A wise pastor once told me to always have someone to blame. He told me that when I become pastor, always have a secretary to blame. Little did I know he told our secretary to always have a pastor to blame. He was joking, of course. At least I think he was.
The blame game and the inability to take responsibility is as old as creation. You remember Adam and Eve: God asked them why they ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. It seems to be in our human genome.
Our society does not help; in fact, it encourages us to alleviate responsibility and place blame. When the earthquake hit Japan several years ago, I was awestruck to find that it only took 24 hours for the media to try and find someone to blame. I’m still not sure how a person can be blamed for a natural disaster.
Then there is the housing crisis that led to the Great Recession: Do we blame risky banks, predatory lenders, crafty investors, Wall Street, the President (then and now), consumers, Congress, or those evil shareholders?
A good lot of us try not to play this little game. Many hard-working Christians try to stay out of trouble and take responsibility for their actions. We know it is too easy to sin, so we try hard not to displease God. “Lead us not into temptation,” we ask God, “because we can find it easily ourselves.”
One story in the Bible that shows the vast consequences of sin and the ripple effect that occurs when one does not take responsibility is David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).
You know the story: David went for a walk one evening and spotted beautiful Bathsheba. She was married to warrior Uriah, but David had a relationship with her anyway. She became pregnant.
In order to avoid a political scandal, David tried to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba to cover up the affair. He did not comply, and so David orchestrated Uriah’s death in a doomed battle.
David married Bathsheba and all seemed well until God called David on it and determined to bring strife to David’s household as a consequence for his sin. Despite his repentance, David’s irresponsibility led to a cascading spiral of fateful events.
For one, David’s sin undermined his very humanity, and one sin led to another. St. Irenaeus once said that the glory of God was a person fully alive. That means that the ache of sin makes us less human and puts us in the path of death’s darkness. “The waves of death,” David prayed to God well after his affair, “encompassed me” (2 Sam. 22:5).
Also, David abused his power and caused the degradation of an entire community, especially among those who were most vulnerable. Back then, women were treated like property, and David’s choice to simply take ownership of her denied her a voice of empowerment. Throughout the drama, she remains powerless and passive. She can only offer a declaration, “I am pregnant,” and lamentation (11:26).
Uriah, another victim of David’s abuse of power, faithfully and loyally serves the king as a soldier but is robbed of life. David and Bathsheba’s baby follow suit, and that precious innocent life became the third victim in this story.
Other victims included Joab, David’s general, and a large portion of Joab’s army. Joab had a reputation of being a successful, strategic commander. That David asked Joab to put Uriah in a vulnerable position meant that Joab had to put an entire company of men, Uriah included, in harm’s way. Surely, this would have been the talk within the military camp later that night as many would have seen this as a major blunder on Joab’s part.
David’s story ultimately teaches us that when we fail to take responsibility and place blame, we deny forgiveness and the grief that leads to healing and hope. If we are too busy blaming one another, the work of grief and the long reach of reconciliation can not take root. Abuse of power teeters back and forth in a whirlwind of irresponsibility.
As we recognize our own need for repentance and confession for those “sins that so easily enslave us,” let us recognize the deep need to take responsibility when we can, help change those things that we can change, and trust God in areas in which we have but little power.