I recently came across this story attributed to theologian John Killinger. The manager of a minor league baseball team became so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and assumed the position himself.
The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun–until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms; unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked him in the eye.
Furious, he ran back to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform, and shouted. ’You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!
There is a human tendency to blame others for our errors. To deflect personal responsibility. And even to justify our sins.
The prophet Ezekiel encountered this attitude among exiled Israelites in Babylonian captivity. They even had made popular a cute proverb to explain their situation.
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
In response, Jehovah said, “No more shall you use this proverb.”
Ezekiel then countered their false ideas about God’s justice and judgment by offering some hypothetical situations and drawing conclusions.
A righteous man who “does what is right and lawful” and has not “lifted up his eyes to idols,” nor walked in the way of the wicked, “He is just, and shall surely live,” says the Lord.
However, suppose his son is unrighteous. He’s a robber. A murderer. An adulterer. An idolater. That man, “shall surely die.”
But suppose the wicked man’s son, sees the sins of his father, refuses to follow his ungodly example, and walks according to the Lord’s statutes. That man, God proclaims, “shall surely live.”
The chapter is teaching personal responsibility and accountability. The key verse that sums up this principle is found in verse 20.
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezek.18:20)
Furthermore, the prophet reminds us that we cannot blame God for the consequences of our sins. God is light. Love. Righteous. And holy. When we sin, it’s not His fault. We must accept responsibility for our own actions.
In the context of today’s national discussion about racism and “white privilege,” some are saying that I bear responsibility for the sins of my forefathers. Or that somehow the actions of a white rogue cop who unmercifully murdered a black man is society’s fault. Or the fault of the white race. Or my fault.
Let’s be clear. The cop was wrong. He committed an egregious, sinful act. He bears personal responsibility. He ought to be punished to the full extent of the law. And the Lord, will judge him accordingly. However, I take no responsibility for his action.
I will admit that I have enjoyed “white privilege” all of my life. I also have profited from the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. I was taught respect for others, of all races. Biblical values were role-modeled in our home. It’s been a blessing all of my life.
Yet, I know of other kids with the same privileges who disdained their parent’s values. They turned from Truth. Rejected the Lord. Some became atheists. Other racists.
I also know of children from African-American homes, raised by their mother, with an absentee father, living in a poor, inner-city community. There apparently was no privilege to be enjoyed. Yet, they overcame a difficult environment. And grew up to become successful, law-abiding and God-fearing people.
I remember meeting a young, Christian, black lady several years ago in a church where I preached. I learned that her grandmother was a slave. But she was working on a Master’s Degree, had a well-paying job, and enjoyed a good lifestyle. She was the model of grace, dignity, and virtue.
I know of two brothers raised in a white, middle class home. Their parents were Christians. They were taught right and wrong. But one brother ended up serving a life sentence in prison for committing murder. The other brother serves as a Shepherd in the Lord’s church.
The bottom line is that we each, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic background, bear personal responsibility for our lives. To the Lord. And for our actions and attitudes toward others.
Past actions motivated by racist attitudes were wrong. If my father was racist, I don’t have to be. And neither does my son. Or my grandson.
What each of us can do today, is live by “the golden rule.” Love all people created in God’s image. Hate evil. Uphold Truth. Help bear the burdens of our brethren. Be a good Samaritan. And take personal responsibility for our decisions and behavior.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. ”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman