According to the Genesis narrative, when questioned by God regarding his awareness of his nakedness and whether he had eaten from the forbidden tree, Adam seemed to have had no reservations about blaming Eve. In response to God’s questions, Adam replied: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12, KJV). In other words, “I ate of the tree but it is not my fault. My wife and companion, the woman you gave me, she gave me of the tree.” With these words, Adam demonstrated an instinctive response that has been characteristic of every human being since. When confronted with a deviant behaviour or a wrong for which we are responsible, blame someone else. The sequence of events in the garden that day affirmed this tendency. When God confronted Eve, she blamed the serpent (v.13). And so it continues.
These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on the words of the psalmist: “You deserve honesty from the heart; yes, utter sincerity and truthfulness” (Psalm 51:6a, TLB). David wrote those words after his transgression with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11). He did not try to hide his wrong nor did he blame Bathsheba, a beautiful woman he saw naked while she was out on the roof having a bath, for their adulterous affair. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, he threw himself on God’s mercy: “O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my transgressions. Oh, wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed—it haunts me day and night. It is against you and you alone I sinned and did this terrible thing. You saw it all, and your sentence against me is just” (Psalm 51:1-4). Change is only possible when we first take steps to acknowledge our wrongs and take personal responsibility for our behaviours. For the believer, this is an important first step. David reminds us of God’s delight: “You don’t want penance; if you did, how gladly I would do it! You aren’t interested in offerings burned before you on the altar. It is a broken spirit you want—remorse and penitence. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not ignore” (vv. 16-17).
Blaming others is easy. In doing so we irrationally believe that we do not have to take responsibility for our behaviours or our part in any disagreements. Instead of self-reflecting and asking “What did I do to contribute to this problem?” “Is there something I could and should have done differently?” like Adam we hide by blaming. Without even realizing it, we immediately start losing respect for those we deem blameworthy, we treat them with disrespect, and we come out of a stinky situation smelling like roses. However, we fail to recognize that while it may make us feel good about ourselves, irrationally blaming others retards our personal and spiritual growth. There is no going forward until we come clean with ourselves, with others, and with God. St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, puts it this way: “Before God can deliver us, we must undeceive ourselves.”
We all make decisions and often engage in actions we later regret. But by failing to take personal responsibility, the road to constructive change is blocked. We hold on to the belief that it is better to blame others than to admit and take responsibility. From our perspective, being wrong means being flawed and being flawed means being unworthy of respect so we preserve ourselves at all costs. But God does not see it that way. Walking with Him requires “a clean heart” and a “right spirit”; that includes taking responsibility for the wrongs we do. St. Clement was right when he said, “It is better for a man to confess his sins than to harden his heart.” No matter the transgression, as long as we bare ourselves before Him, He is still in the business of forgiving (1 John 1:9). Just ask David.