There’s a short circle in our house. You wouldn’t notice it the first time you stopped by, but after a couple of visits, you might notice it’s presence. Its formed by something I’m learning about myself from my kids’ behavior. Of course, it’s a circle because they first learned the behavior from me. And if I don’t stop the behavior myself we’ll end up wearing it into a groove so deep it’ll become a rut.
The circle is called the blame game.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the rules, it works like this: you do something wrong and when confronted about it, you simply blame someone else. It’s really fairly easy. Often, you choose the person who’s in the closest proximity to you and while the unsuspecting individual is left fending for themselves you try to slip away. It’s the ultimate diversion tactic.
It’s a circle for another reason, too. Usually what ends up happening is that everyone present just points fingers at each other. The brother blames the sister who in turn blames the brother and when that doesn’t work she blames the dog. You get the idea and you’ve probably seen this played before.
Now, to be fair, this game is played a lot more frequently by my kids than it is by me. (Do you see what I did there?)
Our kids learn a lot from us. And if there’s one poor behavior that doesn’t have to be taught, it’s blaming someone else for our own faults. Blaming others has been around nearly as long as there has been someone to blame.
You know the story: Eve ate the forbidden fruit (from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) and then gave it to Adam who also ate. When God confronted Adam about this, Adam blamed Eve and Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent. And so the game began.
Of course it isn’t a game at all. That’s just one of our ways of trying to rationalize it. Maybe we call it that because you’ve got to be quick on your feet to implicate another person before they suspect it—the slyest fox wins. Regardless, we’ve damaged many relationships by not admitting our faults. People get hurt when we try to divert the blame on to them.
One of the major problems with this game is that if you keep playing, it doesn’t end. If I blame you, you may in turn try to blame me, or whomever else might be a worthy scapegoat. Down the line it’s going to come back to haunt us both because that other individual is likely going to bear a grudge for having to deal with our throwing them under the bus.
The only way to stop the game is by quitting. That is, somebody has to decide not to shift the blame onto another person and instead own up to their own wrongdoing. But this is hard to do, especially when that seems counterintuitive to a game that we’ve been playing so long that we’ve forgotten where and when we first learned the rules.
But this is where grace comes in.
Grace doesn’t just step in and say everything’s okay and that nobody has to confess anything and there aren’t going to be any consequences. No, when grace enters in it is accompanied by the truth. And in this way, it is most clearly the gospel.
We play this game because we’re afraid of the consequences for our actions: they are far greater than we are willing or capable of bearing. But the gospel, good news if there ever was any, says that we are fully at fault and fully accountable. This is the truth and though we try to shift the blame, it stills falls directly on us. The diversion only works as a temporary distraction to ourselves, but it has no way of altering the truth.
But the gospel does not stop here. In grace we hear the full truth: that there is one who stopped the game by willingly taking our blame upon himself. Jesus knew we were at fault, but insisted on bearing the consequences that should’ve fallen on us.
There’s a model here for us to follow. But not a model only—it is also the means by which we are able to break the circle. And so we need to just stop playing this game. We need to give up the charade that we have done nothing wrong. We need to humble ourselves and take full responsibility. In doing so we will both see that we are unable to bear the full burden and that we don’t have to. There is one who has taken our blame and shame upon himself and offered us forgiveness and grace instead.