One phenomenon I’ve noted in the American Church that keeps getting resurrected and used as a club to beat frustrated and hurting Christian is this issue of who is at fault when things go awry.
In the Christian pantheon of blame, these four are the most prominent whipping boys:
- The Individual
Frankly, I’m burned out of the “it’s okay to get mad at God” mantra that I hear from some Christians. Job expected God to explain Himself for all of Job’s troubles and God smacked that down hard. So, the get mad at God thing is a dead end.
Well, it should be a dead end except that a lot of Christians sugarcoat that same idea by framing it within the context of God’s will. Bad things happen because of God’s will, and, because we love God so much, we should be happy that our house collapsed and our kids perished. It was all for our good.
Honestly, though, Job wasn’t happy with that answer. While he did not take his wife’s advice to “curse God and die,” this most righteous man still bristled at all the things that had happened to him. He still wanted God to explain Himself. If Job wasn’t happy with “God’s will” in his own awful situation, what chance do I have when things blow up miserably?
So we peel back the curtain on the Job epic and find that fouler Satan messing with the rigging backstage. Blaming the Enemy is big, especially within those churches that sprang from the Azusa revival.
Sadly, for many Christians, Satan becomes the universal excuse when something goes wrong. We blame him and that’s the end of the discussion. Calls for spiritual warfare go out, everyone prays binding and loosing prayers, and that’s the end of it.
Should that approach not work—and from my own experiences it doesn’t a lot of the time (because Satan isn’t entirely the cause)—some Christians start blaming themselves. “I did something wrong and have no one to blame but myself” may be true or it may not be. And if nearly 48 years of living have taught me anything, rarely is the individual entirely at fault either. Sure, we sin and do stupid things. But God gives grace to follow, which covers our individual sins and deficiencies. With that the case, can I postulate that God’s grace is insufficient for a dingbat such as myself? Hardly.
Then society gets the blame hammer. The Christian culture wars are almost entirely driven by the idea that our society is the cause of every bad thing in…well, our society. Beyond the circular logic on that one, yeah, sometimes society does foster awful outcomes. Sometimes society is to blame for problems—or at least for serving as a petri dish for their wicked growth. Problem is, the Bible makes it clear that we Christians can’t blame society for every bad thing in life. Rarely did society stand in the way of early Christians accomplishing miraculous things for God.
Ultimately, organizing blame into one or more of those four basins still cannot completely answer the question of why some happenings in life are just plain rotten.
I love the practicalness of the Book of James. In it are these true words:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
In this case, whose problem is it that a brother and sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food? Is God to blame? Satan? The individual? Society?
While most people quote this passage as a primer on practical faith, too few understand it as a lesson on God’s will, which it is—in spades.
See, when we want to find blame for the condition of that brother and sister, it is the rare few who ask the question of the Church’s role in the will of God and the vagaries of life. We’ll blame our typical four sources, but do we in the Church ever wonder if we as a group are the reason for some of the awfulness we see in life?
Now, I’m not talking about being the cause of awfulness, but as the unused, mothballed resource for fixing that awfulness. James would rightfully contend that the brother and sister in Christ who remain poor and hungry will stay so unless the Church wakes up and does something to rectify the problem.
But we don’t hear that enough in our churches, do we?
Actually, let me revise that. We hear the clarion call to action in the culture wars, but we almost never hear it in cases of individual need, especially those needs that fly under the radar.
What about the case of the person crushed for the rest of her life under the burden of an uninsured operation? Does the Church have anything to say about that need? Better yet, does the Church have any responsibility toward rectifying that situation? Or will we blame God, Satan, the sick woman, or society for her plight?
More than anything, I wish more Christians would break from the standard blame game and instead ask, “What can we as a Church do?”
I’ve had a terribly stressful last couple weeks that landed me in the doctor’s office yesterday. I missed church on Sunday, which is not something I do. I play drums on the church worship team, and I don’t really have a backup at this point, so me calling in sick meant a scramble for the team leaders. More stress, more feeling bad, but I’d been up most of the night before and was just exhausted.
Now I could come up with a lot of directions for blame for causing all this stress, and I could imagine a million things God, Satan, society, and li’l ol’ me have to do with it all, but none of them trump dinner last night. Yes, dinner. Because Lisa, our pastor’s wife, brought us a homemade dinner last night.
And honestly, that kind of small act by the Body of Christ goes a long way toward defusing all these issues of God’s will and blame and highfalutin’ solutions and all that wacky stuff we get into.
When the Body of Christ is working as it should, these radically tough-to-solve problems suddenly lose much of their juice. Sometimes the answer to rotten things happening in life is as simple as showing up at the bedside of a sick person, writing a card to a shut-in, banding together to pay a medical bill, clothing someone who has nothing to wear, and on and on. It’s keeping our feelers feeling out where people need a little touch from the Lord through our being His hands.
It’s so easy to point fingers. But Church, more often than not the finger is reflected in a mirror right back at us. Rather than assigning blame or explaining the reason for someone’s plight, what are we doing to meet the needs of others in their times of distress?