Ever been in a situation where someone said sorry and then just as you breathed a sigh of relief and were ready to forgive and forget, they added the word ‘but’?
I’m sorry I shouted at you (pause) but you made me so angry.
I’m sorry I pushed you (pause) but you were really annoying me.
It’s called a ‘but apology’ and in a nanosecond, the extraordinary power of the word ‘sorry’ is suddenly written off by the unexpected placement of a three-letter conjunction, ‘but’. The person apologised but in reality they were really saying, ‘it’s your fault’
Since the horrific terrorist attack on Israel at the weekend I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of ‘buts’. While I don’t normally talk online about politics, everywhere you look at the moment, the internet is bitterly divided on this one issue, but over and over there it is…’but’.
‘It’s awful that people are being murdered (pause) but…’
I think it’s terrible (pause) but…
Just like a ‘but apology’, one word with three letters changes everything. And all of a sudden, subtly, the suffering of an entire country of people is negated by that little word ‘but’ which implies that well, maybe they deserved it.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, social media was awash with a sea of blue and yellow, monuments all over the world were lit up and every church and small group was fundraising, sending supplies and uniting together to support the refugees.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is incredibly complex and goes back generations with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ on both sides but there was something in most people that (quite rightly) simply couldn’t bear to see innocent people suffer.
But with Israel it seems different. It’s a similarly complex conflict also going back centuries but this time there are few lit up monuments, no ‘urgent appeals’ being launched by charities, no blue flags being hoisted over buildings, no Facebook profile pictures being turned to blue and white and an eerie silence where there should have been the rattling of collection tins.
Every conflict in the world is complex and often rooted in cultural and religious history that few of us can understand. The media often reduces these battles down to ‘good guy versus bad guy’ but if you dig deep enough you’ll often find an uncomfortable history of western nations meddling or powerful political lobbying to manoevere the ‘right person’ into power. There are no innocent nations.
The root of these conflicts is not the obvious things like ethnicity or land but actually it’s the source of all human evil – sin, pride and greed. And the people who suffer most are usually the innocent civilians who get caught up in the wickedness and the jostling for power or money – a corruption that runs through every political system.
When ordinary people are gunned down at a festival or have their homes blown to smithereens, there is no ‘but’. There is no justification, no ‘well if only they’d not done X, Y or Z’. And if you hear yourself saying ‘but’ on this one conflict but not on others, I think it’s definitely worth asking why.
As a Christian, ‘but’ isn’t a word I want to tag on to any of my sentences. The Bible is a book full of epic wars and battles, of righteousness prevailing over injustice but through it all runs an incredible golden thread of a faithful, gracious, forgiving God who tells us to pray for those who persecute us, to pray ‘for the peace of Jerusalem’, to bless those who curse us. We’re not told to find excuses for evil or to try to justify the wickedness of others, instead we’re told to comfort those who mourn, to pray, to love, to use words of peace not apportion blame.
God alone is the judge and ‘but’ is a word that does not belong to me.