Games People Play: Sorry Not Sorry

by | Sep 4, 2022


Games People Play: Sorry Not Sorry
Jarrett McLaughlin
September 4, 2022
Psalm 51

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 alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Many of you know this but last Christmas we got a dog…Desmond the Dog.
Some may remember that Meg and I rather publicly aired out our “differing opinions” about whether it was time to get a dog right here in this pulpit. Well, I’m here to give you an update.

All in all – Desmond’s not half bad. Ringing endorsement, I know.
But you see – he is an anxious creature and does not like being left alone.

The casualties of his anxiety thus far include a yoga mat, two blankets, three towels, four pairs of blinds and…I believe 4, maybe 5, dog beds.

He tears them to pieces. So whenever we leave we put him in this very substantial dog crate that we call Fort Knox.

We thought he was getting better so last week we ran a little experiment.
“Let’s see what happens if we don’t crate him while we go to Church.”

(shake head slowly back and forth)

We came home to hear him furiously yelping and scratching at the front door.
That dog chewed off a sizable chunk of our door frame.

Of course when I see the damage and put on my “BAD DOG” voice he just does that thing that dogs do…you know…when he sits real still, lowers his head and looks at you out the side of his eyes in some facsimile of repentance.

But I’m not buying it one bit. There’s nothing genuine about this contrition…how do I know? His tail is wagging the whole time!

His facial expression says “I’m Sorry” but I know what he’s really thinking:
He wants to restore the relationship without addressing what he did wrong.

So I ask you – Are you familiar with the phrase “Sorry, Not Sorry?”
More often, it’s that thing you drop into a conversation right before you say something that is sure to offend, but you just don’t care. It’s a facsimile of an apology for the one who is convinced he is right and has nothing to be sorry about.

We can be awfully good at some fake apologies
Have you ever heard these before:

1. “I am sorry if I did anything wrong.” – that’s the conditional apology that suggests that maybe I did something wrong, but probably not.

Or how about

2. “I am sorry, but I was just kidding.” – that’s a justifying apology. It’s okay because it was harmless fun.

Then there’s

3. “I’m sorry that you found that upsetting.” – the classic side-stepping apology that takes no ownership.

Or what about

4. “I’m sorry – you know I didn’t mean it that way.” – That’s the apology that tries to talk you out of your feelings until you have no reason to be upset.

And finally…

5. “FINE! I’m Sorry, okay!” – That’s the bullying apology. Maximum Grudge. Minimum Sincerity.

Have you heard any of those apologies before?
I feel confident that I’ve given some of those apologies before.

You don’t get any of that in Psalm 51.
All you get there is a vulnerable, raw expression of remorse.

Psalms are like that – they’re intensely emotionally and viscerally expressive.
Whatever the author is feeling – whether it be joy, sorrow, anger or regret – you can be sure that it will be a concentrated dose.

Every once in a while, a Psalm will have a brief statement to situate it in context. Psalm 51 has one of the more elaborate scene-setters:
It reads: “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone to Bathsheba.”

Many of you may know this story but I don’t like to presume.
King David is regarded as the greatest King in the history of Israel, which makes it all the more interesting that the Bible does not shy away from airing out his moral failures.

The King, though already married, covets a woman named Bathsheba, who is married to one of David’s soldiers; a man named Uriah. After Bathsheba becomes pregnant with David’s child, the king first tries to cover up the affair, but then he cooks up a scheme to put Uriah – who is off to war on behalf of his king – David arranges to put Uriah in the worst part of the fighting.

Uriah is accordingly killed in battle, leaving David to take Bathsheba as his wife. It’s a terrible, terrible thing that David does – a wanton abuse of power; a violation of trust between ruler and ruled.
And he gets away with it.

David, however, has courageous counselors in his court.
The prophet Nathan, never a simple “Yes” man, confronts the king with his sin. Nathan holds up a mirror so that David could see the man he has become.
To David’s credit, he does not like what he sees.

Now, maybe David wrote the 51st Psalm. Maybe not.
But let’s say that he did.

Let’s just assume that after being confronted with his sin,
David – full of shame and regret – poured out this Psalm of intense remorse.

“For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”

“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
“a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
There’s no equivocating here. No self-justifying. No side-stepping.
Just the agony of one who desperately needs to say “I’m sorry.”

I think that is the deep truth encoded in this Psalm.
True regret needs to be expressed.
Admitting our wrongs; feeling remorse for the hurt we cause; offering an apology sincere enough to restore relationship – that is what makes us human.

I recently read a story told by a famous spiritual leader.

“There were many nights when I was a young boy,” he began, “when I watched helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair when we see people we love hurting each other.”

This leader spent much of his youth day-dreaming about hurting his father back, in the same ways he hurt his wife. Later in life, as an adult, something shifted within him; he began to see his father through the eyes of God – how life had damaged him and led him to take that anger out on others. It was no excuse for the abuse, but he could see his father through the lens of forgiveness.

Because of this perspective, he was able to maintain relationships with both his mother and father into their old age.

He then recounts a time when he was on a very long trip to take his own children to a boarding school in a neighboring country. As he made the long drive back home, his father called at the end of an exhausting day: “I need to talk with you…there’s something I’d like to say to you.” he said.

“I’m really tired right now,” he told him, “we can talk tomorrow…in the morning.”
A few hours later his niece woke him up early to say that his father had died.

The grief was powerful.

In spite of his flaws, he still loved his father very much.
But what amplified the grief was not knowing what his father wished to say to him.

“Was there some great stone on his heart that he had wanted to remove?” he asked. “Might my father have wanted to apologize for the abuse he had inflicted on my mother when I was a boy?”
It’s difficult to say for certain.

But true regret needs to be expressed.
Admitting wrongs; feeling remorse; offering a sincere apology – this is what makes us human.

That famous spiritual leader I told you about – that was Desmond Tutu.

1. Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.

2. Chairman of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission that sought to give all South Africans, regardless of color, a pathway to apologize for some unspeakable atrocities.

3. He also happens to be the namesake of our dog, Desmond, whom we adopted just one day after the Archbishop’s death this past Christmas.

I still say that dog wasn’t sorry one bit about our door frame.
But who am I to speak? I’m not always that good at being sorry either…so if you’re wondering I did go back to petting him….after a day of cutting him off.

Tutu once said “‘I am sorry’ are perhaps the three hardest words to say.”
I think he might be right.
By God’s grace, though, maybe we can start saying those words,
singing those words, whatever it takes to make them sincere.
Pray with me:

Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us all. Amen.