Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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May 7, 2017

"Game of Blame"

Text:Genesis 3:1-13

1 John 1:5-10

            There was once a manager of a minor league baseball team which was on a lengthy losing streak. He identified the center fielder as the root of the team’s problems. At one exhibition game, the manager became so frustrated and disgusted that he ordered his centerfielder to the dugout and assumed the position himself. The first ball that was hit into centerfield took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth.

The next one was a pop fly which he lost in the glare of the sun until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a blistering line drive that he charged with outstretched arms. Unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked him in the eye. Furious, he stomped back to the dugout – bruised and battered -- grabbed the centerfielder by the uniform, and shouted, “You idiot! You’ve got centerfield so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!”

            Doesn’t it seem we’re always looking for somewhere to throw the blame, or to point the finger? We even have an old word to which we’ve assigned a new meaning: deflection. This happened to me because he didn’t do what he was supposed to do! The root of my problem is that she did what she wasn’t supposed to! I have this mess, and it’s all because of him, or her, or it……! But dare suggest that the one pointing the finger or deflecting blame take a look squarely at him or herself to see if any responsibility lies there, you yourself may become their next object of blame, or the victim of an angry Tweet or Facebook post. The fact is, most of us find it very difficult to own up as it were; to accept responsibility for our problem, or our situation, or our circumstance. It’s so much easier to just deflect to someone or something else. When did this whole game of blame thing start? The Bible tells us that it began….well….at the beginning.

            Christians have differing views on the Adam and Eve narratives which span the 2nd through 4th chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Jewish Torah. Those who hold a literalist view of Scripture understand these stories as precise and unvarnished history. At the other extreme are those Christians who view these early stories as Hebrew folklore, along the lines of Greek and Roman mythology. At a moderate position are Christians who interpret these as God-inspired [or we sometimes say “God-breathed] parables meant to lead us into - but not necessarily fully answer – the seminal questions of human existence; questions like: How did we get here? Why are we here? Where did sin come from? Why do we die? How did we get into this mess? Wherever one stands on the Biblical-interpretational continuum, this we Christians can all agree on: Divine and human truths are revealed in these early Genesis narratives, literal or mythological nowithstan- ding. In a nutshell, the stories of Adam and Eve tell us something of ourselves. And one thing we learn is that we’ve clearly been playing the game of blame for a long time.

            As the story goes, Adam and Eve are enjoying life. They just love being together 24/7. God has freely provided everything – the beauty of the garden through which crystal rivers flow, and where grows every tree, plant, and flower in abundance. Critters are friendly and presumably petable. They even talked. The woman and man are permitted to eat any fruit of any tree to their heart’s content…..save one: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” All in all, it’s a regular Garden of Eden.

            Then comes that legendary and fateful moment of decision to obey or disobey; to serve God or to satisfy self. Along slithers (or walks, or swims, or flies…. we’re not told) that ghastly serpent; the standard bearer of temptation. And to Eve, it says in effect: Girl, you and Adam need to get a life. God said, ‘Don’t eat that fruit?’ Don’t be taking that too seriously. Is God just afraid you’ll know too much? Take a bite. After all, it won’t kill you. So Eve gives in, for the fruit was very delightful to the eye, and its pulp much to be desired for wisdom and insight; almost irresistibly drawing her in much the same way as the golden ring draws Frodo Baggins in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” She in turn gives some to her mate, and he likewise eats. And in a moment, “the eyes of both were opened,” and one or the other noticed, “Hey, we’re naked! We’d better get some clothes on!” Then comes the time of reckoning; the time to stand up and own up. And along with it, the first recorded instance of “the devil made me do it” defense.

            (Read Genesis 3:8-13)

            One truth which is communicated through this fall of humankind narrative is that within all of us is the tendency to deflect blame from ourselves onto someone or something else. In a broader theological sense, one of the consequences of alienation from our Creator is difficulty in accepting responsibility for our actions, or lack thereof.

            Early in the life journey of a child, we see some of the first innings of game of blame. I wonder how many dogs, cats, little brothers and little sisters have taken the heat for the broken lamp or spilled grape juice on the tan colored carpet? As my sister Lore is a few years younger than me, she was always the perfect scapegoat for my transgressions. Since I was able to talk before she could, it was easy to blame her for the lamp I broke, or the juice I spilled. And she could not defend herself.

            As we became older, I learned how to play a more sophisticated game of blame. I would admit to having done something, but Lore was the one who made me do it. For instance, when the mirror above the mantle in the living room turned up shattered, it wasn’t my fault. Yes, I threw the golf ball which hit it. But I would never have thrown that ball if she wouldn’t have been standing in front of the fireplace making faces and giving me lip. Plus, when did they start making mirrors so chintzy? I sure wasn’t about to admit that I was responsible for my temper and its con- sequences. Well, my dad didn’t buy it. My sister went on her merry way, while I was sent upstairs rubbing the seat of my britches.

            Adam said to the Lord, Yes, I took a bite of the fruit. But Eve gave it to me, and said it was good. So I ate. It’s her fault. And by the way Lord, need I remind you that you gave me this woman to begin with. Evidently, Adam didn’t have within himself the guts or the character to say, Yes, Lord. I disobeyed your command not to eat of that fruit. Eve fared no better When confronted by God, how did she respond? I was tricked by this here serpent. It’s the serpent’s fault. And perhaps she thought to herself, By the way, Lord, need I remind you that you put this animal in the garden with us. Like Adam, she was not able to admit, Yes, Lord. I allowed myself to be deceived, and I dis- obeyed your commandment.

            This story from Genesis, in its simplicity, exposes this game of blame aspect of our human condition. We can chuckle at it as we chuckle about stories from our childhood, before we knew better. But the question is, do we know better? Or do we just grow up playing a more sinister, and sophisticated, and destructive game of blame? Our stomachs should churn when we see and hear how the game of blame is played out daily in the courtrooms of justice and in the halls of government; every evil and abhorrent action defended, and deflected, and justified. We hear of parents torturing, or stoning, or drowning children, claiming they were instructed by God, or by the devil, or by the family pet to do it. Spouses murder spouses, and it is often labeled a “crime of passion;” not really the fault of the perpetrator. The insanity defense is often applied, not always to promote justice, but to deflect blame. The responsibility for so-called “white collar crimes” always runs down hill so those lower in the corporate ladder bear the brunt of their superior’s wrongdoing. So it is in government and politics, the failure of a bill blamed on those who wrote it, or who didn’t write it, or who supported it, or who didn’t support it. Deflect. Deflect. Deflect. And on it goes.

            Do you remember the months following the school shooting tragedy at Columbine High School? Everyone was asking: Where does the fault lie? Do we blame the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for poor supervision? Do we blame the school for lax security? Do we blame teachers and students for not seeing the ‘red flags?’ Do we blame Smith & Wesson and Remington for manufacturing the guns? Do we blame the United States government for less than adequate legislation regarding firearms? Do we blame the video game industry? Do we blame God for allowing this tragedy to happen? Would it be too politically-incorrect to blame….Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?

            Years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, high-ranking officials of our government were playing the game of blame at the highest and most visible level. Whose fault was 9/11? Attorney John Ash- croft blamed the Clinton administration. George Tenet, then CIA Director, blamed the FBI. Louis Freeh of the FBI blamed the CIA. Former Attorney General Janet Reno blamed the right hand for not knowing what the left hand was doing [whatever that meant]. Senate Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste blamed then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Opponents of George W. Bush blamed his entire administration. And on it went. Tongues wagging. Fingers pointing. Accusations flying. Meanwhile, sixteen years later, terrorism continues to terrify. And our nation continues to wonder why.

            I have to wonder myself. What would have happened if Adam had simply said, “Yeah, Lord. I did it. I disobeyed. And I take responsibility.” What kind of world would we have if everyone would take responsibility for their own actions, or lack thereof, rather than spend precious time and energy looking for somewhere to deflect the blame? Would the world be, perhaps, a better place? A place of more honesty and integrity? We can’t solve all the world’s problems. And we certainly aren’t responsible for all the world’s problems. But we are, each and every one of us, responsible for ourselves – our decisions, our missteps, our mistakes. As in the Adam and Eve narratives, there are consequences for our actions. As uncomfortable as it is to consider or admit, if we do wrong, we have not one to blame but ourselves. And if we are forced to bear the upshot of some action, or lack thereof, again, the blame falls to us. But maybe accepting responsibility honestly and courageously is one way we can help make this world a better and less bitter place. If we played a little less of that game of blame, we’d get a lot more constructive stuff accomplished.

            In conclusion, let me ratchet this up to a more theological consideration. If we were to come clean with God when we sin, when we do what we know is wrong in God’s eyes; if we were more open to honest and courageous confession, to accepting responsibility for our sin rather than blaming our sin on someone or something else, our relationship with God would flourish. The Adam and Eve narratives tell us this truth about ourselves: We’re apt to hide from God when our sin is discovered. And when discovered, we’re apt to try to deflect it. The consequences is alienation from ourselves, from each other, from our Creator, not by God’s choice, but by ours. Let’s stand up and own up. And God’s promise is that this will not bring condemnation and estrangement, but will bring forgiveness and restoration. We remember the words in John’s 1st letter we read earlier: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanseus from all unrighteousness.” What better reason to stop playing the game of blame!