How NOT to Apologize (with Help from Justin Bieber)
Before we begin, let me publicly and shamelessly acknowledge that I am a Belieber. Justin Bieber is a highly talented singer and performer and his latest album, Purpose, includes a number of very strong pop songs. Having said that, for all of his musical talent, Justin is not all that talented at apologizing, at least if his song “Sorry” is any indication of his real-life approach to seeking reconciliation. Thus, if you find yourself guilty of sinning against someone or unintentionally offending them, please learn from Justin Bieber’s 6 mistakes and avoid doing any of the following.
1. Don’t ask if you can apologize
If you have wronged someone you don’t make it right by asking, “Is it too late now to say sorry?”. You make it right by saying sorry. It is up to them to decide whether or not to accept your apology, but it is up to you to confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. When you ask someone if you can apologize you are taking the responsibility off of yourself (where it belongs) and placing it upon them (where it does not belong).
2. Don’t blame others, especially the person you’re apologizing to
The fundamental principle of an apology is that you are taking responsibility for your words or actions, confessing them to the offended party, and seeking reconciliation. The moment you place any blame on the offended party, or on anyone else, you are no longer apologizing, you are accusing. This is what Bieber does when he sings, “You gotta go and get angry at all of my honesty”, as if the problem was her response to his honesty instead of the things he did and said to offend her in the first place. It only gets worse when he says, “I’ll take every single piece of the blame if you want me to/but you know there’s no innocent one in this game for two”. This translates as: “It’s not really my fault, you are just as guilty as I am. But because I’m a better person than you, I’ll pretend it’s all my fault so you can forgive me and we can move on.” This is not an apology. This is a self-righteous attempt to both avoid taking responsibility for your own sin and make yourself feel better for said sin by convincing yourself that you’re being a good and mature person by “overlooking” the offense of the other, even as you remind them of that very same offense.
3. Don’t minimize the offense or their pain
When we don’t try to escape the weight of our sin by blaming others, we often do it by trying to minimize the thing we said or did in the first place. My man Justin Bieber does this by saying, “I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice/by once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times. First, he tries to minimize the offense by making a joke (“by once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times”). Humor is a gift from God and we should utilize it as often as we can…but never when we are apologizing. The reason we try to use humor when we apologize is because we don’t want to deal with the pain of our own sin. The problem is that by trying to avoid our own pain through the defense mechanism of humor, we actually cause more pain to the person we harmed by laughing at the thing that caused them pain before they have even been given the chance to forgive it. Second, Biebs minimizes the gravity of his sin and the frequency of his sin with the words, “I just need one more shot at second chances”. Obviously, Justin needs much more than just one more shot at second chances. Based on his own words he has had at least a couple of hundred chances up to this point, and he has done nothing to deserve another one. By asking for a “second chance” he is minimizing the pattern of sin he has demonstrated and the pain his beloved has had to endure over and over and over again as a result. When we apologize we must personally come to grips with the gravity of our sin, the pattern of our sin, and the painful affects these have had on the person we have offended. When we really understand how we have hurt the other person, we will not dare to make jokes about the sin that hurt them or ignore the fact that we have not demonstrated that we can be trusted to not hurt them again.
4. Don’t make excuses for your sin
When you finally do make your apology, don’t make excuses for your prior sin nor for your present apology. This is what Justin does when he sings, “You know I try but I don’t do too well with apologies”. First of all, he’s right, as we have seen in the prior two examples. Yet the fact he is not good at apologies does not excuse his prior sin (for which he’s apologizing) nor his present sin (the apology itself). Second of all, the only things that stand in the way of being “good at apologies” is our own pride. We are not good at apologies because we don’t want to admit that we are the type of people who do things to hurt other people without cause. We are not good at apologies because we don’t want to bear the weight of our failure and we don’t want to make ourselves dependent on the mercy of someone else. If you are not good at apologies, this is not something you should mention while apologizing, it is something you should change. You change it by humbling yourself to the point of specifically listing every way you damaged the other person, acknowledging that there is no justification, and placing yourself at their mercy as you ask them to forgive you so you might be reconciled.
5. Don’t make it about you
Of all the stupid things Justin does in his apology, this one might be the most embarrassing. When you are guilty of offending another person, the apology should be about your sin and about their pain. It should not be about your desires. Ever. Yet Justin makes it about his desires — in a very shallow way — when he says, “Is it too late now to say sorry?/‘cause I’m missing more than just your body”. First, Justin makes it about him by congratulating himself for wanting to apologize for more than just to regain access to her body. Wow! How virtuous, Justin! Thank you for making it clear that your apology was motivated by more than your sexual desires. We are all amazed at the sincerity of your apology now that we know, as you said, “I’m not just trying to get you back on me”. Second, Justin makes it about him by moving the reason for his apology away from the pain he caused the other person and toward his own desire to be back with her. In other words, he’s more upset about the fact that he can’t have what he wants than he is upset that she has been hurt by his sin. When we apologize, we must avoid the temptation to make it about us and our sadness or guilt and instead make it about our victim and the pain we have caused them.
6. Don’t make demands
On a related note, when you offend someone else and are apologizing to them, what you need is irrelevant. As the offender who is apologizing to your victim, you don’t get to tell them what you need. Your job is to specifically tell them how you sinned against them, express sincere remorse, and ask them what they need in order for reconciliation to take place. Justin doesn’t do this. Instead, he uses his “apology” as a means to make demands of the woman he sinned against. He does this in two different places. First, when he asks, “can we both say the words and forget this?” And second when he pleads her to, “so let me, oh let me redeem, oh redeem, oh myself tonight/‘cause I just need one more shot at second chances”. The people we offend owe us nothing, including forgiveness. We are in no position to make demands and when we do so we reveal that we have a low view of our sin and a high view of ourselves, neither of which is good for us or for our apology.
I guess what I’m saying is: “Don’t be like Justin.” Well, I mean, sure, you can be like Justin in terms of his swag and his singing ability if this is within your reach, but please do not imitate his attempts at an apology. If you do so you will add more harm to that which you’ve already caused the person you offended. You will also miss out on the personal benefits that apologizing can bring to you when you humble yourself before God and before another person, own your failures, plead for forgiveness, and seek reconciliation at the cost of your pride and comfort.
Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His books, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers and The Gospel Is: Defining the Most Important Message in the World are both available now. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.