At various times when different athletes have ended up in trouble and the question arises about whether their careers can recover from the incident—almost regardless of the offense—sports journalists emphasize: Americans are a forgiving people. Considering the level of immorality associated with the world of sports and the declining interest in Christianity in society, this itself seems like an interesting take. However, it does provide insight into the way most people view forgiveness. Following these incidents, it is amazing how people will judge the offender’s apology as the foundation for starting anew. Perhaps this is due to journalists overvaluing words and undervaluing action, but most of society thinks in a similar fashion. People have grown to equate an apology with repentance, thus concluding that a proper incantation can ward off any consequences. Apology has thus become a social ritual of renewal, and many people have accepted it as sufficient. However, David’s message in Psalm 38 demonstrate that the words of contrition, while necessary, must be founded on a heart that is truly broken by the pain of having sinned.
The first step towards forgiveness depends on allowing divine rebuke to pierce the soul (Psa. 38:1-3). It is therefore not enough to feel bad about the consequences, to be embarrassed about getting caught, or to offer an apology designed to get you off the hook. Instead of being concerned about public perception, we must first feel the impact of sin’s situation. Until we take responsibility for our own sin—without trying to justify it or play the blame game—we have not sufficiently acknowledged and mourned the depths of our behavior (Psa. 38:4-6). The guilt caused by our sin should affect us deeply—so much that it builds within us a willingness to do whatever is necessary to make things right (Psa. 38:7-8). To make matters right requires far more help from an ad agency or public relations firm. Making things right depends on giving your all to have fellowship with God once more (Psa. 38:9-10). This is the consequence that matters. While other relationships may suffer and other consequences may emerge, until all is right with God, nothing else matters (Psa. 38:11-14). “For in You, O LORD, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God” (Psa. 38:15). Coming to God first, we gain perspective about life and our own sin. We accept responsibility and are prepared to acknowledge the spiritual error of our behavior (Psa. 38:16-18). There will always be those who use our mistakes and sins against us, but they do so because they do not understand or appreciate the spiritual context of life in the first place (Psa. 38:19-20).
In the end, no matter what we have done—professional athlete or just ordinary Joe—we must remember that the social consequences of misbehavior pale in comparison to the spiritual consequences. Therefore, before we concern ourselves with trying to repair our image, we must come to God, acknowledging that we are guilty and broken, so that He can forgive and build us up once more. Unfortunately, many people have attached the world’s quick and easy view of forgiveness to God. They want a quick prayer to absolve their sin and solve all their sorrows. Instead of realizing they are broken, they come looking for a band-aid. But the heart of forgiveness begins with realizing we have lost touch with God and need to return to Him. For He is the only one who can help. “Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psa. 38:21-22).