“All my life, everybody’s been making me mad!”
An expression of a little child?
A few years ago I attended a professional hockey game. After the opposing team scored a goal to take the lead, a message appeared on the digital scoreboard: “Now you’ve done it! You’ve made me mad!!”
Well, maybe young and old alike can play the blame game. But how do we identify it and how can we opt out?
Please join me as we discuss this in our daily Bible conversation.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Ezekiel 18:1-19:14. At times, the actions of evil people (Osama bin Laden, for instance) may tempt us to wish evil and destruction on them. Yet here is the heart of God: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).
One other insight about this chapter. Ezekiel tells the people,
But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die. Ezekiel 18:24
God isn’t interested in our body of work. Hoping that our past good works will outweigh our present transgressions on the scale of justice falls woefully short. In our relationship with him, we can’t sit on our laurels and say, “God, look at all the good things I’ve done. Remember that time when I relied on you in that difficult situation? Or remember that other time when I volunteered at the soup kitchen?” God cares about our hearts in the present. He asks us, “Where are we right now in our relationship?”
Psalm 106:32-48. In the conclusion of the psalm, the psalmist comments that God’s people were “bent on rebellion” (verse 43) which brought destruction. Yet, and I love this, we read that God “took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented” (verses 44–45). His anger lasts for a moment but his favor lasts for a lifetime!
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
The blame game is so easy to play and so difficult to identify when we’re playing it. For the most part, our personalities are formed by genetics and our reaction to the accumulation of our past and present experiences (which is where the blame comes in). We say to ourselves:
- I’m a workaholic because my dad is a workaholic.
- I yearn for people’s approval because I didn’t get enough affirmation when I was a child.
- I drink a little bit too much when I come home from work because my job is stressful and my boss is a jerk.
- I don’t know how to make a commitment in relationships because my mother had an affair on my father and I’m afraid that the same thing will happen to me. Or I’ll do it to someone else.
- Our family will always consist of underachievers.
The list could go on ad infinitum ad nauseum. In seminary, I enrolled in a family therapy class and discovered the long list of mistakes my parents made in raising me. The next time I saw them, I was ready for a battle so I could inform them of their shortcomings. It didn’t go so well.
But all of the examples above share a common blame-colored thread—just like the little boy who complained that all his life, people were making him mad.
The pervasiveness of the blame game is so insidious that we must constantly reexamine ourselves to avoid it.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, God dismantled a common proverb at that time that reinforced the blame game: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). Incidentally, a few decades before him Jeremiah poked holes through this same proverb (Jeremiah 31:29). The people believed that guilt and punishment could be passed down to later generations. Their future, then, was subject to their past. This resulted in a fatalistic view of life and an easy way to pin blame on others for their actions.
God responded: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (verse 4). In other words, “You’re responsible for yourself.”
While we may suffer the consequences of the people around us, we cannot inherit their guilt and we cannot hold anyone responsible for our actions.
So how do we change? God concludes this section by saying, “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26).
The first step is repentance. We must stop pointing our fingers and stop using people as an excuse. Then we must change our actions.
The second step is to get a new heart and a new spirit. This is more elusive. Earlier, in Ezekiel 11:19, God promised to give his people an undivided heart and a new spirit. So it’s something we get and something God gives. So which one is it? Strangely enough, most commentators are silent about this tension.
We know that when we give our lives to Christ, we become entirely new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). In fact, last weekend’s reading in Hebrews regarding the new covenant explains this. We also know that at Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit made a permanent home in Jesus’ followers. So when we give our lives to Christ, we receive a new heart and a new spirit.
But somehow, that new heart and spirit must be activated. I realize this isn’t in the text, but lately I’ve been impressed by the importance of yielding to the Holy Spirit. We don’t make the Holy Spirit do anything. But we can listen and then respond. Better yet, we can yield to the Holy Spirit in such a way that the Spirit lives through us.
We live in blame because we don’t want to change. But when we yield to the Spirit who already lives in us, we’re changed. Transformed. And delivered from a life of blame.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- What or who do you tend to blame for your problems?
- What have you learned about what it means to yield to the Spirit?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.