Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything, except temptation.” Beneath that little bit of humor is fact. We are all tempted and we all sin. Jesus was the only exception. He was tempted as we clearly learned in the Gospels. Therefore, temptation is not sin. Jesus resisted and He will help us if we really want to win over sin.
However, too many of us find that we do wrong or fail at what we know we should have done. Instead of admitting it, we look for someone or something to blame. We evade our personal responsibility for our misdeeds and mistakes. This is called scapegoating. Like Pilate we try to wash our hands of responsibility, and like Pilate, we can’t. Hitler blamed Germany’s post World War I inflation and unemployment on Jews and killed six million of them.
It is so common we hardly notice. It is usually spontaneous and unconscious. Labor blames management and management blames imports or some unfair competition. Parents pass the buck on their responsibility by blaming society or someone else for their children’s misguided actions. Politicians spend much of their time assigning their failures to the other party or candidate. Current examples in Congress and national leadership are numerous. Talking about what someone is against instead of what someone is for has become a way of life it seems among those we send to office.
To blame is easy. The scapegoat tendency is ingrained in human nature. A carpenter misses the nail, hits the thumb and curses the hammer. A golfer missed a putt and finds fault with the club. Even children are good at blaming others. I heard the story of a boy who decided to step on a cat’s tail. Hearing the cat scream, the mother called from the kitchen, “Tommy, stop pulling the cat’s tail.” He replied, “I’m not pulling his tail. I’m standing on it. He’s doing the pulling.”
The truth is, most of our scapegoating is very unfair. No person, family, job or relationship is perfect. All of us must learn to take responsibility for our actions, failures and sins. It’s been said, “He who smiles in a crisis has found someone to blame,” rather than seek solutions or accept personal responsibility. Some enterprising business came up with an idea for offering a unique service. The company was called “Rent-A-Scapegoat.” They advertised that they would gladly come to any business and accept blame for whatever happened, admitting to nearly anything.
Do you recall the “Day of Atonement” from the Old Testament? It was and is an annual Jewish New Year Celebration. It is also called Yom Kippur. You will find in Leviticus 16 the story of a scapegoat which was part of the annual observance. The High Priest selected two goats. He confessed his sins to God and sacrificed one goat as a sin offering. He placed his hands on the head of the second goat and confessed the sins of Israel. Then this goat was driven into the wilderness. Most scholars believe this goat was driven into the wilderness over a cliff as a sacrifice. Either way, it was sent away to die as a symbol of the people’s sinfulness. Israel could start the year with a clean slate. This ancient ritual is where we get the term “scapegoat.”
It is so human to blame others when we do wrong. I remember a young lady I who had gotten in trouble time and time again well into her late teens. Yet she continued to blame her parents for things which happened as a child even though she had received excellent counseling and help from other adults and teachers. She still was making bad choices and never accepting responsibility.
The classic example of blaming others is Adam. He said of Eve, “She tempted me and I ate.” When Eve was confronted she blamed the serpent. The real problem was they both disobeyed the divine command and faced a day of reckoning. What people need to realize is that scapegoating doesn’t work forever. Habits of passing the buck early in life will ultimately make someone unlikely to make a good employee, mate in marriage or a good friend. However, far worse is how silly and futile shortcuts and excuses will seem when we face God one day.
Yes, we do live in an evil world. It is true some people do have bad parenting. Others inherit serious health problems. A bad economy hurts almost everyone. On and on the list could go. Everyone can find someone to blame for problems in life. Tragically, some even come to the level of blaming God for their problems. Adam fell victim to this as he blamed not only Eve, but God as well. Listen to his words to God, “The woman you gave me, she tempted me and I ate.”
Robert Burns, the great poet of Scotland, once wrote, “Thou knowest thou hast formed me with passions wild and strong, And listening to their witching voice has often led me wrong.”
If this is our nature and it is so prevalent around us, what are we to do? First, we must reject notions of a predestined nature. God never makes us do wrong. He placed us in a risky world but not without adequate resources to help us. Further, we can learn from our mistakes and wrong choices if we choose. Making excuses doesn’t guard us against the next time nearly like facing our faults and doing something about them.
Imagine how the prodigal son must have blamed his father’s restrictions and the economic conditions in the far country for his troubles. It was only when “he came to himself” that he had the courage to go home.
Our culture has tended to make “scapegoat” a term of derision or something to make fun of. Blaming others for our wrongs is nothing funny. For Christians, it is a powerful description of what Jesus did for us. He became our “scapegoat.”
The Bible says our sins were laid on Him, the innocent Lamb. Either we pay the penalty for our sins, or we accept a sacrifice made in our behalf to cover the debt of our sins. We all deserve eternal punishment. We find ourselves in a moral wilderness. The Biblical term “atonement” means “to cover or reconcile.” Sin alienates, it defiles and separates us from God. Christ’s atonement provides a bridge to life by the removal of guilt. The Psalmist wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” Christian repentance is abandoning scapegoats and experiencing the Father’s forgiveness.
Someone penned this well-worded prayer worth our remembering.
“Father, we are clever at making excuses but clumsy at prayer.
We are artful dodgers at passing the buck and finding scapegoats.
Make us equally good at confession and repentance.”