1 Kings 22:1-40
What is the first thing we must do in order to make an apology?
The answer is not to humble yourself. Before that even occurs, we must be wrong. One of the most important realizations we can make is that our track record on being right is probably a lot less consistent than what we believe it is.
This may sound like a “Well, duh” statement, but it is actually a big issue. How many celebrity apologies that say something like, “If I have offended anyone…”? Every time I hear one of these I think, “Dude, you did. Fess up.”
In other words, “I do not admit to being wrong, but if anyone thinks I am…” Yeah, you might as well tell your audience, “You are the mistaken ones, but I’m offering you a way out.”
In simple terms, we have lost the ability to be wrong. And when we lose the ability to be wrong, we lose the opportunity to seek forgiveness.
What it Means to Be Wrong
Kathryn Schulz has an outstanding presentation called, “On Being Wrong,” in which she talks about this. (You can find it at http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong).
AT the beginning of her talk, she asked her audience, “How does it feel—emotionally—how does it feel to be wrong?”
Audience members answered, “Dreadful,” “Thumbs down,” and “Embarrassing.”
Then she dropped the bomb. She said, “Thank you, these are great answers, but they’re answers to a different question. You guys are answering the question, ‘How does it feel to realize you are wrong?’” In order to illustrate being wrong, she mentions the Loony Tunes Road Runner cartoons, where the coyote runs off the cliff.
“When we’re wrong about something—not when we realize it, but before that—we’re like that coyote after he’s gone off the cliff and before he looks down. You know, we’re already wrong, we’re already in trouble, but we feel like we’re on solid ground. [Being wrong] feels like being right.”
This is why it is so difficult to apologize. We do not know we are wrong. 1 Kings 22 records a case like this. It is a tragic passage.
First, however, a little background. After King Solomon dies in the ninth BC, the nation of Israel falls into civil war. The northern region secedes from the tribe of Judah. From 1 Kings 13 on, they become known as Israel. Meanwhile, the tribe of Judah to the south becomes the nation of Judah. For most of their history, they remain adversaries.
In 2 Kings, Ahab, one of the last kings of Old Testament Israel, has been at war with Syria for three years. In order to leverage the battle, he draws a treaty with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, so that they can defeat Syria together.
When Jehoshaphat arrives at the meeting, he asks what appears to be a simple request. “Inquire first for the word of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5).
Ahab gathers his 400 court prophets, and they base their collective analysis on the prior battles. For two years, Ahab has beaten the odds and held off Syria. Now, with Judah as an ally, the third attempt is sure to work. Ahab’s prophets are unanimous. “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hands of the king” (1 Kings 22:6).
After all, 400 prophets can’t be wrong. Or can they?
Truth or Consequences
Jehoshaphat remains unconvinced and asks if Ahab has anyone else who can weigh in on the issue. Ahab’s reply hints at where the story is about to go. “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8).
Ahab’s words are code for, “I don’t like him because he always tells the truth.”
Jehoshaphat insists that Ahab summon Micaiah, who is several days away. While the two kings wait for the messenger to return with Micaiah, Ahab’s prophets repeat their optimistic prognosis. One fashions a pair of horns and says, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed’” (1 Kings 22:11).
Even the messenger who is sent to bring Micaiah joins the crowd. When he summons the prophet, he tells him, “Let your word be like the word of [the prophets], and speak favorably” (1 Kings 22:13).
Right. Pile up enough cheerful words, and the prognosis might come true.
When We Can’t be Wrong
When Micaiah arrives, his first words mock the other prophets. “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Kings 22:16).
Ahab counters, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22:16).
Upon hearing this, Micaiah replies with the truth. The message is not pretty. “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace’” (1 Kings 22:17). In other words, the battle will end in defeat.
Upon hearing this, Ahab does a 180. He tells Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (1 Kings 22:18).
Isn’t that interesting? Ahab knows in his heart he is wrong, but he is unable to accept the fact. Like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, he runs full speed for the cliff.
Ultimately, Ahab dies in battle when a random bow shot strikes him between the plates in his armor.
Missing What went Wrong
Quite simply, neither Ahab nor any of the 400 prophets knew how to be wrong. No one said, “Maybe we need to listen to the one man who refuses to submit to majority opinion.” And because of that, Ahab dies.
Apology and Being Wrong
What does this have to do with apology?
In order to apologize, I must be ready to face my wrong. I have to be ready to admit, “I was wrong,” rather than hedging my bets with the words, “If I was wrong…” Until we learn how to do this, we will never apologize. If I can, the benefits are endless.
- If I know how to be wrong, I can be open to correction.
- If I know how to be wrong, I can admit my error.
- If I know how to be wrong, I can seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
It is when I cannot be wrong that I shut myself out of any of the blessings that arise from apology.
So how do I know when I am wrong?
The answer is almost completely counterintuitive. When everything appears to be going right because of my superb competence, that is the time to stop and evaluate my thinking. Likely, I have overstepped the cliff without realizing it. When My self-confidence soars, it is time to see what I have done to hurt someone else.
Next month, “How to Apologize”
 All quotes from Kathryn Schulz, “On Being Wrong” transcript, http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html, accessed July 1, 2011.