Years ago, my husband, Jeff, and I were sitting at a San Antonio Mexican food restaurant when I man I did not know came running up to me. He said, “You’re Dr. Burkhardt’s daughter, right?”
“Well, I worked in the Operating Room when he was an Air Force physician. He recommended me for a promotion that led to a larger retirement check. I always wanted to thank him but never did, so since you are his daughter, I am thanking you.”
I was taken aback by this, but realized this had been a burden on this man’s heart for many years—and now it was released.
A similar concept can be found in Numbers 5 when God told the Israelites to make restitution for their wrongs. If it was not with the person they wronged, then they were to make the apology to the closest living relative.
“The Lord said to Moses,“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer” (Numbers 5:5–8).
I chewed on this one for a while and thought, That’s not a bad practice. I also reflected on all those I had wronged over the years, especially in college when I made many unwise decisions. I remember one college Homecoming when I saw someone I had wronged. All the memories of inappropriate behavior flooded my soul. As a mature Christian, I was now embarrassed by past actions so I prayed for an opening to apologize. I never received that window. He was always surrounded by others, so I felt that was a sign God did not want me to say anything.
Ultimately, if we can’t make that apology directly or to the next of kin, we have a High Priest, Jesus, who we can go to for both repentance and thankfulness. While confessing to the one we wronged is a good practice, only Jesus can cleanse us from our sin.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
I think an appropriate prayer is: Lord, if you want me to say I’m sorry to someone for my sinful behavior, no matter how long ago it was, will you provide the opportunity? The most important thing, however, is that we are right with God. He sees all and knows all.