A man accused of petty theft, went before the Judge and was asked, “How do you plead?”
“Not guilty,” replied the thief.
“On what grounds?” asked the Judge
“Well, your honor, my arm reached through an open window and took a few trifling things. My arm isn’t really who I am. Surely you are not going to punish me for an offense committed by a single limb?”
“Interesting defense,” replied the Judge. “Using your logic, I will sentence your arm to one year in jail. You can accompany it or not. Your choice.”
With that the defendant smiled. Detached his artificial arm. Laid it on the bench. And walked out of the courtroom.
Obviously, this is a joke. But what is not a joke is the lack of personal responsibility that’s rampant in our country today. Twenty years ago Charles Sykes published a book entitled “The Nation of Victims” and documented in detail the problem of people not taking responsibility for their actions.
Among his many examples Sykes writes about a school district employee fired for consistently showing up late for work, but he sues, claiming he is a victim of “chronic lateness syndrome.”
“Videotaped puffing on a pipe filled with crack cocaine, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry claims he is a victim of racism.”
An FBI agent embezzled money from the government then lost it all in an afternoon of gambling. He’s fired, but wins reinstatement after suing and claiming his compulsion for gambling is a handicap and protected under federal law.
The decay of our national character is worse now that it was when the book was published in the 1990’s. To escape responsibility for their actions, people blame everyone and everything. Parents. Society. Stress. Dysfunction. Discrimination. And even religious upbringing.
Interestingly the word responsibility is rarely used in most English transitions of the Bible. But the concept is taught from Genesis to Revelation. In the beginning God held Adam and Eve responsible for their individual actions. Adam couldn’t get by with blaming Eve. Nor could Eve “pass the buck” to the serpent. (Gen 3)
King Saul tried to excuse his disobedience to God’s commands by accusing the people. But God placed his wrong doing squarely on his shoulders. (1 Sam. 15:10-34)
The wise man spoke of taking responsibility for one’s actions when he wrote, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov 28:13).
It is often observed that responsibility is two words. Response and ability. While there is not an etymological connection, responsibility involves responding to one’s abilities.
Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrated two men who responded to their abilities and were rewarded. The one talent man was condemned because he failed to take responsibility. He used his fear as an excuse. But the master had no sympathy for his irresponsibility. (Matt 25:14-30).
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “Responsibility is the price of greatness.” Actually responsibility is the price of anything that is worth having and worth achieving.
Family success, financial achievements and spiritual fulfillment begins with accepting our personal responsibilities and then acting upon them. The Bible commands us to each do our own work well and bear our own burden (Gal. 6:4). As we result we will each give account for our own deeds in the day of judgment (2Cor 5:10).
The words of Abraham Lincoln are a good reminder for us all. “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman