Although there are myriad other reasons to be aggravated with politicians and government leaders, perhaps one of the most annoying is how they apologize. First, they are unlikely to actually admit they did anything wrong—for instance, they don't say, "I'm sorry I said something really stupid." Instead, they proffer an equivocation like, "I'm sorry if what I said offended you."
You are sorry if what you said offended me?! So, calling me a <fill in the uncivil word or phrase here> is not itself actually offensive or wrong?! Instead, I just took it wrong?!
Or, another favorite is when something in their department goes very awry and they, being a "big man" (or woman) declare, "I take full responsibility for the actions of…" However, their "the buck stops here" assertion is devoid of any willingness to accept the discipline that should accompany the culpability. "I take full responsibility, but I am not going to resign or otherwise allow you to actually hold me responsible."
Neither approach is true admission of guilt or honest request for forgiveness. They are machinations to avoid reasonable and just consequences for misbehavior.
How about you? What kind of non-apologies bothers you the most? A common one outside of politics is the "conditional" type. Have you ever heard something like, "I'm sorry I yelled, but you…"? Somehow I can't help but think if a person is genuinely remorseful they don't have to throw a "but" into their sentence to make excuses for their conduct or to throw some of the blame back at the recipient.
Now, it is probably no surprise that you can find an example of a good confession in the Bible. As background, King David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and then, to cover it up, has had her husband, Uriah, murdered by sending him to the front of battle followed by having everyone else pull back (see 2 Samuel 11). Classy move.
God is "no respecter of persons" (see Acts 10:34, KJV and Deuteronomy 10:17), so he sends the prophet Nathan to call the king out. Nathan tells a David a story about a poor man who "had nothing but one little ewe lamb" which "was like a daughter to him" (2 Samuel 12:3) along with a rich man who "was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him," instead killing "the poor man's lamb and [preparing] it for the [traveler] who had come to him" (2 Samuel 12:4).1
Being passionate as he was, "David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die…'" (2 Samuel 12:5)
Little did David know that he was condemning himself…but what is most pertinent to this article is how David reacted to Nathan's declaration, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7). The Bible records a very simple and concise response:
"I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13).
If you take time to read through 2 Samuel 12, you will see that this statement comes after God (through Nathan) has told David what the consequences of his awful sins are going to be.
And all he says is "I have sinned against the Lord."
Not "I'm sorry if I offended you." Not "I'm sorry, but…" Not "I take full responsibility, but don't do anything to me because of it."
Just the clear admission that he had "sinned against the Lord."
Perhaps that statement seems a little tepid. Great, David didn't try to squirm out of it, but where is the contriteness shown by the tax collector in one of Jesus' parables who "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)?
Well, we can find that in the psalm with the introduction, "To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba":
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:1-5).
David's sin was ever before him, he knew he had done evil, and he understood only God could cleanse him from his transgressions.
No excuses…just confession and a request for forgiveness and healing.
But, it is also interesting that David states that "against you, you only, have I sinned." Sure, David needed to apologize to Bathsheba (and others), but ultimately we only truly sin against the One who established all inalienable laws, whether physical, moral, or spiritual.
David was a sinner's sinner…but he was also "a man after [God's] heart" (Acts 13:22). Solomon may been have the wisest man ever (see 1 Kings 3:12), but his father wasn't a dummy when it came to one very important fact:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
David confessed his misdeeds with no caveats. We need to own up to ours the same way. As that spiritually-wise king wrote in an earlier Psalm:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,"
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:5).
God will do the same for us…
1 All biblical quotes taken from the English Standard Version.