By Connie W. Adams
It is common these days to blame every sin, whether murder, theft, adultery, addiction, or whatever, on somebody or something other than the perpetrator of the offense. The offender was abused as a child, either by parents or others. Or, maybe society as a whole failed the felon. Maybe it was the influence of wild-eyed, radical, right-wing, religious extremists that caused the accused to go into a fast-food restaurant and shoot down fifteen people, or a student to shoot ten of his fellow-students in a prayer circle before the school day began. It was not long after the tragedy at Paducah, Kentucky before the press was speculating that the student arrested for killing three of his fellow-students and wounding seven more, was small for his age and had been picked on by others.
I suppose it is natural to try to figure out why people commit criminal and other sinful acts. But the notion that such behavior may be shifted away from the guilty to others, whatever they may have done, or not done, is faulty. It stands opposed to common sense and certainly to the teaching of Scripture.
Ezekiel 18 is instructive on this matter. The scene here is one of captivity. Ezekiel prophesied to those who had already entered Babylonian captivity. In the first four verses, Ezekiel brought up a common proverb among the people which was being pressed into service to explain why they had gone into this dreadful captivity. They said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). In verse 3 he said, “You shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.” Why was that? “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (v. 4). The Lord was teaching them not to blame their troubles on their fathers. It is true that parents have influence on their children and they will have to answer for how they use it. But if a child eats sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge because he ate sour grapes, not because of what his father did or did not do.
Good Fathers and Bad Sons
Ezekiel proceeds to describe a man who is “just” and who does what is “lawful and right” but who has a son who becomes a robber, a murderer, an idolater, and who does “abominations.” Who is to blame? Look at it: “He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him” (vv. 5-12). Is a just father to blame for his son becoming a renegade? Absolutely not! He ate his own sour grapes.
Bad Fathers and Good Sons
Then Ezekiel paints a different picture. This time he presents a man who is a rascal but who bears a son who turns away from the evil ways of his father (vv. 14-18). In verse 17 he plainly said, “he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.” Then in verse 20 he said “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Each person bears responsibility for his own actions regardless of what others have done.
Modern Concepts and Sin
Many today are uncomfortable with the idea of sin. Sin has been softened and minimized. And if there is no sin, there is no sinner. But somebody or something is to blame. So, the search for the scapegoat begins. The wayward son in Luke 15 “came to himself” after he had spent his money and time in wild living. Reduced to dire circumstances, he resolved to go back home. When he got there he said to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21). Isn’t it interesting that he did not blame the government, the synagogue school, the community recreation project nor even his father. He did not say, “Well, if you had not been such an authoritarian father, so unfeeling and unreasonable, I never would have been tempted to leave home in the first place.” I can guarantee you that is exactly what some of the social engineers of today would have said. He took his inheritance. He wasted it. He was profligate.
The common defense of the mass murderer is insanity. Are there mentally unbalanced people? To be sure. Are there terrible things sometimes done by those who are not rational. Without doubt. But every criminal act is not to be explained on that basis. There is such a thing as sin and those who commit them are sinners. There are those who have the rationality to plot, scheme, build elaborate devices to carry out their intents. They are not crazy. They are sinful. They had choices to make and made the wrong ones.
The Principle of Personal Accountability
Both the strong brother and the weak one in Romans 14 are held accountable for their behavior toward the other. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Should we place a stumblingblock in another’s way? No. The one doing so will have to answer for it. But it must also be said that each one of us is responsible for walking “circumspectly.” We must all watch where we are going. It is like the man who gets a speeding ticket and defends himself on the ground that this driver in front of him was just poking along and finally in frustration he sped around him and exceeded the limit. The issue is “Who was driving your car?” The pokey driver or you? You may have been tempted by the circumstances, but who yielded to the temptation?
I have endured a lifetime of teasing because of my first name. So has my wife over hers. But you know, neither of us ever decided to go to school with guns and shoot down fellow-students because of it. What others may do may very well annoy us, frustrate us, but whatever we say or do is still a matter of personal choice and responsibility.
It is high time that people in this land stopped blaming everyone but themselves for their actions. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).