The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word, as the man sang, although the Ninevites seem to have no great problem in shouting it from the roof tops. Hearing Jonah’s eight-word proclamation has been enough to send them into effusion of contrition.
Perhaps we should take heart that God can work with the most imperfect forms of remorse. This may however cause us to pause and think about our own practices of confession. How do I reflect on my own actions and offer repentance?
Anyone with children can tell you that mouthing the word ‘sorry’ is not often a sign of genuine contrition. Indeed, it can often be offered up simply as a form of truce, to stop a nagging parent or teacher. We can find ourselves hastily stumbling through the confession during church service. I’ll admit that my mind can go strangely blank when I am asked to recall my misdeeds from the past week. J.W. Rogerson, former Canon Emeritus at Sheffield Cathedral, wrote, “This tends to to make the confession part of our services a meaningless exercise, and not one helped by the anodyne sentiments that masquerade as forms of confession.”
I occasionally wonder how it must appear to visitors or those on the fringes of the Christian life. Do they look on with some bemusement, as believers enter into an orgy of hollow pity and self-degeneration? After all, the Ninevites period in sackcloth does not herald a genuine transformation in their nature, as history would go on to show.
What might be the pros and cons of banning the word ‘sorry’ from forms of confession used in church services?