Saying I’m Sorry

The Fellowship  |  October 7, 2019

Two young girls hugging.

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” — Genesis 15:8

Jews around the world are observing a time of intense reflection, repentance, and seeking forgiveness known as the Days of Awe, or Ten Days of Repentance. Our devotions during this time relate to this most holy time on the Jewish calendar, which culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To learn more about the Jewish perspective on atonement and its connection to atonement in the Christian faith, download our complimentary Bible study.

In 1970, Ali MacGraw immortalized this line in the movie Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It became the movie’s most memorable line and has been quoted ever since. But does that make it true? Are the words “I’m sorry” really unnecessary when it comes to those we love?

Our Bible verse today is from a chapter of Genesis that is filled with hidden meaning. In Judaism, it is referred to as “The Covenant Between the Pieces.” God commanded Abraham to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, and two birds. The animals were cut in half and placed opposite each other. Abraham heard the Lord proclaim that his descendants would go through harsh exile but emerge triumphant. Then Abraham witnessed a torch pass between the animal parts, and God promised Abraham that Canaan would be his forever.

The Jewish sages teach that Abraham understood from this seemingly strange ritual that his descendants would go through multiple exiles, but eventually, they would be saved and brought back to Israel. The land of Israel would always belong to God’s children.

The sages also provide us with the following behind-the-scenes conversation. Abraham said to God: “If Israel sins, won’t You destroy them?” Abraham reasoned that if Israel sinned, they would no longer deserve the land and they might not inherit it after all. He asked, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

According to tradition, God answered: “They will bring me sacrifices in the Temple and that will atone for them.” Abraham countered: “But what about when there is no Temple?” God explained: “Then they will read the verses of confession and that will atone for them.” Abraham accepted God’s response and was at peace.

The sages explain that the most critical part of the sacrificial ritual was confession. This began the procedure; the whole ritual was dependent upon a heartfelt confession and deeply felt regret. The worshiper had to say, “I’m sorry, God” and only then would his service be complete. Since this was the essence of the ritual, it would be enough to read the verses of confession even when the Temple no longer stood. Even today, saying “I’m sorry” is the most critical and powerful step in repentance and forgiveness.

We learn from this teaching the importance of saying “I’m sorry.” If we have to say it to God, who can read our minds and loves us more than anyone in this world, how much more so do we have to say it to our loved ones who are merely flesh and blood. The words “I’m sorry” are critical in the process of forgiveness, and despite what Hollywood might think, love does means having to say “I’m sorry.”

Explore how the Jewish concept of atonement is manifested during Yom Kippur and its connection to atonement in the Christian faith with our complimentary Bible study, Atonement: At One With God.