You’re Only Sorry You Got Caught
Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Genesis 4:13-14
I’d love to say that I once recognized that I had a problem with drugs and that I confessed my problem, entered treatment willingly, and found recovery. The truth is quite different though. I had to be caught and made to face terrible consequences, or I was never going to change. In the disaster, I hurt my wife the most, for which I was terribly remorseful. I told her so. I’m sorry. In her hurt and subsequent anger, she responded, You’re only sorry you got caught. I couldn’t argue. If I’d not been caught, I’d have changed nothing. The only apparent impetus for my apology was that my addiction was dragged into the light. My wife’s point was valid – Regret over painful consequences could make me sorry, but that didn’t constitute repentance and transformation. At that point, I’m sorry simply meant that I felt remorseful for being in that position.
This was Cain’s tone in today’s passage. After killing his own brother, God confronted and sentenced Cain. His career and livelihood were stripped from him as he became an outcast from his family and people. What was Cain’s response? Did he express regret over murdering Abel? No. Rather, he expressed sorrow at the consequences he faced. My punishment is greater than I can bear. He was sorry, but he didn’t ask forgiveness and he didn’t repent. He was just sorry that God punished him. Cain was simply sorry he got caught.
This is often the case initially though. Many I meet in jail admit they wouldn’t have changed if they’d not been caught. It often takes a painful slap in the face to make us wake up to see the evil of what we’re doing. Most of us are sorry at that point. The real question is – Does that I’m sorry translate into any real change? The difference is in what follows.
In my first couple of attempts at recovery, I was sorry for my addiction and its painful consequences, but I soon returned to my addictive behaviors, reinforcing that my apology was empty. You can see why my wife felt my last I’m sorry was meaningless. Those words meant nothing at that point. If I was truly remorseful over my behavior, then I had to do whatever it took to find recovery. My wife didn’t need another apology from me. She needed to see persistent, authentic, and radical repentance.