If the universe is structured to make forgiveness necessary, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to make an apology at some point. Fortunately, some folks at Ohio State have figured out what ingredients you need to make your apology as acceptable as possible. While it might not be the most mind-bending research result ever, it’s one you’ll probably be able to use sooner or later.
- Acknowledgment of responsibility
- Offer of repair
- Expression of regret
- Explanation of what went wrong
- Declaration of repentance
- Request for forgiveness
Those were the six elements tested. The first two were the most important, in that order. The next three were basically equal in importance, and the last was the least necessary. I can definitely appreciate the significance of “acknowledgement of responsibility.” I’ll admit I’m (too) easily frustrated when a problem exists but apparently no one is responsible for it. Large organizations seem particularly prone to this scenario. The representatives you are allowed to talk to genuinely aren’t responsible, and the root cause may be systemic in a way that makes it difficult for any one person to see themselves as responsible. The global church, individual congregations and other Christian organizations need to be mindful of this scenario as well, to make sure that collective responsibilities are acknowledged. And of course I personally need to work on my own humility, as I’m sure the plank in my own eye is larger than the speck I find so irksome in others’.
The need to offer repair is challenging. In the study scenarios, there were clear options for correcting the mistake that was made. Yet how often do we err in a way that cannot be fixed? Irreversible harm can be done. I suppose sometimes that means having to live with brokenness. How fortunate we are then that God not only offers forgiveness but also the chance to be a part of a new creation, where what was once broken can be remade whole.