Series: Marriage East of Eden
“The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 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” (Gen 3:12-13)
Blame-shifting is an idol inherited from our ancient ancestors. It’s an insidious idol of the heart that threatens to poison our relationships, especially the unique one-flesh bond of marriage. Left to rule the roost, this idol can lead to an abusive marriage in which a manipulative husband uses every trick in the book to avoid being held accountable for his own behaviour. A wife may play the victim or get angry and aggressive if her husband fails to show her the sympathy she feels she deserves. As Christians, we must recognize that blame-shifting is an idol that has set itself up in every human heart since the Fall. It is a tendency that is in each one of us as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
The original ‘victims’
Genesis 3 tells us that every marriage has an Enemy, and that enemy is not our spouse! Notice that Satan slithered in by stealth to tempt the first married couple (Gen 3:1). He didn’t announce himself as the Enemy. And yet, before Adam and Eve knew it, Satan had slandered God’s goodness and his Word (Gen 3:4-5). He convinced the first humans that God was a killjoy and that they could judge for themselves what is right and wrong.
Then, instead of taking responsibility for their sin, Adam and Eve blamed each other, blamed God and blamed Satan (Gen 3:12-13). Adam accused Eve, and even blamed God for giving him his wife. “The devil made me do it!” said Eve. They created scapegoats to divert from their own guilt. In today’s language, Adam and Eve played the victim card. Their rebellion was everyone else’s fault except their own.
Tragically, each of us carries into our marriage this idol of blame to protect ourselves and hide from our guilt. We look for solutions out there, to avoid looking into our own rebellious hearts, which do not worship or love God as we ought. We pretend to be the poor hapless victims of other evil people or circumstances.
Worshipping at the altar of blame.
So how does this idol of blame rule and reign in our day-to-day marriages?
Being married to another human being is inevitably hard, because the moment we turn away from God, we naturally turn our backs on each other. We offend and get offended far too easily. We get stuck on who’s right and who’s wrong, instead of acting to build the other in love. It doesn’t take long before we think our spouse is the enemy, instead of the issue at hand. We get angry and aggressive, or we ‘stonewall’ honest conversation and build walls. We manipulate our spouse’s emotions and put him/her on a guilt trip. Without help, we’re often blind to what’s really going on in our relationships and our own heart, so the destructive cycle continues.
Blaming and complaining.
The blame game is nothing new to human relationships. It’s what the Israelites did in their distress, when they blamed God, Moses, the water and the manna that God provided generously in the wilderness (Ex 16:2-5; Num 11:4-6; 14:2; Num 20:2-5; 21:5). Remember how they even turned on Moses when God judged them for their incessant grumbling (Num 16:41). When we blame and complain against our spouse, the Lord hears our grumbling and it greatly displeases him (Num 12:2). Blame-shifting is no small thing to God, because it is an idol of the heart that steals our devotion and gratitude to Him.
The child of entitlement.
James says that grumbling results from not getting what we want or expect (James 4:1-3). It is the child of entitlement. But in reality, when we blame our spouse, the one we are really complaining against is God Himself (Ex 16:8). Blaming is just another way that we grumble against God and slander our neighbour, instead of loving God and the nearest neighbour that God has provided—our spouse.
Believe me, I’m not speaking here as a Christian who has demolished this idol in my own life. Far from it! I still struggle against the powerful urge to put myself at the centre and worship at the altar of blame. It doesn’t take much to unleash the little narcissist in me, besotted with my gripes and grievances, searching for anyone and anything to blame. I hate not getting what I want or expect! “I’m tired, that’s why I’m in a bad mood! If only God would fix this person/system/situation, I would be a much more godly person!” When I look through the lens of entitlement, I attack or become defensive and demanding. I pity myself and am easily offended. Worst of all, I’m usually guilty of the very same things I point out in Pete! That’s because we become like our idols (Ps 115:8; 135:18; Jer 10:14). The sanitised term is ‘projection’.
The antidote to blame-shifting.
The Fall demonstrates our natural tendency to shift blame onto others. But the Gospel points to Christ, who was truly blameless, and yet shifted all our blame onto Himself. He is the only effective ‘blame-shifter,’ and He also calls Himself the Bridegroom. The Lord who commands us to love our spouse has shown us what genuine, self-giving love looks like in the way that He loves His Bride, the Church. He calls us to turn to Himself as the source of love. He doesn’t simply command us to love our spouse and then leave us to do it on our own. He also empowers us to exercise this unnatural kind of love towards our spouse, as we love Him.
Moreover, our Creator-God has also given us the blueprint for godly relationships. In the Bible, we find many practical principles for dealing with conflict without resorting to blame. Given our sinful nature and the dismal state of marriage in our culture, Christian couples would be foolish to ignore these principles, which run radically counter to the pattern of this world. We cannot ignore God’s ethic without suffering serious shipwreck in our marriages, and indeed in all our relationships. Next week we will look at four of these principles in part 2.
Oh Lord, you are the Groom and we are the Bride. We know our marriages are supposed to reflect the beautiful unity of the Trinity– Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but so often they don’t. Help us to know the depth, length and breadth of your great love for us, so that we will be a conduit of this gracious, forgiving, faithful, enduring love to our marriage partners. Free us from the idol of blame which makes us think we are always right, and that we are entitled to have whatever we want. Teach us to be more like you and to work for the good and godliness of our spouse. In Jesus’ name, Amen.