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by Robert M. Smith

Chapter 12 - The Blame Game


Chapter 12 - The Blame Game

by Robert M. Smith

When I cite the name Seung-Hui Cho to you a whole bevy of images should flood your mind, provided that this name is still remembered by the time this chapter is published. This is the name of the young man who went on a murderous rampage at Virginia Tech University in April of 2006. The disturbing pieces of his life and the tragic end of many of his victims were front-page news for weeks as this nightmare unfolded. Apparently, after methodically calculating this horrendous event, he shot a few students in one dormitory and an hour or so later, on another part of the campus, killed dozens more people. In that space between these planned assassinations he had the wherewithal and the audacity to make a video of himself. He wanted to tell the world why he committed this atrocity, and the first words out of his mouth were both ominous and abhorrent. He was obviously accepting no responsibility, no guilt and no remorse for this heinous crime because he had enough justification, in his mind, for this slaughter: “You made me do this!” With the mere flip of a switch, the squeeze of a trigger, the words of his lips, from the dementia of his mind, came this absolution for his actions. We shudder to hear of such things and yet we know where this was coming from, don’t we?

One of the major rituals of spring in North America, particularly for those who appreciate sports, is the famed Masters Golf Championship in Augusta, Georgia. From around the world the very best golfers gather to compete against each other for what is often believed to be the ultimate title in the world of golf. The British Open Championship may be more prestigious because of its history but “The Masters” has become the standard of excellence by which all other titles are measured. As such, there is a great deal of pressure placed upon every participant. Some are expected to excel and others are expected to supply copious amounts of competition. Stress runs rampant.

In the spring of 2006 I tried to catch as much coverage of this tournament as possible. The field was one of the very best imaginable and I was anticipating something special. As a lover of the technical precision required to produce just one successful swing of a golf club, I was glued to the TV set, especially when the better players were being shown. On one particular occasion, on a fairway that I do not remember, Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was about to take a second shot – an approach shot – to one of the tricky greens at Augusta. There was a small pond to the left of the putting surface that must be avoided and if the perfect shot could be made it would be possible to “run the ball up” quite a ways onto the green. Mr Woods conferred with his caddie [Steve Williams] and then took his shot. The ball sailed toward the front of the green but it did not “run” as much as he had hoped. During the ensuing tirade, where Eldrick raged at his caddie and the imperfection of the shot, the television camera and the sound crew had to turn away and turn off. All of the pressure to perform came pouring out in a moment of frustration and anger to blame anyone remotely associated with that result … a shot that, by the way, I would have been delighted to make! Eldrick physically executed the shot but Steve was psychologically and verbally executed for the shot. And we know where this was coming from, don’t we?

Every Christian must admit that times of listlessness, tension and lethargy creep into each life and make even the most ardent of disciples weary. Christianity, by definition of our Lord Jesus Christ, will never be a great “bed of roses” (Matt 7:13-14) but we must balance this thought with the knowledge that, through Jesus, the difficulties of this life can be minimized and even eliminated (Jn 16:33). From this we have the thought that life will never be easy and yet it should not overwhelm the believer either. From the “low blow” that someone may deliver to our egos to the “sleep walk” that plagues us daily the spiritual struggle is alive and well and living in North America. This malaise is merely the tip of the iceberg however. In the church, with our ups and downs, we can be found succumbing to the pressure of expectations – both, from others and from ourselves – and lash out from our own sweltering mediocrity to find the cool relief of blaming someone or something else for our troubles. From slandering other believers, to gossiping about others, and complaining about circumstances, we turn all of it into the blame game. We tend to think of our own spiritual droughts as being the product of external stimuli rather than the direct result of our own negligence. It is often called “passing the buck”. This spiritual disease is very addictive and it is highly contagious as well.

In order to comprehend what we are dealing with, I want to take you all the way back to where the blame game first started:

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:6-13 NKJV)

If this doesn’t sound like two kids who were caught red-handed, I don’t know what does! This account, so perfectly and so succinctly, defines the human condition impeccably. Adam and Eve were created innocent but in a moment of unrestrained desire they chose to forego the benefits of a virtuous relationship with God for the invalid promise of something better. Like all mankind they were more susceptible to the lie than to the truth, but unlike the rest of us they did not know what sin was until they had embraced it. They had never known what it was to be out of fellowship with God and so they could not defend themselves when attacked from that angle. Left to themselves, they were “sitting ducks” to the devil who has always longed to usurp God and destroy the work of His hands. On the other hand, they weren’t supposed to defend themselves. At the first sign of trouble or doubt they were to run to God for answers and protection. But Adam and Eve disobeyed God and immediately realized their guilt … their innocence had died at the hands of their new-found knowledge [of good and evil]. It is such a tremendous pity that there exists some forms of knowledge that destroy rather than build up innocence and even faith (1 Tim 6:20-21).

In desperation to avoid the consequences of their actions Adam and Eve began to throw blame around cheaply. He said, “She made me do this!’ and she said “It made me do this!” To cover up their sin they began to stockpile even more guilt. Many of us look at them in disgust but the truth is that we all do the very same things on a regular basis. Casting dispersions upon others for our own inadequacies and negligence is a sickness that we can’t seem to shake … and we can’t rid ourselves of it because it is sin. No man is capable of dealing with that little three-letter word because it comes from another realm of existence; no aspect of it can be affected in this material universe because it is a parasite from the spiritual world. Being so completely powerless before it therefore, the sin of throwing guilt at one another [blame] has been heretofore our absolutely best attempt at dealing with it. Blame is born of a complaining spirit that refuses to take responsibility for its own failures: “If I am always right – and I am indeed seldom wrong – then my problems are somebody else’s fault.” With that attitude, far too many believers, in direct contravention to our Lord’s commandment to “love one another”, turn upon each other.

A couple of years ago I had the distinct privilege of attending a conference at the Copp’s Coloseum in Hamilton, Ontario. It was the very first “downpour” conference organized by Pastor James MacDonald of Chicago. In addition to hearing the dynamic messages presented by Pastor MacDonald I had the unique opportunity of hearing a most blessed and spiritually-gifted woman who had joined him and others that weekend. Her name was Beth Moore. I had heard of this woman’s impeccable reputation as an expositor of God’s Word and, though she conceded that she would rather be preaching to “her girls” instead of this unnerving mixed crowd, she delivered a message for the ages. By utilizing just two significant words as the very core of her presentation she administered a knockout punch to the North American Evangelical cancers of mediocrity and indolence. So significant was her sermon to this chapter on the “blame game” I would be extremely remiss to leave those two words unstated. Her topic was about taking responsibility for one’s spiritual life and health … and with all the emphasis that her slight frame could muster Beth boldly declared what we all desperately needed to hear: “Own it!” With those miniscule words she captured the dilemma of man and the beginning of a tremendous cure. When we quit looking elsewhere in that never-ending battle with ourselves and when we start to show some spiritual backbone and accountability our redemption and recovery will be nigh. When we hear in that tiny phrase the same message of the prophet Nathan – “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam 12:7) – we shall, as king David did, soon recover.

So, upon learning this, let’s have a closer look at some of the nuances of the blame game before concluding with some solutions. There are five aspects of this blame game that deserve our attention and are most certainly useful in the dismantling of it also.

1) The blame game is primarily the result of unrestrained pride.

We don’t usually think of it in these terms but it is indeed the product of an unchecked ego. Every time one looks out at other persons and things to incriminate them while simultaneously looking inward with pity, full-blown selfishness is the cause. At times, some Christians even resort to the “weaker brother” syndrome for comfort: this is when an offended party will finally stoop to calling his or her self the weaker, more impressionable, more sensitive believer who is in need of more accommodation. We should not misunderstand the Scriptures when it makes concessions for truly weaker souls (Rom 14:21; 1 Cor 8:11-13) … they do not maintain that such weakness is desirable, that it should be the norm for disciples of Christ, or that it should be utilized for one’s own benefit. The Apostle Paul, when writing Rom 14:1 [and 1 Cor 10:29b-30 also], eliminates this easy excuse by revealing “As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.” (RSV). We are called to check the abuse of Christian liberty in ourselves, never in others. We are to avoid the spoiled brat mentality that I saw on a bumper sticker while driving through North Carolina a year ago. The driver had the nerve that most of us lack - and yet what most of us truly believe – by placing this on his car: “It’s all about me!” When all of life on earth revolves around any one of us we will suddenly be highly susceptible to the negative power of the blame game.

2) The blame game is the equivalent of joining forces with the devil.

When you or I want to find out who is the worst practitioner of the blame game we need only turn to the pages of Scripture. In Rev 12:10 [“Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”] we are told about the most finger-pointing individual who ever lived. And whenever we adopt his practices by accusing others for our own problems we are, in fact not just in theory, becoming an ally of the devil. If this singular thought was given more “air-time” in all churches I dare say that there would be a “fellowship awakening” across this land that would shake the very foundations of this country.

3) The blame game is tantamount to declaring “You’re in my way! Move! Now!”

If you have spent even the slightest amount of time watching a football game or a hockey game you might possibly have seen this concept in action. There have been moments when a member of one team, on his way to his team’s bench, crosses paths with an opponent, also on his way to his team’s bench. If within arm’s length of each other, one might see them lash-out at each other. This “Outta my way” philosophy is often considered the worthy mentality of a true warrior. By shooting at anything that comes across his bow, this fellow, overloaded with testosterone and eager to prove it, will attack anything that moves if it does not possess his “home team” colours.

Now translate that to the Christian life. Many walk around with a “Christian comfort zone”. This self-induced, self-maintained and self-sustaining force-field is a personal standard composed of all sorts of religious bric-a-brac picked up over the years; much of it without Biblical foundation. Immersing ourselves and surrounding ourselves with these notions, religious terms and concepts is like putting up a sign in our own space: “Enter at your own risk!” or “Boat-rocking prohibited!” or “Trespassers will be shot on sight!” By majoring on many minors this is what I term “dogmatic death” and may God help the hapless soul that stumbles into this camp!

4) The blame game is ungodliness.

In complete opposition to the Lord’s prayer the practitioners of this game possess an unforgiving spirit and dwell in a graceless world with a merciless attitude. I could not write anything more offensive than that if I tried! And everything about that sentence is true … painfully true. Everything about that sentence is also contradictory to everything God stands for. I will be expanding on this momentarily.

5) The blame game equals discontentment and malcontentment.

This game is not merely a deflection of guilt and responsibility, it comes wrapped in disrespect and contempt for other people and things. There is precious little difference between complaining about people and complaining about circumstances. Like the wandering Israelites in the wilderness, who whined over everything that came their way, blaming circumstances is actually blaming God Who happens to be the Author of circumstance! In our ignorance we tend to think of our own spiritual mediocrity as being the product of external stimuli rather than the result of our own negligence. So we start to fall apart spiritually on two fronts: first, we fail to see God in the midst of negative experiences as Philip Yancey writes, “When tragedy strikes, we too will be trapped in a limited point of view. Like Job, we will be tempted to blame God and see Him as the enemy. Job asked God poignantly, ‘Does it please You to oppress me, to spurn the work of Your hands?’ (10:3). The view behind the curtain in chapters 1-2 reveals that Job was being exalted, not spurned. God was letting His own reputation ride on the response of a single human being. At the time when Job felt most abandoned, at that very time God was giving him personal, almost microscopic scrutiny. God seemed absent; in one sense God had never been more present.”[1]

And secondly, armed with this abstraction we often overemphasize our own spiritual “rights” while minimizing everyone else’s: that is, we become more concerned over our personal “rights” [what we think we deserve] than our personal “wrongs” [what we have done against others]. We are quickly offended by the miniscule, the trivial and the inadvertent when our egos are excessive and disproportionate to that of a true follower of Christ. We should be imitating our King Jesus not king Ahab who, in 1 Kings 21, sulked over a piece of land owned by Naboth. Ahab wanted it for a vegetable garden but it belonged to someone else. Jezebel – the personification of the blame game here - stepped in to solve Ahab’s problem by killing Naboth. And that is what happens with the blame game: it goes from a personal slight to hatred … or, in Ahab’s case, from sulking and selfishness to murder!

In summation, the blame game is completely without merit and yet we play it perpetually. The blame game denies both our own responsibility and the worth of other people, things and events. The blame game dupes us into thinking too much of ourselves and too little of others. The blame game is a self-hypnotic state as well as a self-maintained attitude … once you are in it you could be a captive for life. To break its power we must give up on our own interests which include our wills, our self-importance, our self-reliance and the all-important image we try to create in the minds of others. In other words, we must lose our lives here in order to keep them for eternity.

For the solution to this dilemma we must go to the cross of Calvary; not as by some abstruse principle but quite literally. We will find all we need in Luke chapter 23; the solution to playing the blame game with people and the solution to playing the blame game with circumstances.

Luke 23:34 NKJV “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”

(the solution to playing the blame game with people)

Even when people are wrong and deserving of blame for offending us, we – like Jesus – are to be forgiving. Over the years and in our North American arrogance we have slipped away from the real issues of life. Thinking that real life is all about who is right and who is wrong in interpersonal affairs, and even in theological affairs, we have forgotten about the very heart of the gospel that Jesus delivered to us: it’s all about who is forgiven! “Christianity will do you good” writes C.S. Lewis, “…It will teach you that in fact you can’t be ‘good’ (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that a ‘decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made.”[2] We go through life with this grand humanistic chip on our shoulders. When we got “saved” we simply packed it up with all the other curios from our former unregenerate life and then dropped it into place, thinking that it fit quite nicely. But morality was a tool to point out our own inadequacy before God … it was not designed to be the device by which we go around molding everything and everyone else into our own moral image! Right versus wrong is God’s business. When He wants us to do something about it in our own life He will let us know without doubt. Till then our business is to receive the forgiveness of God and “to pass it on”, as the famed campfire song goes.

Stephen, following perfectly in the steps of his Lord and Saviour, uttered the same words at his death in Acts 7:60. Our main problem with this is that we leave Christ and the forgiveness He offers out of our lives, even though we are Christians [this is entirely possible and it can be witnessed in some of the misery that has passed-off as “Christian”], and consequently keep it from the lives of others. Not knowing much about forgiveness keeps us from sharing it with others … one inescapably always leading to the other.

What’s more is that blame gets us absolutely nowhere with God. Do you recall our Lord’s response to Martha when she complained about Mary (Lk 10:41-42)? Poor Martha was left to worry and fret over many things, and although she was doing a worthy and dedicated job of trimming the house and fussing over the meal, she harboured resentment toward her sister. It all came out in the frustration she brought to Jesus but He did not respond in the way she had expected. Although He loved her, her brother and her sister, He did not condone her attitude and explained why. Martha was doing good things but Mary chose the best thing, the “needful” (RSV) thing. When she laid blame at the feet of Christ, Martha was looking for a solution that would reflect back to herself, in favour of her perspective, geared toward her needs, applied to her “rights”. And that didn’t go over well with God.

At this point we must be very careful not to overlook wrong doing. Blame can have value under certain circumstances and that is when the solution to the wrong we have detected has nothing to do with our own satisfaction or self-interests. It can have value when Christ is introduced as the solution to the problem. This is a point that we seldom arrive at when we sling blame around but it was not so with many of our Lord’s disciples. It would do us well to examine the “blame” expressed in Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost, most of Paul’s presentations to the Gentiles and even our Lord’s confrontations with the Sanhedrin. The blame attached to those incidents is considerably different than the narcissistic grievances that frequently flow from the lips of the “me generation”. When blame is actually a part of the conviction of the Holy Spirit it has merit … but only then.

Luke 23:46 NKJV     “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’”

(the solution to playing the blame game with circumstances)

Dissatisfaction is the fuel that drives the spiritual blame game. It is like forming a “union” against God’s administration … and the sole motivation behind any union is discontentment. Without dissidence it has no reason to exist.

As we look at Scripture we find a completely different perspective rising from true believers. Christ has entered the lives of true believers to change them from within, not merely save them from without. With this in mind, how then should we approach circumstantial misfortune? How did the Apostle Paul receive his list of difficulties? [A list that most men would shrink away from: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:24-28 NKJV)] He was a changed man and states boldly the effects of that change throughout his epistles, and none more profoundly than in the words of Phil 4:10-13, where he defines the antithesis of blaming his circumstances, and subsequently blaming God by association: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

If anyone had the opportunity and the justification for playing the blame game, it was the Apostle Paul. He went through much suffering just as he was forewarned (Acts 9:15-16). We find that his ongoing care for the church was a part of those sufferings as well (Phil 4:15; 2 Cor 11:28). He could have written-off all these things maintaining that it simply wasn’t worth the effort. He could have walked away out of fear that the task was too massive and that the personal cost was too great, like we often do. Recklessly tossing blame around stems from fear as much as from anger and frustration … and there was no fear in Paul … and he persistently encouraged others to follow his example. One can see the results of his guidance and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Heb 10:32-34. Followers of Christ in the early years of the church learned to have no fear of personal loss – again, another antithesis of the blame game – because they knew what they already possessed spiritually. I dare say that we, of the twenty-first century are usually the other way round. We cherish our personal material and space while eschewing the needs and worth of corporate spirituality, as John White intimates in his description of the spirit of generosity [as opposed to the spirit of deprivation] resident in the New Testament church: “Many scholars suggest that the generous sharing in Jerusalem was occasioned by the hardship of those converts who had come from a great distance for the feast and who had stayed on. Others point to the probable poverty of even local converts. The action of the Jerusalem church is often criticized by modern Christians who feel that the subsequent appeals to other churches would not have been necessary had the rash generosity of the wealthier Christians been more temperate. It would have been better, they feel, to have been less generous and to have encouraged more industry.

Yet is it not possible that we fear having to share our own resources with Christians in need? Where in the modern world do we find the kind of love and generosity which makes church members sell homes and cars that the hardships of other Christians might be met? Are there no local economic hardships among God’s people? If there is no suggestion that the Jerusalem pattern should become universal, neither do the Epistles utter a breath of criticism of the Jerusalem church. When funds are being raised across Asia Minor and Europe to continue to help the Jerusalem poor, it seems to have occurred to no one to blame the situation on economic mismanagement.”[3]

By doing the very thing – not merely saying it – that Jesus Christ did on the cross blame and its vile offspring weren’t a part of Paul’s life or of the lives of early church members. In the midst of the very worst, surrender to God granted them the very best. We are no different than Paul. His resources are ours as well. So this tragic game, full of harm and sorrow, can end here and now if we really want it to.

[1] Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1999, Page 63

[2] C. S. Lewis, God in the dock, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1970, Page 112

[3] John White, The Golden Cow, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, 1979, Page 42

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