God and the Japanese Apology


My husband is Japanese.  Not Japanese American, although he became an American citizen.  No, I’m talking Japanese-born-in-Japan-Japanese.  I lived in Japan for a year.  He is my souvenir.  Or, as he tells people – you imported your car, she imported me.

Japanese-American marriages have an unusually high divorce rate.  This is because no two cultures are believed to be as different as those of America and Japan.  The hive mentality meets the land of the individual.  I’m going to tell you about an argument my husband and I had when we’d been married just a few years.  It lasted 45 minutes and was a real corker.

It started with my husband telling me he was upset because he was always the one apologizing.  I seldom apologized for anything.  He was right.  I don’t apologize often.  He, on the other hand, apologizes if it’s raining, or if the pop lid thingee breaks on your can of Coke.  In other words, he apologizes all the time for EVERYTHING.  So, we started arguing.  About why we apologize.  What it means.  When we should do it.  After 45 minutes, I finally yelled, “STOP!  I think I have this figured out.”

Here’s what I said.  When I apologize (from my American viewpoint which is heavily influenced by the German in my family tree) I am saying that I did something wrong.  I accept responsibility.  I agree that you are right to correct me about my behavior.  I acknowledge that I shouldn’t have done it and I resolve never to do it again.  I will change my behavior and I agree that you are right to be upset with me.  This is why I do not apologize often.  I try not to behave in a manner which would require an apology.

Then I looked at him and I said the following.  What I am hearing from you is that when you apologize you are simply saying that we have reached a bump in the relationship.  It is a rough patch that we need to get past.  You accept no responsibility.  You acknowledge no wrong-doing.  You accept no guilt.  You do not promise to change your behavior and your apology will have no effect on the future.  You simply want to move past the situation at hand.  Then I asked him if I was right.  “Yes,” he shouted with a smile, “that’s it exactly!”

This is why he apologizes if I say my shoes are too tight.  This is why it is death for me to apologize unless I have majorly screwed up.

At home we refer to this type of apology as a Japanese apology.  It is meaningless.  That’s not to say every apology in every situation that is given by a Japanese person is meaningless.  We simply use it as a catch phrase for any meaningless apology from anyone in any situation.

That’s not the end of the story.  A few years later he came home from work fuming.  It seems one of the guys in the Japanese home office had majorly mucked up a transaction.  It had taken my husband considerable time and trouble to straighten it all out.  But that wasn’t what made him mad.  He was mad because during the course of a phone conversation with the guy, he apologized to my husband.  And my husband knew exactly what kind of apology he was getting.  A Japanese apology.


We get steamed when we get those kind of apologies and yet how many times do we offer God a Japanese apology?  We think a quick “sorry” and he’ll pat us on the head and smile ‘cuz kids will screw up, you know.  We are forgiven and we should never forget that but God takes sin seriously.  It is a death penalty offense.  Yeshua had to die so we wouldn’t.  It’s that serious.  It was sin that meant Moses couldn’t enter the Holy Land.  He died looking at it.  Read the prophets.  God waited and waited for his people to turn back to him and then, having had enough, he sent in foreign armies to kill and conquer because of their sin and unfaithfulness.  God’s justice demands sin be punished.

But here’s the flip side to it.  Sin is serious because of what it does to our hearts.  This is a big part of why God hates sin so much.  We are born with our natures warped out of true and the more we sin, the more warped out of true we get.  The further we go, the harder it is to get back.  The more we twist our natures, the harder it is to straighten them.  Some people warp their natures to the point where they cannot turn to God.  God hates sin because it is so corrosive to his creation.

So many times I see people who claim to be followers of Messiah living and acting in ways that are clearly at odds with how God tells us to live our lives.  But they’re forgiven, right?  Right.  But they are giving God Japanese apologies.  Based on what we know from my argument, that should raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Why?  Because we know that Japanese apologies are meaningless.  And if they are the kind of apologies we offer to God then we care nothing for God.  If we care nothing for God, are we believers?  That’s a really good question.

God wants real apologies.  Not for his sake.  He wants our apologies for our sake.  He wants us to look at what we’ve done and call it what it is.  To understand the damage we do to ourselves, others and, most importantly, to our relationship with God.  It is only then that we can turn away from our sin to live in conformity with God’s values and goals for our lives.  When God’s values and goals are our values and goals, then our hearts align with God’s and what better place could there be?

I think this has a lot to do with what it means to die to ourselves.  God doesn’t want us to cease being what he made us to be.  You and your individual personality are a vital part of what God wanted when he made this universe.  So, what does it mean to die to self?  I believe what needs to die are all those things in our nature which God didn’t create.  The bad habits, the dirty secrets, all the stuff that separates us from him.  Those are our inheritance from the generations past and we turn that inheritance into our very own creation.  It’s that self which keeps us from God and that needs to die.  As we start to conform ourselves more and more to God, that other part of us starts to die.  As that part dies, we become more and more what we were meant to be – free and dependent.  Yup, it is our dependence on God that makes us free.

So, no more screwing around with sin.  No more Japanese apologies because you know you’re forgiven.  We need to be serious and purposeful in our relationship with God so we can be joyful and free because of it.  Turn around and let him weed the sin out of your life.  After all, when we first meet God in Genesis, he’s a gardener and no gardener likes weeds.

I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua.

Philippians 1:6  TLV