So far, 2020 has seen a lot of high-profile news stories. If you are anything like me, you may have forgotten some of the stories that dominated the news cycle in the first two months of 2020. Do you remember Brexit, the reaction to the Super Bowl LIV halftime show, or the voting issues at the Iowa Caucus? Those stories feel like they happened years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic and incidents of racial injustice have occupied my mind and my anxiety almost to the exclusion of anything else.
Regardless of one’s viewpoints on these stories and situations, one common thread unites them all: blame. Much of the coverage of any news story involves who is blaming whom. President Trump, the media, China, Russia, the police, the Democrats, the Republicans, and many more have received their fair share of blame over the past several months.
Blame is not new, of course. Blame goes hand in hand with sin, and it always has. Wherever imperfections are revealed in the world, we feel the need to put the blame on someone. We can see this already with Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they hide. God comes looking for them. When God finds them, He addresses Adam first, asking, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam responds, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:11–12). Notice, Adam blames Eve; but moreover, he blames God.
Cain follows in his parents’ footsteps with sin and blame. When God accepts Abel’s sacrifice but is displeased with Cain’s, Cain blames his brother for this and murders him. Sarah (at the time Sarai) has no one to blame but herself and Abraham for the conception and birth of Ishmael, but she blames Hagar. The Israelites are constantly blaming Moses and God for forty years in the wilderness. Throughout Israel’s history, they blame prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah for prophesying bad news.
When Jesus begins His public ministry, the chief priests, scribes, and other religious leaders view Him as a threat. They accuse Him of blasphemy. They blame Him for their own anxieties of uncertainty and inferiority, seeking to silence Him, much like Cain silenced Abel. When Jesus rises from the dead, these religious leaders spread a false rumor blaming the disciples for stealing Jesus’ body.
Why Do We Blame Others?
We use blame as a way to self-justify, as a way to hold on to our power and reputation at the expense of someone else’s power and reputation. Blame is a tactic we use to distract others from our failures. We seek to focus disappointment and outrage on someone else in the hope that we will escape any repercussions of our own mistakes and sins. If we can look externally for fault, then we do not have to look internally at our own faults. We can distract ourselves and avoid sitting with our own sin. This is what Adam tries to do as he blames Eve and God. This is what the old Adam in each of us continues to do daily.
There are a lot of challenges currently facing the church. You may have blamed your pastor, principal, district president, synod, or various other people for any number of problems that your congregation, school, preschool, or you personally are facing. We are all sinners. We all deserve blame. But blaming others does not get us anywhere. Blame seeks to sidestep responsibility like a child saying, “He started it!” Or “She hit me first!” Blame leaves us in our sin.
The Alternative and Antidote to Blame
However, as the Church, we have been given the antidote and quintessential alternative to blame: Confession and Absolution. In the Small Catechism, Luther writes this: “[T]he Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and … a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Baptism, Fourth Part). As we remember our Baptisms, we daily repent. As we gather for worship, we confess our sins and see them absolved. As we struggle with burdened consciences, we bring our sins privately to our pastors and receive forgiveness, proclaimed directly to us with all certainty.
When God asks Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, notice that he does confess. His final words in the response to God’s question are his confession, “and I ate.” Blame is used to answer the question “why?” when that question has not been asked. Adam could have simply confessed and said, “Yes.”
Confession does not seek to answer the why of sin. Confession answers God’s yes or no question, “Have you done what I commanded you not to do?”
There are many ways that the Church can stand out as different from the world. I believe abandoning blame and focusing on Confession and Absolution is one of the most important for this time. I believe this is true not only because of how prevalent blame is, but, more importantly, because Confession and Absolution always point to Jesus and His death and resurrection for us and our salvation.
Catechism quotations: © 1986, CPH.
Comb through the Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, and Lutheran hymns to see how these resources can help you live out your faith life with Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Spirituality: Confession.