January 26, 2016
Just a few years. That's all it takes for our perspectives on responsibility to make a complete about-face. These days, when someone screws up we look for the reasons for their behavior, blaming everyone and everything except the perpetrator. The jihadists are angry that we're in the Middle East, the gang-banger would be a model student if he weren't living in poverty, looters are reacting to police brutality. Philosophical elitists have managed to win the minds of our culture, shifting the blame for bad behavior on societal instead of personal shortcomings. When I was in junior high, I got in trouble for stabbing a classmate. That the weapon was a pencil instead of a switchblade, or that I had been provoked didn't matter much. When my parents were called into the office, they sided with the administration. No one thought to question their parenting or the oversight of school officials. The lines were clearly drawn with parents and administration on one side, and me on the other. There was no bargaining, no explanation, no wiggling out of the predicament I had put myself in.
This morning I was reading the story of Joshua. As in "fit the battle of Jericho." Before they conquered that city, everything except the gold, silver, bronze, and iron was to be destroyed. Those items were to be turned over to the treasury which was administered by the priests. Nothing was to be kept as spoils of war. During the looting, one man found an especially fine imported suit of clothes, some gold, and some silver, and secreted them away, burying them in the sand beneath his tent. The very next battle the nation faced was not a fortified city like Jericho, but a small outpost that should have been a pushover. It wasn't. Israel's army was chased down the road, tail between their legs. When Joshua complained to God about it, God would have none of it. "Israel has sinned," he declared, which at first sounds a lot like our modern approach: "Society is at fault." In fact, it was just the opposite.
One man had sinned and in doing so brought guilt upon the entire nation, underscoring the spiritual connections between individuals and their communities. One sinned; they all suffered. That is a reality that strikes home today. The actions of one bring suffering to many. Just ask the victims of the San Bernadino shootings. But the similarities end here. One man's sin brought guilt and suffering to the nation. But the answer wasn't to blame the nation, to search for explanations and justifications for the bad behavior. The answer was to find the individual and deal with him, which they did, and quite severely.
My decisions and behavior for good or ill are not mine alone. They have effects upon others, even when I cannot trace the thread that ties them together. When I was pastoring the church, I was always aware that even if no one ever found out, my sin would affect the church. I am far from a perfect person, and I've often wondered how much more God could have done had I been more faithful than I was.
One thing hasn't changed. I was responsible for my behavior in junior high, and I am responsible for my behavior today. I've made bad decisions and I've made good ones. Both have affected and continue to affect others. The Good News is that if instead of making excuses I deal with the bad, just like in Joshua, God steps in, and turns defeat into victory. And for the record, the kid I stabbed survived just fine. For which I am also grateful.