“Blame and Excuses”
Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”
This morning, people give “reasons” for doing things that really boil down to thinly veiled excuses for not doing that which is right. Years ago, I heard a preacher say, “When people start trying to hand me one of their excuses, I tell them, ‘I’ve got big pockets, and they’re already full of them.'” Since self-justification is a pastime participated in by all, we fill our bags with excuses ready to avail them to our own ends. Being a member of Adam’s race, I am no stranger to this thinking, and I freely confess to being guilty of this numerous times. Years ago, I kept a highly polished and much worked excuse at the ready. Whenever I lost my temper or got in a scrap, I would just shrug and say, “My people are Irish. Just in my blood.” No matter how many times I said it, it was never more than just a sad excuse for not doing better than I could.
From the text above, we see a plain spoken command of the law that deals with civil punishment in a capital way. Whole families were not to lose their lives for the sins of a few within their clan. Rather, civil judgment and punishment would try every man according to his own sins/merits. This form of jurisprudence may seem “normal” to us today as it what we have grown up with, but that kind of law was really novel (God’s way is always ahead of “the times”) as ancient kingdoms would make examples of people by slaughtering whole families for one transgressor. The Bible is replete with examples of this, even to New Testament times with the Romans. Jailors and their families would lose their lives if the jailor allowed a prison break. So, God’s law stated that people would stand and fall based on their personal conduct and adherence to His commands.
While that is the literal rendering and application of the verse from the context, let us broaden the thought to include something other than corporeal death from capital enforcement. Living in the excuse-laden world of the present, what is one of the most common blames around? As in my example above, people will many times blame their forebears for their behavior and tendencies. Now, we should here note that a lot of our proclivities can be derived from genetic transmission and environmental stimulation, but they are not “hall passes for life” to walk where we want acting as we please with no consequences whatsoever.
For those that grew up in underprivileged situations, I have deep sympathy. For those that were abused or endured horrors as children that even adults should never see, I can only say how sorry I am that one would have to live in such a mess. However, my sympathy cannot extend to the point of turning a blind eye and excusing any and all behavior for them. My bag of Irish excuses laid all the guilt for my temperament on the genetics handed to me from my parents, and whether someone is blaming what their parent’s transmitted to them or placed around them, the point is the same. Parents should not suffer the blame (death) for their grown children’s decorum, and sons and daughters should not suffer the blame as adults for the faults and failures of their parents.
We understand that bad names and reputations are hard to overcome, but they can be. We should strive to overcome them if we have them. We also understand that certain situations make it hard for people to rise above it, yet we should attempt to do so with all of our might. No matter the genetic code, personality makeup, or upbringing, we all have been given the same standard of conduct to follow. God’s way and God’s law does not have differing codes. Therefore, our present circumstance or past experience does not change the future expectation of God for us. What He expects is just and forever so.
Many times our excuses and rationale take routes that look like “well other people aren’t any better” “I’m still doing ok” and “I just can’t help it.” No matter the rationale, it does not change that God requires us all to live to the fullest in denying ourselves and following Him in obedience. Years ago, my father taught accounting classes at a junior college, and he said later that one of the best comments he got from a student in a class survey at the end of term was, “Mr. Conley is a tough instructor. He doesn’t cut corners, but he’s fair.” Dad said that this was one of the best compliments he had been given, because the class should not have been easy. However, he did not want to be unreasonable either. One of the easiest ways we can excuse ourselves is to think that someone is being unreasonable. Whether it is our parents, our pastor, our boss, etc., we can make ourselves feel better if we are convinced that they are unfair.
Consider though that He who gave the law and commandments is not unfair or unreasonable. He has shown us fully how reasonable and fair He is. When He assumed flesh and blood, He lived here for 33.5 years fully showing the keeping of His law and commands. Though King and Ruler over all, He submitted Himself to live and abide by His own law and commandments in the form of a servant. He showed the depths of them that rulers and leaders had not previously considered. He lived fully following and perfectly executing them. He required public worship and faithful attendance to the Lord’s day. So, His custom was to worship every Sabbath day. He required moral excellence. So, His life was marked by spotless purity. He required faithful attendance to prayer, and so He prayed often to His Father. In all points, He exemplifies the fulfillment rather than the destruction of those things that He laid. (Matthew 5:17)
Friends, no matter how our lives have been or are right now, we should not excuse ourselves or pass blame to others. Surely we can see that life has dealt us some bad hands and tough knocks. Surely we can see that others have been and are still doing worse than we are. None of these things change the fact that God’s law says we stand or fall based on our actions not the actions of others. Do we want His smiles? Let us live in accordance with His ways. If we follow our own path, we should expect the dark frown of righteous judgment. Even if we live in a cold and dark world that may go through trials and tempests from the hand of God’s indignation, we can still feel His calm and sweet peace during those storms when our actions follow His teachings. Consider how many times He blessed a faithful band that was enduring national distress. Daniel, Noah, Moses, and many others enjoyed sweet fellowship with the Lord during dark storms of indignation. Why? Because the Lord gave them sweet peace during those times. Let us seek His face and sweet fellowship likewise.