5. Off-loading Blame

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 5. Off-Loading Guilt by Off-loading Blame

Gen 3:12 (Msg) “The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”

Misconceptions: There is perhaps no subject like guilt to create misconceptions, wrong ways of thinking, and so in this and the next few studies we are going to eyeball some of these. The first misconception we need to consider is that off-loading absolves from blame – it doesn’t!

Wrong Belief: We have touched on this before but we do need to slowly consider this because it is something that is so common in modern life and Christians are not immune from it. It is the belief that if I can give a reason for my perceived wrongdoing, especially one that off-loads the cause of it onto other people, then is absolves or clear me from the guilt of it. We see this so clearly in the case of the Fall. Adam has been told not to eat of this particular tree, we assume Eve knew about the prohibition, but she went against it and then got him to go against it. They both did what God had said not to do. They were guilty.

Confrontation: But then God confronts them with their changed state, they have become self-aware in a new way: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11a) Guilt always changes our state. However we appear, we all know, deep down at least, that what we do is wrong, which is why we move into a defensive, self-justifying mode.  There can only be one reason for this and so God makes them face it: Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11b) If we are to prosper in life and in eternity, we need to be confronted with the things we’ve got wrong; we can’t take them to heaven!

Justifying: Then we get Adam’s excuse: The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (v.12) I can’t help feeling if I had been God I would have laughed at Adam and retorted, “Adam, you’ve got to be joking! Are you saying it’s my fault because I gave you the woman, that if I hadn’t given her to you, she wouldn’t have been there to lead you astray?” But it continues with the women when the Lord questions her: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v.13b) There is almost behind her offloading, the objection, ‘well this is your world God, you made the snake, he was the one who led me astray.’

Sources of Excuse: I don’t know if you see it yet, but there are the things that go to the heart of all our offloading of guilt – to blame someone else. When things go wrong, very often people blame God: ‘how could a God of love allow this to happen, why didn’t He step in and stop me doing this?’ Because He respects you too much to take away your free will. But often that is too blatant a call so we focus our bad attitudes, our bad behaviour, on other people.

Marriage Breakdown: Whether it is cohabitation or marriage, when one partner commits adultery and enters into an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the partnership, it becomes The most fertile ground for self-deception, half-truths, and self-justification by offloading blame. My wife stopped loving me, she was no longer physically attractive, we just couldn’t get on any longer, she was taken up with her women’s groups, her clubs, her hobbies etc. etc., and never had time for me so when my assistant showed concern and care, it was just natural to find love with her.

Teenage Rebellion: My parents don’t love me, and they clearly don’t love each other, they don’t understand what I’m feeling, the struggles I have with life, so why shouldn’t I go off and try and find peace and pleasure in drugs and sex with my friends.

The Lie: There is an untruth that each person in this sort of situation (and with time and space we could find many more) cons themselves into believing: “I can’t do anything about this weak marriage relationship, this bad relationship with my parents,” and so on. Adam and Eve made choices – wrong choices. You and I have the capability of making choices. That’s how God has made us and He expects us to make good decisions – I will work on my marriage, we will take time and effort to start communicating again, listening to one another, responding in love again to one another, I will not look outside my marriage for comfort. Or perhaps – I will wait for an opportune time to talk honestly with my parents, to ask them about where they are at with me and become the catalyst for change in our family. Yes, of course we cannot do these things without God and maybe without the help of someone outside my situation – that’s why I’m here.

The Starting Point: If we are going to start taking back control and bringing change then the starting point has to be to confess to the Lord you’ve got it wrong and you need His forgiveness and His help to put things right. Whatever steps you need to take, you need His grace and His wisdom, but please stop believing the lie. The truth is that with God’s help you can bring change, you can step back from your bad attitude, words and behaviour, you can restore the relationship. Ask Him.

Snapshots: Day 157

Snapshots: Day 157

The Snapshot: “Just then Boaz arrived.”  (Ruth 2:4) He sees her, inquires about her, and then goes over and reassures her about working there and encourages her to keep on. Her heart, her openness to this new people, this willingness to work and provide for Naomi, have brought her to this field that just happens to belong to Boaz and he just happens to turn up to reassure her and confirm her security. There is a beautiful combination of the good heart of a woman and the working of God that is working together to bring a good conclusion. We always have our part to play in the drama of life in the kingdom but it is always in partnership with the One who rules over it. Be aware of both things, play your part and praise and worship Him as He does His.

Further Consideration: We have to continue to pursue this chain of thought about chance, coincidences, call them what you will, for this story is filled with them. But the more we look into the chain of events that seem to flow in this story, the more we come to realize that, if God’s hand was subtly moving in the background, it was because He knew the heart of the people concerned and knew how He could edge them along to a really amazing outcome.

We will overcome the temptation to jump ahead and see how this works out in this way, but let’s just note the chain of events and the people involved that we’ve seen so far.

First there is Naomi, swept along in not good circumstances, by the will of her husband. She has nothing (to our knowledge) to do with her husband dying, her sons getting wives, them not having children and then dying, but we see her grace and concern for the two younger women as she tried to get them to establish new lives back in their country. Yet somehow something of her grace rubs off on Ruth who will not stay and thus returns to Israel with Naomi. Back in the Land Naomi confesses her misfortunes but it is Ruth who makes the first move, when they realize it is harvest time and clearly Naomi has explained the custom, to go out into the fields to collect leftover grain to feed them. Her willingness to work takes her to a field that just happens to belong to a slightly older but kind-hearted relative.

So what do we have? Grace, love, concern that evokes loyalty in response, followed by a willingness to learn the new ways of Naomi’s people, together with a willingness to ‘go out to work’ to provide for them as she understands those cultural ways, and finally the good heart of Boaz. Add to this the timing element of harvest, plus the ‘chance’ of choosing Boaz’s field, plus another timing element of Boaz turning up, and you have a beautiful mix of ingredients, human and divine, that work together to produce a beautiful outcome. Lovely! Awesome!

Snapshots: Day 156

Snapshots: Day 156

The Snapshot: “As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3) Ruth goes out and randomly chooses the first field she comes across. It just happens to belong to a relative!!!There is this strange thing that unwise unbelievers struggle with and wise believers come to learn, that when you are under the watchful eye of God, ‘coincidences’ start popping up all over the place and although we cannot explain how He does it, somehow the mysterious hand of God seems to behind it. Had the Spirit whispered into her mind, “Hey this looks a good field,” and she just went with it? Let’s not worry about how He does it, but let’s remember the Lord promises to be there working for our good (Rom 8:28). Let’s live with that joy.

Further Consideration: “As it turned out.” Oh my goodness, how simple those words are but they cover up the world of ‘coincidences’ which, when you are a Christian, perhaps turns out not to be ‘luck’ or ‘chance’ but something far more meaningful, either simply foreseen by God or even maneuvered by God.

Was it just ‘chance’ that there was a Samaritan woman of dubious background who came to a well outside town at midday shortly after Jesus had arrived and opened up the Samaritan population to him? (Jn 4:6,7) Was it chance that Rachel turned up just when Jacob had arrived and was inquiring about her family of the shepherds at a well? (Gen 29:6) Was it ‘chance’ that Rebekah turned up at the well where Abraham’s servant was praying about a wife for his master’s son? (Gen 24:12,15) Interesting, three ‘well experiences’ where people gather.

Were they ‘coincidences’ the things that happened to Saul that Samuel had predicted? (1 Sam 10) Clearly some of these things are the foreknowledge of God, God who knows what is going to happen before it does happen, but when these things turn out to be pivotal in bringing about a chain of highly significant outworkings, you realize it is far more than just ‘foreknowledge’. Somehow there is within it somehow the working of God.

My own belief – although we are not told this – is that so often God sees the possibilities and simply whispers into the mind of individuals, “It would be good to go there,” or something similar, and as they respond to His prompting (without realizing it) the chain of events that lead to blessing starts getting rolled out, as I suggested in the Snapshot. When I look back over the years of my life, even though I was rarely aware of it at the time, there are too many ‘coincidences’ for it to just be ‘luck’ or ‘chance’, ‘coincidences’ that opened up a chain of events that meant blessing. This is it; we can’t take pride in any of these things because so often we’re not aware of being led, but it was God!

Snapshots: Day 155

Snapshots: Day 155

The Snapshot: “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.” (Ruth 2:2) There are two very simple but profound thoughts that flow from this verse. First, Ruth had learnt the ways of her mother-in-law’s people. She knew it was harvest time and she knew there was this practice of the needy being allowed to go out and follow the harvesters and collect grain from the left-overs in the field. (Lev 23:22). Second, she was clearly a worker. The epitome of such a worker has surely got to be seen in Prov 31:10-31. Industrious is not the word for it!  But it was this understanding the godly culture of God’s people and a willingness to work into it that opened the door for all the good that was to follow. Do these two things speak to us today?

Further Consideration: Let’s pick up these two threads: learning the culture and a willingness to work, two things we see in Ruth. First, learning the culture. Culture is about ways of life and when we come to Christ we leave behind the old life that was sin-and-self dominated and move into a completely new lifestyle (at least that is how it is supposed to be).  Read Eph 2:1-10 and study the contrasts between the two lives. Now the new believer finds this all very strange and different and so learning and teaching become two of the basic and fundamental goals for them, to find out about Christ more fully, to find out “the incomparable riches of his grace,” (Eph 2:7) what he has achieved for us and what we can expect now as children of God. It is a long-term learning project and does not come quickly. It is why we encourage new believers to start reading a Bible, especially the New Testament in the early days, to learn these things. It is why we encourage new believers to be part of the congregation and learn from the teachers or the Church who can help us along the way. ‘Learning the Culture’.

But then there is this willingness to work. This learning the culture takes time and effort, learning what Christ wants of me takes time and effort, learning what giftings I have that he wants to put to use in the kingdom of God takes time and effort. Being available to be there for, and to love and bless, the people of God takes effort. Learning to be there for the family, for friends, for the world round about me, takes time and effort and that effort is work. We are called disciples, followers of a Master, Jesus, and we are called to follow him as he continues to serve His Father, working to draw men and women to himself. That requires time and effort, that is work. Now work is sometimes tiring and we need sustenance (His word and His Spirit and encouragement of others) and work can get tiring and we need to learn perseverance, patience, and endurance, things that keep us going. May it be so.

Snapshots: Day 154

Snapshots: Day 154

The Snapshot: “Naomi had a relative…. a man of standing….  Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) I like the way this story is told. Here’s a single man, a wealthy man, and a man who had been related to Naomi’s dead husband. All these three things are significant and will become more so as the story unfolds, but for the moment, he’s just a mention at the start of it. Things have got to happen first, then the significance of these three things will come to light. This is going to be a beautiful story of redemption and adoption into the people of God but for the moment that is not clear. So often in life, it just carries on (with God moving in the background without our knowledge) and it is only later that the various threads of life come together. Until it becomes clear, rest in the present, trusting that God is there in it all.

Further Consideration: People are important, family are important, friends are important, employers or employees are important, teachers, tutors and students are important. All of these people I have just listed play different roles in our lives. Often we take them for granted but the way we interact with them means that our futures can be changed, the acts of these people impinge on our lives and it may be for good or bad, and how we respond and the sort of relationship we have had with them previously may determine the outcome now.

‘Dating’ among young people appears a nightmare, so often a self-centred calculation. Dating websites call forth characteristics of two people and we assume this is all that is needed to form a meaningful lasting relationship. Ruth is going to show us another way, a way that is gentle and allows both sides to show something of the reality of who they are to each other, two people who don’t force the circumstances but allow them to proceed and open up slowly in learning about each other, understanding each other, and going with that

It is not based upon sex but upon seeing how they both ‘fit’ together, and that is not physical. Today’s dating has completely lost the divine pattern – make friends first, let the friendship deepen to love, let love be expressed by desire for lifelong commitment and only after that the physical union. No wonder ‘Friends’, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ portrayed such difficulties that love could not be spoken about while a full-blown physical relationship was carried on. Relationship is about the coming together of minds first of all, emotions and feelings subsequently, and only physically later on. What a mess today’s relationships are and no wonder cohabitation breaks up so easily and marriages so often last such a short time.  It is sadder when it is seen inside of the Church, which is a sign of lack of teaching and lack of pastoral care. May we be able to demonstrate a better way to the onlooking and hurting world.

Snapshots: Day 153

Snapshots: Day 153

The Snapshot: “as the barley harvest was beginning.” (Ruth 1:22) Such simple words, words that most would consider insignificant but the truth is that the harvest is going to be a resource for Naomi and Ruth, and eventually a means of Ruth receiving a new husband and a new future. We might say it was an accident that they turned up at this time or we might suggest it was providence (the proactive unseen hand of God behind the scenes). Timing, circumstances, settings, all things that we can miss but things that often have significance in the divine economy, things that God will use in the general redemptive process with His children. Do you write things off as simply ‘coincidences’?  Pause up and look again, it may be the unseen hand of God working for your good.

Further Consideration: We sometimes tend to live in an insular little bubble of our own affairs. We focus on getting up in the morning and often think little of it. If we were a gardener we would be looking at the weather and the weather forecast to determine what needs doing and what can be done. If we were commuters and weather brought down power lines and prevented us getting to work, we would perhaps plan how we could work from home. If one of our children goes down with a fever, we immediately start a course of action to enables us to care for them at home, for school to know they won’t be there. In the Pandemic of 2020 the government-instigated lockdown meant we had to give consideration to how we would cope at home, or still get into work, or care for loved ones not in our home. It was the epitome of having to rethink life, taking into account all the various things that limited us, all the new possibilities that were before us. All of these examples we’ve just cited force us to look further afield, beyond that ‘bubble’ of self-concern I just referred to.

Seasons, weather, personal and national circumstances all go together to make up the package of life around us that requires us to give thought to these things, but much of the time, putting aside illnesses, loss of jobs, accidents and the other things that occur in life without warning, we just carry on day by day not giving thought to the new opportunities that changing life is giving us.

When things happen that force change on us, we often panic, but the truth is that the Lord is with us all the time and if we are wise and maintain a daily expression of our relationship with Him, we can commit to Him all the new interventions that might cause us to worry, and know the peace that He provides (Phil 4:6,7). Sometimes He will intervene and bring about change, sometimes He will impart wisdom to us so that we act and bring about change or simply learn how to live in the new circumstances. It is all a call to be alert.

Snapshots: Day 152

Snapshots: Day 152

The Snapshot: “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Ruth 1:20) Always be careful how you read the Bible; not everyone has an accurate picture of the truth. Naomi has the view that many have – that God punishes haphazardly. It’s tough to tell a hurting person the truth but if it helps correct misapprehensions, do it. If God does judge it is always with a warning, for it to be avoided if possible. If He does take His children home it sometimes is for their good (Isa 57:1) but more often than not death is simply seen as an aspect of the fallen world – it happens and sometimes happens unexpectedly. There are occasions in Scripture where it happened because of sin, but those are clear examples. No, this was not God; He’s simply there to bless her and Ruth, as we’ll see. Don’t misjudge God.

Further Consideration: Understanding what is happening in life and, even more, why it is happening is often a difficult task. When everything is going well we are happy to attribute it to the Lord, but when it isn’t going so well, it raises questions in us, is this caused by God, is this God chastising me? And, of course, there can be different answers.

There may indeed be times when God is proactive in bringing trying circumstances, but I suspect they are far fewer than we might think. Naomi has gone through difficult times. A famine had come to Israel. That had not been her fault. Her husband decided to leave the Land and seek food elsewhere. He hadn’t learnt that God provides even in wilderness or famine-type times. He made the choice to go to an alien land, Moab, a regular enemy of Israel. Naomi went along with him. Their sons married Moabite women – contrary to the Law of Moses. God remained silent.  No children were forthcoming. No sign of God in this but there is also no sign that like Hannah (1 Sam 1) they cried out to the Lord for children. (Perhaps difficult to do that with unbelieving wives). The two sons died. People die prematurely in this fallen world.

Naomi returns home with Ruth, feeling despondent, perhaps feeling shame. Did the Lord make her bitter? No, it was her choice. Did He cause it all? No, they made the initial moves. If the Lord was in it, it was to remain silent. So often He does not force Himself into our affairs but waits until we ask Him to. This in this fallen world, things go wrong. It is dysfunctional, we are dysfunctional, we do wrong, we make bad choices, we make mistakes.

The Lord always purposes good for us but having given us the role we have on the earth He does not force it into the circumstances we have brought about, and yet as soon as we ask, His wisdom is forthcoming to guide us to bring change. The hard part of being any father is watching your children grow, and maturity comes through lessons learned.

Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

Snapshots: Day 150

Snapshots: Day 150

The Snapshot: “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (Ruth 1:9) Good advice, good intentions and such things test the heart. It makes sense, stay here in this your land and start again and get a man from your own people. But good advice, good intentions, common sense, don’t take into account the moving of the heart. This is all about relationship, how these two girls, young women (and maybe not so young!) feel about their mother-in-law. Mothers-in-law are often the butt of music hall jokes which makes the challenge of being one who builds a deep and lasting relationship with the son or daughter-in-law, when you are a Christian, even more important. Watch what’s coming; it is beautiful.

Further Consideration: It is difficult not to run on when you know what is coming in Scripture sometimes, but we will discipline ourselves and hold back and remain with this verse as Naomi speaks to her two daughters-in-law. Her words are gracious as well as wise and they come out of a genuine concern for them. They reveal something of the inner beauty of her heart here which we might consider surprising.

Many people in such a situation, having been dragged off to a foreign land, having lost their husband and then having lost their only two sons, might have felt seriously jaded with life and when we allow such feelings to overtake us, they impact on the way we cope with life and the way we respond to others around us.

We can cease to be ‘nice’ people, cease to be those who others enjoy being around – and that is understandable because it is sometimes really difficult to cope with the knocks of life. That phrase, “It’s a hard knock life” has even been part of a musical or we sometimes speak of ‘the school of hard knocks’, referring to the way this fallen world can sometimes be, and Naomi must surely have felt that. (In fact we’ll see later that this is just how she feels, but here she holds it back).

And yet she considers the plight of these two younger women who have both also suffered bereavement and must be mourning. She considers how they must be feeling and she thinks about their future and she is concerned for their well-being. All of this, seen in the light of her own situation, is quite remarkable. She knows she has to return to her own land, her own people, her own God, returning alone, defeated and, in a measure, in shame but she is willing to sacrifice her feelings for the good of her two daughters-in-law. What is amazing is that they aren’t even her people, although perhaps there are family ties now, but she is willing to forgo even them for the sake of these two younger women. Loving concern for others puts their needs before ours and in this respect Naomi is a remarkable example to us.

Snapshots: Day 149

Snapshots: Day 149

The Snapshot: “Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died.” (Ruth 1:3) In a foreign land with two sons and no husband. What does one do? Marry them off to the locals. But they’re not Israelites. So what, in desperate straits desperate measures are called for. And then, ten years later, the two childless husband-sons died. Can this get any worse? Ah, the famine in Israel is over. Can I go home, possibly in disgrace? What will people say? There are times when the world dumps on us, the sky falls on us and maybe it’s our own fault, but in desperation who is counting? It’s a mess, a total mess. Who could believe in such a situation anything good could come out of it? Yet the end of this story speaks of honour and the Lord’s grace, but in the crisis we can rarely foresee that, but that’s because we forget God. Ooops!

Further Consideration: Redemption – the act and the process of redeeming us from our negative state and circumstances and taking us or changing us into a new and better place – is at the heart of the Bible – and a mystery!

As much as we may talk about it, the love of God is still a mystery, how someone could love such messed up people as we sometimes are and sacrifice His own Son so that we can be redeemed! That IS a mystery! For the Jews throughout the Old Testament period there was a mystery as the prophets kept hinting about a coming one, a saviour, a servant, a criminal, a king. How could all these things be true?

But then how He goes about it in our lives is a mystery. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.”  (1 Cor 1:27,28) God doesn’t work the same way we do.

He works into impossible situations and brings life from death, He takes the foolish to confound the wise, He takes weakness to reveal strength, He takes what is small, insignificant and unappreciated to blow the minds of the onlookers. He takes you and me and digs us out of the mire of the lives we lived, He takes the weakness of the people we were, and transforms us, and people are left wondering.

Oh yes, this situation in which Naomi finds herself in, wasn’t particularly of her making, she went along with her husband’s wishes. She didn’t kill him or her two sons; in fact left to her she would have saved them. So here she is alone – well not quite alone because she now has as company two young widows. Grief all round! What a disaster! If only she had stayed in Israel, how different it might have been! Well perhaps the only difference might have been not having two daughters in law, but then perhaps….  But ‘perhaps’ doesn’t count in a crisis, just hope in God