By now, most everyone has heard or at least heard a synopsis of Tiger Woods’ mea culpa for his adulterous affairs. We saw a radically different Tiger. No red shirt, laser-focused, striding down the 18th fairway on a Sunday afternoon.
This Tiger was visibly uncomfortable, stumbling over his words, pleading for forgiveness from an endless list of those he had offended.
The whole statement of Tiger’s apology lasted a little less than 14 minutes.
On the other hand, the analysis of Tiger’s apology began within seconds after he walked away from the one (broken) television camera and has been constant since. Newscasters, sportscasters, columnists, pundits, gossip mongers (oops…entertainment reporters), and other PGA golfers all weighed in. Psychologists, body language experts, public relations gurus, image consultants, product brand representatives, religious leaders and others have offered their take. Then, we’ve heard opinions from the man and woman on the street and read dozens of polls from SportsNation. It has been unrelenting.
And what has been the primary theme of all this analysis? People trying to get inside Tiger’s head to tell us what he was really thinking behind his words. (Tiger was thinking he wanted to be anyplace else…that the people on the other side of the camera were beneath him.) Or what he was feeling. (Tiger was angry…sullen…repentant….arrogant…broken…shamed….) Many others questioned his motivation. (“It’s only because the therapy required it or to keep Elin…it was merely a controlled media event to get him ready for reentry to the Tour….a staged stunt”) They scrutinized his demeanor (“looked like a robot…had tears in his eyes…’) Some wondered why he didn’t use bullet-points on a single sheet rather than a full manuscript of the statement. Others wanted more details or more specific apologies. And on and on and on…
Some of this is the latest example of the “TMZ-ization” of our culture, more evidence of our endless appetite for scandal and celebrity.
But it’s also a symptom of a deeper sickness in our collective soul. We have somehow lost touch with what it means to forgive. We’re more comfortable with sneering cynicism. We lick our lips over another morsel of our distrust of people. We prefer more groveling from our offenders, more grinding shame that keeps us shaking our heads over our coffee for one more day. But we don’t talk nearly as long or with nearly as much energy about forgiving those who fail publicly or who disappoint us. We resist releasing them from our judgment.
In short, the gospel is missing from our culture. I suspect untold numbers of people may not know how to forgive because they have never experienced forgiveness—not just from God, but from the people around them. There are families, friendships, businesses, teams, schools, even whole communities who are defined by the absence of forgiveness. There is anger, grudge-holding, vengeance-taking, bitter speaking and avoidance strategies—but precious little forgiveness.
Those who have been forgiven tend to be forgivers—mostly because there is such peace and joy in forgiveness that it’s hard to imagine living without it. Forgiveness sets us free from guilt over our failures. It sets us free to fail, and still be accepted. Forgiveness is the radical side of love.
We need forgiveness tutors, who will train us to release disappointment and withhold our judgment towards those who fail around us. We need meetings of Cynics Anonymous, where we can name our bitter hearts, learn to break the distrust addiction and begin to notice evidences of God’s grace in the lives around us. We need people who know how to be fully human and allow others the space to be fully human, too-including failures, risks that don’t pan out and “I really blew that” moments.
Who can tutor us in forgiveness towards Tiger—and all the other failures around us? The people who are supposed to best know what forgiveness really is—Jesus’ people! Christ-followers are urged to “put on…compassion, kindness, humility….bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col.4:12-14) Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus offers forgiveness for humans’ ultimate offense or sin against God, which the Bible even calls adultery—a breaking faith with God. That ultimate forgiveness motivates our forgiveness of all sorts of lesser offenses.
Thus, forgiveness and mercy are a key component of Jesus’ gathered family and Jesus’ people everyday—in every relationship. We know the wonder of mercy and the freedom of forgiveness. Maybe if we begin to express that in our Tiger conversations—towards somebody most of us don’t know—it would be easier to forgive when relationships closer to us go south. Maybe we could stop analyzing apologies and simply grant forgiveness and freely give mercy.
And then maybe, just maybe, our society can learn to forgive again. Who knows what might happen if we kill cynicism and release distrust so we can nurture forgiveness and embrace mercy as a way of life?