What's the big deal about how Mr. Clinton says "I'm sorry" for the Monica Lewinsky affair? Some people say apologies aren't needed, others that they make no difference, still others that if only the president would truly apologize, the nation could forgive, forget, and move on.
These views can't all be true. It's worth pondering what apologies by public officials can and cannot do. The question will be with us long after Mr. Clinton is gone, because in a fallen world there will always be misdeeds.
Can do: Apology limits the moral harm of scandal. The original meaning of "scandal" isn't "titillating media circus," but "stumbling block"-something that causes us to fall. Perjury and adultery by politicians are scandalous not because they give politicians a bad name, but because they give perjury and adultery a good one. You can be sure that liars and philanderers across the nation are now using the president as their excuse. How can our present moral bleeding be stanched? The best way is if the one who is causing it stops in his tracks and repents of his bad example. Public repentance acknowledges the moral facts that the deed itself denied.
Cannot do: Apology cannot fully neutralize the harm already done. Some things in life are irreversible. You can't restore lost virginity, put lost blood back into a wound, or unsay lost words as though they were never spoken. God does bring good from repented evil, but it is not the same as the old good that was broken; even heaven will not be Eden, but something new. When we apologize, we put an end to our bad example, but we cannot mend all the harm it did while it was going on. Some cynicism persists, some ideals stay broken, some people who followed us off the path will never get onto it again. Read More.