Who Gets The Blame?
Pausing for a moment to think about it I find that sometimes, the way people talk about God is interesting.
Some common phrases I find striking are,
“Why did God let this happen?
I guess these awful things are happening because God is punishing me.
I don’t know what I did to deserve this!
God must really have it in for me!”
Have you ever heard someone say anything like that? Or maybe even said it yourself? I remember wrestling with those kind of questions when my divorce was in process. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on those comments, comments that are certainly not limited to the experience of divorce.
The first observation I would like to offer is that it is rather striking, isn’t it, that we only make these kind of comments when “bad” or “difficult” circumstances arise. That is, I rarely hear people say, “I don’t know what I did to deserve this,” when they are given a promotion or an end of the year bonus. Then, it is all THEIR responsibility: I worked hard to get where I am, this promotion comes from all those long hours of overtime!
Or even, “Gosh, everything is going so well in my life right now, why did God let this happen?” Nope. We just kind of take these things in stride, figure we somehow earn or deserve them, and tell God thanks while we pat ourselves on the back! And it doesn’t help that television commercials add to the mentality, by telling us all the things we supposedly deserve, such as monetary remuneration for our injuries, a fancier car, or a weekend in the
Bahamas. We DESERVE those things? Really?
Seriously, have you ever asked yourself “Why me?” in the context of having food on your shelves and a decent shelter you call home, when you know that there are naked children in the world starving, many of whom will die before you finish reading this blog. No, it seems to me we aren’t so good at asking, “why me” about the things that go well for us in life, only the ones that give us problems.
The next observation is that often God is given blame for things that may only have been God’s responsibility secondarily. For example, your marriage fell apart, we blame God for not having prevented that from happening, even though one of us may not have been willing to go to counseling, or has been putting work ahead of our marriage for years…still it is God’s fault? That is to say, bad things do happen, but sometimes they happen because we have been making poor choices, or another person has been making those poor choices. (In divorce, often it seems to me an individual will go to one extreme or the other in this area…blaming him/herself for all the problems in the marriage, or taking none of the responsibility and placing all the blame on the ex. Generally speaking, it takes two to make a marriage, but it also takes two to make a divorce…neither person behaved perfectly, right?) In divorce, as in many of life’s tragedies, there are humans making choices, and the choices have impact on more than just the person making the choice. The murderous events of 9/11/2001 are a clear example of how evil choices of an individual (or a small group of individuals) impacts the lives of others who had nothing to do with the event apart from being there are the precise time the choices were enacted.
When I mentioned earlier that God’s responsibility is secondary, because if God really chose to, he certainly has the power to override anything that happens on earth. But the world system he has established includes such things as personal responsibility by which he expects us to be his agents in doing something to solve problems, or that diseases and natural disasters exist and create great heartache. I tend to believe the terrible results that occur from allowing these kinds of things are symptoms of a fallen world and humans tainted with the stain of sin, and that God allows these things only for a season; there will come a day when God will end the world as we know it and restore it to his perfection. In the meantime, for God to make the provisions we sometimes wish might have ramifications far beyond the simple easing of our suffering that we seek. And this does not even mention the existence of Satan, who probably delights when we blame God for things that Satan sets up himself. I am a person who believes that Satan is very real, and damaging God’s reputation is very high on his list of priorities. We need to be careful that the things we are blaming on God really are God’s!
Because of the world system God has allowed at this time, sin and all, the answer to why God allows these things to happen is bound up in the fact that it is all part of how the world is. Jesus hinted at this when he said that it rains on the just and the unjust. Things happen. Sometimes they seem to make sense, sometimes they don’t. Why did that huge tornado rip through nearby
a few short years ago? Well, the basic
reason is that there were cold fronts and warm fronts and moist air that came
together right over Joplin…the
world is just that way! Ah, but WHY JOPLIN? That is the part of the question we struggle with,
isn’t it? We want to know that there is purpose.
Most of the time, sadly, we are more narcissistic than that. We don’t ask, “Why Joplin?” nearly as much as we ask, “Why ME?” We may ask about Joplin (or whatever other tragedy you want to substitute) in a theoretical sort of way, as a curiosity to understand the world system, but it doesn’t trouble us personally nearly as much as our own specific hardships.
Finally, I want to highlight that the questions most arise when we cannot see purpose. For example, we may know that it is going to hurt terribly to have an operation to have a knee replaced, but we can endure it because we know the purpose in the long run will be to regain greater mobility, and that the pain will be short lived. It is when we can see no purpose, or no end to the suffering, that we struggle the most. In the case of divorce, sometimes it can be hard to see that the devastation and emotional pain will ever produce anything good. Even those escaping from a dangerous and abusive situation often still wonder if it is worth the hardship. I’m getting too longwinded, so let me simply point out here that part of the problem is that we are very shortsighted. We want to know the purpose NOW. We want it to have good results NOW. We want to know that there will be some kind of restoration while we are still living earth. But God’s perspective is eternal. The purposes he holds are not only for us as individuals, but for all of creation throughout all of time.
To close, let me simply suggest that the question of why God let something happen is not nearly as important for us to understand the answer to, as it is to ask the question, “How does God want me to respond to the terrible things that happen?” Because, if nothing else, a tragedy at least gets our attention enough to make us wonder about what God is doing, and that is always a first step in letting God use the events of our lives to shape US into the people he wants us to become!