In the 1970 movie, “Love Story”, there was an iconic line stated twice during the film: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
This is affectionately said first by Ali MacGraw when Ryan O’Neal, her husband, is about to apologize for getting angry. She was saying, “It’s OK, our love is unconditional and you don’t need to ask for forgiveness.”
Near the emotionally-charged ending, Ryan O’Neal’s estranged father said, “I’m sorry”, when learning that Ali MacGraw had died.
Ryan O’Neal repeated the classic line to him, in this case meaning, “Dad, your love is pretend, and your feigned expression of grief is shallow and meaningless to me.”
Although touching, this dramatic story of love also begs a realistic question: Is it true? Does true love — not the type portrayed in films to sell tickets and win Oscars — but real life, gut-level, where the rubber meets the road, true love, exist apart from the honest expression of regret when an offense is made?
No, it doesn’t. It’s not possible. That’s just Hollywood.
In real life, real love cycles through regret, confession, repentance, grace and forgiveness. Making mistakes and seeking forgiveness comes with the territory. It’s to be expected.
In relation to God, these same dynamics exist. Let’s look at three principles to understand why saying, “I’m sorry” is vital to knowing the love of Christ.
First, let’s agree that some of our decisions are not God’s best for us, and when our free will choices conflicts with His will, we become distanced from Him. It’s sad, but true. Imperfections created by sin create a colossal chasm separating us from God. He’s perfect, and we’re not.
Second, our imperfections cannot coexist with God. It’s just not possible for tarnished, sinful people to dwell in Heaven.
This creates a dilemma, doesn’t it? If Heaven requires sinlessness (which it does), and we’re not sinless (which we aren’t), how can we be reconditioned to live with God in Heaven?
The answer to that is number three: forgiveness. Redemption is a gift God offers, secured by the death Jesus suffered. As the truism goes: “We owed a debt we could not pay, so He paid a debt He did not owe.” The only way to be transformed to perfect, is for our imperfections to be cleansed away.
1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Let me ask you this, when God cleanses us from “all unrighteousness”, how much unrighteousness is left? None my friend, none.
The forgiveness Jesus secured for us, provides the perfection required of us.
Jesus delivered love as a present, giftwrapped, and personalized with your name inscribed on it. The delivery was scheduled from the beginning of time, and notification of the delivery was announced repeatedly by the prophets of old.
When the gift was finally consummated two millennium ago, the heralds who witnessed the crucifixion proclaimed the compassionate conquest credited to it. This gift was good news, assured as genuine by the resurrection following. Ironically though, almost everyone refused to unwrap the present delivered to them.
Isn’t that silly? Who would leave such an extravagant gift unopened? Why would someone pretend they didn’t know it was theirs? How long before we humbly acknowledge the present delivered to us? What are we afraid of?
I think I know. Opening the box to accept Jesus’ gift of love, requires the admission of guilt and our request for forgiveness. It means saying, “I’m sorry”.
It is challenging to confess our culpability in wrongdoing. Mankind’s sinful nature prefers to deny it, hide it, or blame others for it. We try to portray the image of being perpetually right rather than admitting wrong. And so, motivated by pride, we decide to just keep our gift under wraps.
The Bible unveils this masquerade as pure façade, declaring, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10). Did you hear that? None of us are right, not even one. Instead, we all need forgiveness, every one of us. There are no exceptions.
“Love Story” was a good story. But for “Love Story” to be your God story, forgiveness is required.
Love means having to say, “I’m sorry.”
Isn’t it time to unwrap the present?
Dave Hinman is Pastor Emeritus at Dove Church Wilmington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.