Why Admit a Mistake?
IT WAS one of the most unusual encounters in military history. An unarmed envoy turned back 400 battle-hardened soldiers bent on avenging an insult. After hearing the entreaties of just one brave woman, the leader of those men abandoned his mission.
That leader was David, who later became Israel’s king. He listened to the woman Abigail because he wished to please God. When she tactfully showed him that taking vengeance on her husband, Nabal, would result in bloodguilt, David exclaimed: “Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel, who has sent you this day to meet me! And blessed be your sensibleness, and blessed be you who have restrained me this day from entering into bloodguilt and having my own hand come to my salvation.” David was grateful that God used Abigail to keep him from making a grave mistake.—1 Samuel 25:9-35.
In a psalm, David asked: “Mistakes—who can discern?” (Psalm 19:12) Like him, we may not be aware of our mistakes unless someone points them out to us. On other occasions unpleasant consequences force us to realize that we have been mistaken, unwise, or unkind.
No Cause for Despair
Though all of us make mistakes, these need not be a cause for despair. Diplomat Edward John Phelps observed: “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” And the Christian disciple James said: “We all stumble many times.” (James 3:2) Would a child learn to walk without ever stumbling? No, for a child learns from mistakes and keeps on trying until balance is achieved.
To lead balanced lives, we also need to learn from our mistakes and those of others. Since the Bible relates the experiences of many whose circumstances may mirror our own, we can be helped to avoid making the same mistakes that they made. What, then, can we learn from their mistakes?
Humility a Vital Quality
One lesson is that God does not condemn all who make mistakes but judges only those refusing to rectify them if possible. Israel’s King Saul disobeyed Jehovah’s instructions about the annihilation of the Amalekites. When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul first minimized matters and then tried to blame others. He was more concerned about losing face before his men than righting the wrong. Hence, ‘Jehovah rejected him as king.’—1 Samuel 15:20-23, 30.
Though Saul’s successor, David, made serious mistakes, he was forgiven because he humbly accepted counsel and discipline. David’s humility moved him to heed the words of Abigail. His troops were poised for battle. Yet, in front of his men, David admitted that he had made a rash decision. Throughout his life, such humility helped David to seek forgiveness and correct his steps.
Humility also moves Jehovah’s servants to rectify thoughtless remarks. During a hearing before the Sanhedrin, the high priest ordered that Paul be slapped. The apostle retorted: “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall.” (Acts 23:3) Perhaps because of poor eyesight, Paul did not realize who he was addressing until bystanders asked: “Are you reviling the high priest of God?” At that, Paul immediately acknowledged his mistake, saying: “Brothers, I did not know he was high priest. For it is written, ‘You must not speak injuriously of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:4, 5; Exodus 22:28) Yes, Paul humbly admitted his mistake.
They Admitted Mistakes
The Bible also shows that some changed their mistaken way of thinking. For instance, consider the psalmist Asaph. Because wicked people seemed to fare well, he said: “Surely it is in vain that I have cleansed my heart.” But Asaph came to his senses after going to Jehovah’s house and meditating on the benefits of pure worship. Moreover, he admitted his mistake in Psalm 73.
Jonah also allowed wrong thinking to cloud his viewpoint. After preaching in Nineveh, he was concerned about personal vindication instead of the sparing of that city’s inhabitants. Jonah was displeased when Jehovah did not punish the Ninevites in spite of their repentance, but God corrected him. Jonah came to realize that his viewpoint was mistaken, for the Bible book bearing his name honestly acknowledges his mistakes.—Jonah 3:10–4:11.
Mistakenly assuming that Jehovah God, not Satan the Devil, was causing his distress, the man Job tried to prove that he did not deserve his sufferings. He was unaware of the greater issue: Would God’s servants remain loyal to him under test? (Job 1:9-12) After Elihu and then Jehovah helped Job to see his mistake, he admitted: “I talked, but I was not understanding . . . That is why I make a retraction, and I do repent in dust and ashes.”—Job 42:3, 6.
Admitting mistakes helps us to maintain a good relationship with God. As the foregoing examples show, he will not condemn us for our mistakes if we admit them and do what we can to rectify wrong thinking, thoughtless words, or foolhardy actions. How can we apply this knowledge?
Doing Something About Our Mistakes
Humbly acknowledging a mistake and doing something about it can strengthen family ties. For instance, perhaps because of fatigue or annoyance, a parent may have been rather harsh in disciplining his child. Refusal to correct this mistake can have bad effects. Accordingly, the apostle Paul wrote: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”—Ephesians 6:4.
A young Christian named Paul warmly recalls: “Dad always apologized if he felt that he had overreacted. That helped me to respect him.” Whether an apology is necessary in a particular situation is something for personal decision. Nevertheless, apologies need to be followed by earnest efforts to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
What if a husband or a wife makes a mistake that causes distress? Frank admission, a heartfelt apology, and a forgiving spirit will help to maintain their loving relationship. (Ephesians 5:33; Colossians 3:13) Jesús, a Spanish man of strong temperament in his 50’s, is not too proud to apologize to his wife, Albina. “We have the custom of apologizing when we offend each other,” she says. “This helps us to put up with each other in love.”
When an Elder Makes a Mistake
Admitting mistakes and making sincere apologies will also help Christian elders to work together harmoniously and ‘show honor to one another.’ (Romans 12:10) An elder may be reluctant to admit a mistake because he fears that this will undermine his authority in the congregation. However, trying to justify, ignore, or minimize a mistake is much more likely to cause others to lose confidence in his oversight. A mature brother who humbly apologizes, perhaps for some thoughtless remark, earns the respect of others.
Fernando, an elder in Spain, recalls an occasion when a circuit overseer presiding over a large gathering of elders made an inaccurate statement about how a meeting should be conducted. When a brother respectfully corrected what he had said, the circuit overseer immediately acknowledged that he had been mistaken. Fernando recalls: “When I saw him admit his mistake in front of all those elders, it impressed me greatly. I respected him a lot more after that apology. His example taught me how important it is to recognize my own shortcomings.”
Be Quick to Admit a Mistake
An apology is usually appreciated, especially if made quickly. In fact, the sooner we admit a mistake the better. To illustrate: On October 31, 1992, Pope John Paul II admitted that the Inquisition had acted “mistakenly” 360 years ago in punishing Galileo for asserting that the earth is not the center of the universe. Yet, postponing an apology for such a long time tends to diminish its value.
The same is true in personal relationships. A quick apology can heal a wound caused by an unkind word or deed. Jesus urged us not to delay in making peace, saying: “If . . . you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.” (Matthew 5:23, 24) Often, restoring peaceful relations simply requires admitting that we handled matters wrongly and asking forgiveness. The longer we wait to do this, the more difficult it becomes.
Happy to Admit Mistakes
As the examples of Saul and David illustrate, the way we handle our mistakes can affect our lives. Saul stubbornly resisted counsel, and his mistakes multiplied, eventually culminating in his death in God’s disfavor. Despite David’s mistakes and sins, however, he repentantly accepted correction and remained faithful to Jehovah. (Compare Psalm 32:3-5.) Is that not our desire?
The greatest reward for admitting and rectifying a mistake or repenting of sin is knowing that it has been forgiven by God. “Happy is the one . . . whose sin is covered,” said David. “Happy is the man to whose account Jehovah does not put error.” (Psalm 32:1, 2) How wise it is, then, to admit a mistake!
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Would a child learn to walk without ever stumbling?