Who We Are & Who We Can Be Pt. 2

 

 

Last month Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc across the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Despite days of advance warning and round-the-clock news coverage, the majority of people living in areas that would be afflicted chose to stay in their homes.

When interviewed about “why they stayed”, no one claimed to have been uninformed about the immense hurricane bearing down on them.  Each of them offered their own excuse for refusing to evacuate:

“Newscasters always exaggerate.”

“I’ve been in a hurricane before.”

“I didn’t want anyone to loot my house.”

If these excuses sound eerily familiar, it’s because they are echoes of the statements made by many who stayed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

It seems as if there’s no way to get people to behave responsibly in the face of impending disaster.

This is the second in a series of posts that take a closer look into how we choose to respond to our transgressions, and how these responses help determine the trajectory of our lives.  In Part 1 we examined 4 common ways that humans attempt to escape responsibility:

Denial,
Distraction,
Deflection,
Minimization.

These 4 avoidance techniques aren’t new, in fact we find a record of each of them inside one of our planet’s oldest documents.  In the earliest portions of our Bible we find a record of mankind’s first step away from the God who created and sustained them.

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, Yahweh creates the place where he will interact with what will be the pinnacle of his creation: human beings.

We know these first people as Adam and Eve.

In placing the couple in the garden he made for them, Yahweh included an instruction that they were to not eat of one specific tree, a tree that promised the “Knowledge of Good and Evil”.

It was a warning that to enjoy God’s goodness, you must submit to him in obedience.

A snake, a conversation, and a light-snack later, both Adam and Eve had disobeyed the God who not only provided the unlimited blessing that they lived in, but with whom they interacted on a daily basis.

Scripture tells us that after eating the fruit of the tree that their eyes were “immediately opened” and that they “knew that they were naked”.  Their desire for knowledge was satisfied, but they immediately became dissatisfied with a situation that God had pronounced “good”.

That’s when God came looking for them.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”Genesis 3:8

The immediate response to the guilt and embarrassment of their disobedience was to escape from God by hiding.  Their logic was simple, “If we can’t be found, we can’t be confronted.”

This was a passive/aggressive attempt at living in a state of denial.

God’s response was to call them out, confronting them by asking direct questions.  Although he surely knew what they’d done, his approach was not condemnation… He let their own words condemn them:

“Where are you?”

“I hid because I was naked.”

“Who told you that you were naked… did you eat from the tree?”

Adam, unable to escape the confrontation, began working to escape responsibility for his role in the shamed couple’s sin; “If it’s not my fault, I shouldn’t be punished.”

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”-Genesis 3:12 

Adam’s response to God’s confrontation is a primer in the subtle nuances of blame-shifting.  While he acknowledges that he has eaten from the tree, he places responsibility for the action squarely onto his wife; it’s the perfect illustration of the Deflection technique.

Where Adam truly demonstrates a mastery over his newly acquired aptitude for irresponsibility is in how his Deflection to Eve contains a Distraction aimed back at God:

“The woman you gave me…”

Adam’s implication is that there are other problems in the garden; the problems of a defective gift and a faulty giver.  He asserts Eve’s guilt and then makes Eve out to be God’s problem.  Sin had so broken Adam that he viewed God’s gift as the source of his problems.

In response, God simply continued his questions.

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  –Genesis 3:13

While Eve’s response is a concise statement of what happened, it’s also an admission that doesn’t attempt to take responsibility for her action.  In her view it’s all the snake’s fault, which is interesting because God didn’t ask Eve a question about who had deceived her, he asked her what SHE had done.

Within her own attempted Deflection Eve invites comparison between serpentine deceit and simple disobedience.  It’s an even more subtle blending of technique than even Adam demonstrates.  By offering the Serpent’s sin as the excuse to cover for her own, she attempts to Minimize her sin.

Our first parents fought to escape confrontation through deception and accountability through irresponsibility.  As their progeny our apple doesn’t fall far from the tree does it?  Aren’t we all guilty of all this today?

It seems as if there’s still no way to get people to behave responsibly in the face of impending disaster.

In their behavior Adam and Eve demonstrated who they had become through sin:

Deceitful,
Mistrustful,
Irresponsible,
and
Guilty.

Their punishment should have meant instant destruction, but in his unfailing loving-kindness Yahweh did not annihilate them, or allow them to escape responsibility through deception.

He dealt with their rebellion by allowing the consequence of their sin to land squarely on the responsible parties:

Because he freely ate the fruit, Adam could no longer freely eat of the ground.
– Now only work would bear fruit.

Because Eve misled her husband, her relationships would be strained.
– Even childbirth would be tainted with pain.

They would be expelled from the Garden.
– Desiring to be like God cost them the ability to be with him.

Their physical bodies would now perish.
– Originally taken from the ground, they would now return to it.

In his kindness God didn’t withhold consequences, but he also didn’t leave them mired in them.

He took responsibility for restoring their righteousness, offering sacrifice and covering their shame with animal skins.  He also made a promise that their offspring would eventually deliver humanity from sin by crushing death, the just consequence of sin.

He pointed them away from “who they had become” and into “who they could be.”

 —

Ginger Matthews has lived in Long Beach, N.Y. for 59 years.  She defied the evacuation orders.  “I would never have imagined something so devastating… nobody would have convinced me to leave. … I wanted to be here to prevent anything… But that was senseless.”

If there’s ever another evacuation order in New York, there will undoubtedly be some people who decide to stay.

Because of who they are.

After suffering the consequences of her previous decision, left stranded in a ruined laundromat, Ginger Matthews will probably make the decision that could make her a survivor.

Because that’s who she wants to be.

Continue to Part 3

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