Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Blame Game

I once heard the story of a fellow had just been hired as the new CEO of a large corporation. The current CEO was stepping down and met with the new hire privately in his office, where he handed him three numbered envelopes. “Open these if you run up against a problem you don't think you can solve,” the retiring CEO said.

Things went along pretty smoothly for the first six month, but then sales took a downturn and the new CEO began catching a lot of heat. He went to his drawer and took out the first envelope. The message read, “Blame your predecessor.” The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at the feet of the previous CEO. Sales began to pick up and the problem was soon behind him.

About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in sales, combined with serious product malfunctions. Having learned from his previous experience, the CEO opened the second envelope. The message read, “Blame the board and fire a few people.” This he did, and the company quickly rebounded.

After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on hard times. The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope. The message said, “Prepare three envelopes.”

We are notorious for playing the blame game, aren’t we? America has become the most litigious society in world history. A few years ago I read about a New York woman who unsuccessfully tried to sue the company that makes the “Clapper” device that turns on appliances in response to the sound of a hand clap. What was her grievance? She claimed her hands were injured from having to clap too hard.[1]  

Who could forget when President Clinton admitted on camera that as a college student he experimented with smoking marijuana, but to cover his behind he said, “I tried it, but didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and I never tried it again.” Sure Bill . . . we believe you just because you’re the president.   

If you think that’s outlandish, just wait. A convicted bank robber on parole robbed a California Savings and Loan Branch. The bank robber placed the money roll containing the hidden security pack in his front pants pocket. The security pack released tear gas and red dye resulting in second and third degree burns requiring treatment at a hospital. The bank robber sued the bank, the Security Pac manufacturer, the city the police and the hospital.[2]

The Bible is the world’s most honest book. It doesn’t hesitate to expose the efforts of some otherwise good people to find a loophole by blaming others for their sin. The great blame game began immediately in the Garden of Eden after the first sin. Notice the words of Adam to God after He tracked down the hiding fruit-snatcher, “The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). If you read between the lines, notice how Adam actually turns the whole thing around and blames God for his sin.

It seems as if the Holy Spirit includes this detail early in the Bible to make a clear point: from the very beginning we see that the human tendency is to avoid responsibility, shift culpability and pass the buck for our bad choices and failures. The pattern of our first parents continued down through the ages.

Cain learned it well from his mother and father, because when God confronted him about spilling the blood of his brother, Abel, he lashed out at God (Gen. 4:13-14). According to Cain, the reason he would be cursed as a nomad was because of God’s harsh punishment. Things don’t get any better though.

Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife and blamed the Egyptians (Gen. 12:10-20). Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to save himself (Ex. 2:11-15). King Saul blamed his soldiers for not carrying out God’s instructions which he, as king, was responsible to fulfill (1 Sam. 15:1-15). Later, Saul blamed all his problems on the promising young upstart, David (1 Sam. 18:8-9). Not long afterward, David, God’s warrior-poet, failed to admit responsibility for adultery and being an accomplice to murder until he was called to account by the prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 11-12:24).

We could go on and on citing blamers. But if we did, eventually, we would have to end our list with your name and mine. However, we can end the blame game with three simple words: “I have sinned.” Did you know that exact phrase occurs 19 times in the Bible? Fortunately, some of the people mentioned at first who avoided blame later embraced their actions by saying, “I have sinned.”

One of the best examples of the use of these words, and the mindset that motivates it, is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This young man who demanded his inheritance from his father, then squandered it in profligate living, eventually returned to his father in repentance and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. . . ” (Luke 15:21).

Why did the prodigal suddenly become so responsible after acting so irresponsibly? Because, the Bible says, “he came to his senses,” (Luke 15:17). I don’t think this was a profoundly spiritual moment. Rather it seems to have been a mostly rational moment. He looked at the facts, his empty pockets, his mud-caked face and his growling stomach only to realize that it was his greed, his choices, his wild living that resulted in his ruin. There was no one else to blame but himself. The truth had been obvious to everyone except him.

The story is told of Frederic the Great, the king of Prussia. He was visiting a prison and talking with each of the inmates. As he spoke to them, there were endless tales of innocence, exploitation, and misunderstood motives. Of course, no one in this prison was guilty. They were all framed and innocent. Finally, the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. Frederic said, “Well, I suppose you are an innocent victim too.” “No sir," said the prisoner, “I'm not. I am guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden, Frederic said, “Quick, get this man out of here before he corrupts these other innocent people.” Frederic the Great couldn't believe he had found an honest man—someone who would own up to what he had done wrong.

I heard one summary of blame put this way: “Blame never affirms; it always assaults. Blame never solves; it always complicates. Blame never unites; it always separates. Blame never smiles; it always frowns. Blame never forgives; it always rejects. Blame never forgets; it always remembers. Blame never builds; it always destroys.”[3]

Owning our sin not only shows that were humble, but its humbling in the process. Someone once said, “God will not cover, what we are unwilling to uncover.” Until we stop pointing fingers and take responsibility for our thoughts, words and deeds, there can be no forgiveness or healing. The day you confess your sins and turn to God will be the day God will change your life. By God’s grace, let’s stop blaming and start confessing. -DM

[1] David Jeremiah, “The Blame Game: Others Are Responsible,” Turning Points, May 2012, p.14.
[2]  ATRA: Candelario v. City of Oakland, No. 628960-3 Cal. App. Dep't Super. Ct. 1987.
[3] Greg Laurie, “The Blame Game,” Greg Laurie Daily Devotionals, 5 October 2004,

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