The Blameshifters

Let’s allow our imaginations to drift back several thousand years. We are in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve have just disobeyed God. They have eaten the forbidden fruit from “the tree of knowledge, of good and evil.” At this point in history God confronts Adam and Eve with these words: “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”

The question was asked. How will Adam and Eve respond to it? Adam gives his reply first. “The woman whom thou gayest me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.” So the Lord turns to Eve and says: “What is this that thou hast done?” Eve responds: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

One thing becomes clear in the above cited conversation between God and the first family. Neither Adam nor Eve was willing to assume responsibility for the sin which they had just committed. Their response to God’s searching question—“Have you eaten of the tree?”—is a classic example of blameshifting. Adam did in fact eat the forbidden fruit. But instead of admitting his personal guilt he tried to pin the blame on God and on Eve. “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat.”

The implication of Adam’s statement could be put as follows: “God, if you had not given me Eve as a wife, she would not have tempted me to eat the forbidden fruit and I would not have eaten it. So Lord, it’s your fault—and Eve’s too!”

Well, how does Eve respond to God when he confronts her about her sinful conduct in the garden? She too engages in blameshifting. Says she: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” The implication of Eve’s statement is this: “Lord if only that serpent had not approached me then I would not have eaten the fruit from the forbidden tree. It’s all his fault.”

Now tragically enough, blameshifting did not end in the Garden of Eden. It is still very much with us. Mother enters the playroom and finds little Tommy and Sally both in tears. “What happened?” asks Mother. Sally responds: “Tommy hit me with his toy truck.” Tommy replies: “Well, Sally broke my steam shovel—that’s why I hit her.”

The same type of counteraccusations are leveled at each other by husbands and wives. The marriage counselor tries to discover the cause of Mr. Brown’s drinking problem. His answer is as follows: “My wife is always ranting and raving. She’s so critical and picky-always making a fuss about something. She’s enough to drive any man to drinking.” The counselor turns to Mrs. Brown. “How do you react to your husband’s comments?” “He’s all wrong! If I make a fuss and criticize and rant and rave it’s because his drinking problem has made me tense and nervous.” And so the vicious circle continues in every dimension of life.

American citizens blame the government for inflation, and the government accuses the people of creating the problem by living too luxuriously. Laymen in the church criticize the office-bearers for their lack of vision, orthodoxy, and commitment in promoting the work of the Kingdom. And office-bearers frequently charge the members of the church with apathy and indifference toward the work of the Lord.

The result of this vicious circle is that constructive change for the better and personal growth in holiness are slow in coming. When the blame for any sin or situation is constantly being placed on someone out there, then no one assumes responsibility for the offense which has been committed, and the problem at issue remains unsolved. As a result, family feuds end in divorce; unresolved tensions in the church lead to bitterness and divisions; and hostility between acquaintances leads to broken friendships.

What then is the solution to this problem? Since blameshifting is so common among us, how can we effectively deal with this desire to project our share of guilt onto someone else? Christ offers us an answer to this question in Matthew 7. He tells us that each one of us should “cast out the beam in our own eye before we try to cast out the mote that is in our brother’s eye.”

Jesus’ point is this: So often we are bothered by the speck of sawdust in our brother‘s eye when we have a large 2 x 4 in our own eye. Frequently we are irritated and offended by the minor offenses in other people when we ourselves are guilty of major offenses. Jesus’ solution to this problem is that each one of us must first evaluate his or her own life: “What have I done that makes me guilty before God?” “What in my life has contributed to this problem?” “In which way have I sinned against God and my fellowman?”

The alcoholic husband should ask these questions and so should his wife. Likewise, both partners in any disintegrating marriage would do well to look inwardly in an effort to find the cause of the broken home. The husband would show wisdom if he would say: “What have I done which has led to this marital strife?” The wife should ask the same question. When strife exists in the church, individuals on both sides of the issue at stake should ask: “What sinful personality traits in me have made this problem worse?”

Hopefully such honest self-evaluation before God and in the light of His Word will lead to personal confession and the forsaking of sin. Once that happens we will be in a position to receive forgiveness from God and our fellowman.

Proverbs 28:13 says: “He that covers his transgressions shall not prosper. But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” How true those words are! If we hide our sins, we will not prosper in our relationship to God and to each other. We cannot be reconciled to God and to our fellowman when we are burdened with unconfessed sins. But once we confess our sins to God and to the individuals we have offended, and in the power of Christ, forsake those sins, then “we shall obtain mercy.” In other words, if we admit our sinfulness to God and to those individuals whom we have sinned against, then the floodgates of forgiveness can open up. When confession of wrong doing is followed by a change of conduct, then interpersonal relationships can improve. Broken relationships can be mended. And reconciliation can take place.

One closing thought. Blameshifting is counterproductive. It only leads to the courtroom atmosphere of accusation and counter-accusation. The end result is alienation and hostility. How much more constructive it would be if husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters—all possible antagonists—if each of us would confess our sins to God and to those we have offended. Such confession is the antidote to blameshifting. And the result is truly heartening: We shall prosper. We shall obtain mercy!

Calvin Vander Meyden (Th.M. in pastoral counseling from Princeton Theological Seminary) is pastor of the Christian Reformed in Jamestown, Michigan.