we are told that we are bad, if we feel we did wrong, we are overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness, we don’t like ourselves, sometimes we even hate ourselves. It’s a amply-discussed concept and I can certify it over what I discovered studying myself: In order to be good, we need to love and like ourselves. But when we sinned or wronged or hurt, be it God or people we love, people we care or even ones we don’t care much for, we stop loving/liking ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves and as the first step toward that personal forgiveness and peace of mind is achieving the forgiveness of the ones we wronged – God (through the mouth of the priest), people we hurt etc. That is (maybe) why Jesus included in his philosophy the idea of “dying for the sins of everyone”. I feel that he wanted to relieve the feeling of shame, of hopelessness that can push us toward more evil actions or words, the same feeling that pushes us closer to Hell (albeit a metaphorical one). When one is a lost soul, when one cannot do anything to redeem oneself, what difference does it make if one continues on doing whatever one feels like? And when you feel bad, you feel like doing bad things. It’s also about hope – without hope of redemption, why would one change one’s ways? If we can, on the other hand, achieve forgiveness and a clean slate, a new start, there is still hope, we can hope we will become GOOD, deserve the love of God and of the others.