Years ago one of the newspaper advise givers—Dear Abby or Ann Landers . . . which of the two sisters, I don’t know . . . gave some advice to a reader that I still have not figured out how a person of faith or ethical standards could accept and carry out. It started with a letter. The reader wrote that she had gone to a store and made a purchase. Upon paying for the purchase the reader noticed when she got home that she was given more change back than the item was worth. Her question was whether or not she “had” to go back and fix the mistake.
Whichever of the two sisters answered: NO! No, she did not have to go back and correct the mistake. She did not have to go back and correct the mistake because it was not her fault . . . just keep the money and go on. The cashier should have been doing his or her job correctly . . . it is their problem.
Now that advice has bothered me for years. More often than not, when the cashier has to close out his or her register someone has to make up the difference if there is a shortage in the till. Typically it is going to be the cashier who pays the price . . . either in making up the difference out of pocket or losing a job. Being a person of faith and what I consider to a somewhat ethical person, I think that if I had caught the mistake I would have to go back and make it right . . . I would have to go back and give the money back. It would be my responsibility.
Responsibility has three definitions: the state of being the person who caused something to happen; a duty or task that you are required or expected to do; and, something that you should do because it is morally right or legally required. (Mirriam-Webster Dictionary) In the case of the overpaid customer she should have done what was expected based on morals or even legal standards to keep the cashier from losing his or her job . . . she should have returned the money. But, instead, she finds an excuse and is given permission from those advise dispensers—Abby and Ann—to ignore her responsibility. It wasn’t her fault. She is not the one who screwed up.
One of my favorite “parenting” scriptures is the story of the fall of Adam and Eve . . . the “Temptation Story”. We all know it. God creates humans—male and female . . . names them Adam and Eve. God puts them in paradise where they have everything that they would ever need. Tells them to enjoy it all . . . but, God tells them that they are not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Then God goes off to take care of some business and leaves them alone in the garden.
Along comes a serpent . . . a wily creature . . . a trickster sort of a character . . . who strikes up a conversation with Eve. In the course of the conversation the serpent convinces Eve that it is okay for her to eat of the forbidden fruit . . . convinces her that she isn’t going to die from eating the fruit. Well, since the fruit looked so delicious and enticing, she goes for it . . . she eats the fruit. It was so good she makes Adam eat some too.
In life there are always consequences to actions. The consequence to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit was that it opened up their eyes . . . suddenly they knew good and bad, right and wrong, and had developed a conscious. They looked at each other, saw that they were naked, and immediately went about making some clothes out of fig leaves to cover up.
Later in the evening they heard the footsteps of God as God was taking a stroll through the garden. Now having a conscious the two of them immediately went into hiding because they did not want God to see them naked . . . I think it was because they knew that they had done something wrong. Whatever the case, they were hiding from God.
When God demands to see the two of them . . . the real fun begins. This is the part I think every person who has ever dealt with kids knows by heart. Adams explains that they were hiding because they were naked. God wants to know who told them they were naked . . . then it dawns on God that they must have eaten the forbidden fruit, so God wants to know whether or not they have done what they were told not to do. Adam claims that it was not his fault because Eve made him eat the fruit. Eve then empathically states that it was not her fault because the serpent tricked her into eating the fruit. The serpent started to look around for someone to blame but could find no one and thus caught the consequences for getting the whole thing going in the first place.
Needless to say, God was not pleased with any of them. True the serpent got punished . . . lost its legs, had to slither around on its belly for the rest of eternity . . . became a snake that would be scary to people and would end up getting crushed by those humans. Adam and Eve got banished from the good and easy life of the garden . . . now they had to work for everything . . . and, Eve would have a painful reminder of her choice to eat the fruit whenever she gave birth. Because none of them would take responsibility for their actions they all reaped the consequences.
How good are any of us in taking “responsibility” when it comes to following the will of God in our lives? I guess it depends on who you ask. If you go with what is written in the newspapers and broadcasted on television or the radio, we Christians are not doing so well. It would seem that most of society does not have a favorable view of Christians . . . most often Christians are seen in the category of hypocrites. But, rejoice, we have our excuses.
First of all, we are sinners. Sinners screw up. Sinners make mistakes. Everyone does it . . . besides, God will forgive us. Isn’t that why God sent Jesus . . . to forgive us of our sins? The problem with this is that once the sin has been pointed out to us we are not supposed to keep doing it.
Another one is that whatever we are doing we have convinced ourselves that it has nothing to do with our faith . . . it is just business as usual. Everyone does it because that is the way that business is done. Fine and dandy for those who are following Wall Street’s example, but is it the way that Jesus would do it?
Then there is the excuse of “it isn’t illegal”. True . . . what the reader who wanted to know about being overpaid ended up doing was not illegal . . . she did not break any law; but, was it right? Was it the way that Jesus would have treated people? Just because it is not illegal does not make it right.
Some use the old “eye for eye” excuse. People do what they do because that is the way that others have treated them . . . it only seems fair because we are treating them the way they treated us.
One of my favorites is that “we were just doing what everyone else was doing”. When in Rome do as the Romans do. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Besides, we are not in church! Still an excuse for not taking responsibility for one’s own actions and choices.
You would think, after hearing the story of Adam and Eve, that nothing escapes the eyes of God. You would also think, after hearing what happened to them for the choice that they made, that there is no escaping the consequences of that choice. The consequences are eventually going to catch up . . . maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually they are going to return and bite us in the rear end. And, you would think, from hearing the story that we would learn that God doesn’t like excuses. God wants us to take responsibility.
In fact, God placed the responsibility squarely on our shoulders to deal with . . . God left us with the ability to make the choices. We can either do the will of God . . . follow in the example and footsteps of Jesus . . . or, we can do whatever we want because we have excuses. It is not our fault. At least that is what we want to believe . . . the devil made me do! In the eyes of God, and in our hearts, we know that this is hogwash. If it is our choice, then it is our responsibility. That is the gift of “free will” that we have been blessed with by God. That is the freedom we have.
When it comes to our faith and spiritual journey, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and the choices that we make . . . good or bad . . . because it is our choice, our decisions. There is no one to blame . . . no one to point fingers at . . . no excuses. It is our choice. Amen.