Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

G2A #2: "The Blame Game" – Genesis 3-9

This week, guided by the stories of the first sin, the murder of Abel, and Noah’s Ark, we are exploring the transition from creation to disruption. These biblical episodes speak to some inherent truth about our human condition – that we constantly fail to reach our potential as children of God; that we are not quite who God has created us to be. The importance of these stories is not to pin down the origin of our inherent faults and failures to a particular time and place. Rather, these stories reveal some larger truths about God – namely that God is adaptable, merciful, and willing to sacrifice the unthinkable to demonstrate our worthiness as children of God.

One of the concepts that people have focused on throughout Judeo-Christian history is the question of “Who’s fault was it?” The first sin, that is. Who’s fault was it?

  • The serpent’s? After all, it was the serpent to gave voice to the temptation of eating the forbidden fruit.
  • Or perhaps the fault lies with God. Why would God place the fruit there to begin with? Surely God knew what would eventually happen.
  • The case could be made that it was the man’s fault. Can’t he think for himself? Is he so smitten with Eve that he would do anything she says?

Unfortunately, as we know all too well, it is Eve who has historically born the brunt of the blame. Men, who historically have been the ones who told the stories, wrote down the stories, and gave themselves the authority to interpret the stories, were (and many still are) in agreement that it was Eve’s fault. Some even go so far as to say that women still require a certain degree of contrition, humility, subservience, and powerlessness as punishment for Eve’s sin. In every church building and service around the world this needs to be acknowledged as wrong, abusive, and without religious merit.  

The point of the story is not about assessing blame. Rather, the point of the story is to allow it to teach something about the human condition we all share. I found the following quote from John Rollefson to be particularly helpful in this regard. He writes,

There is something wrong, something screwy, about us human beings at our core–not necessarily bad or evil, but amiss. It is not that the imago dei has been erased from our DNA but that deep within ourselves we are not fully what we are meant to be and, what is more, we know it. We sense that there is an estrangement from our essential, created selves that is rooted in our alienation from our Maker and gets expressed in behaviors that alienate us from one another.
— John Rollefson

The act of blaming others for our trials and tribulations is one of the most obvious expressions of our alienation from God and each other. We blame people when we live in fear. When an expensive vase is knocked over and broken, the young siblings point fingers at each other; distrust and anger form and contaminate their relationship. When the economy isn’t growing to the extent we’d like (or the extent a political party tells us it should be) we point fingers at each other; distrust and anger form and contaminate their ability to work together. When churches feel like they are slipping off the perch of privilege in a culture, they point fingers at anyone outside their walls (or inside, for that matter); distrust and anger form and contaminate their coexistence. Blame and fear go hand-in-hand.

To be clear, I don’t blame you for blaming others; nor can I pretend I do anything different. But we must remember that this tendency is obviously a symptom of sin, not a characteristic of God’s creation. Next time we point a finger at others, be it in the direction of a sibling, a political party, or to people outside our church walls; we must remember that this goes against our true identity as God’s creation.

Following the story of Adam and Eve, we hear of several other stories (two of which we heard today – Cain & Abel, and the Flood), which all follow a pattern established in the garden. There is a sinful action or pattern of behavior (A) that brings about a word from God (B), this word brings about a curse (C), followed by an act of mercy on God’s part (D).

Given the regularity that this pattern shows up in scripture, I am inclined to agree with the quote:

Clearly, it seems, the text portrays a God who has turned loose a species beyond divine control.
— Bert Marshall

God attempts every power-play we would ever conceive of in an effort to keep humankind on the straight and narrow: curses, infliction of emotional and physical pain, mass destruction. In these stories, God is acting out our deepest impulses when we feel wronged. And yet, each powerful rebuke and act of mercy only leads to a new set of problems.

How fortunate we are that God is not limited to our deepest impulses! How fortunate we are that God was willing to do the unthinkable in an effort to prove his profound love for us! For that is exactly what God does at the conclusion of the flood. Having, for all intents and purposes, destroyed and re-created the world, God resolves never to do it again. This is a remarkable promise.

God, in the midst of a unceasing pattern of destruction and starting over, chooses to give up something essential to God’s nature in order to demonstrate solidarity and love.

God’s fortunes are now bound up with those of humanity, as God is not simply committed but deeply invested in the fate of God’s creation.
— David Lose

This would not be the last time that God would relinquish absolute power in order to demonstrate solidarity and love. By sending his son, Jesus Christ, to reveal the truth of the Kingdom of God, God sacrificed not only the prerogative to destroy a sinful creation, but even more, God allowed himself to be destroyed by a sinful creation.

Through the lens of Jesus Christ we are able to look back at these early faith stories and see that the pattern established in those stories has been broken. God no longer threatens our sinful natures with acts of divine punishment and small tokens of mercy. Rather, God has entered fully into our sinful natures, suffered and was killed for it, and prevailed against it to unleash the ultimate of mercies –– citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. And with it, God has instructed us to lay down our own deepest impulses of blame, destruction, and self-righteousness and given us the ability to show mercy to all who sin against us.




John Rollefson quote from Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol.3, p 102
Bert Marshall quote from Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol.3, p.101
David Lose quote from Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol.2, p.29

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