Last Wednesday was the 74th Anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of France towards the end of the Second World War. I'm sort of a WWII history buff, so I like watching the documentaries and reading about all of the preparation that went into what was, at the time, the largest amphibious invasion in history.
The invasion on D-Day was a success, and it's remembered as a major turning point in the war. But at the time, the planners knew it wasn't a sure thing. After all, nothing this big had ever been attempted, and there were a lot of logistical details that could go wrong and sink the invasion, no matter how brave or skilled the soldiers and sailors were.
And so just before the invasion, General Eisenhower wrote out a short note that he planned to read planned publically should the invasion fail. The note talked about the great effort of all the soldiers and sailors, and how the best information possible had been used in the decision. But in the end, he concluded, "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."
It was a remarkable note, that actually was forgotten about until somebody doing Ike's laundry found it in his coat pocket a few days later. And what was remarkable was that, if the invasion failed, Eisenhower was going to accept full responsibility for what went wrong. He wasn't going to pass the buck.
Especially in today's political environment, that's unheard of! Everybody, of all political parties and persuasions, is only too happy to tell us how everything is the other person's fault. There's always some excuse, or some extenuating circumstance, that makes it possible to pass the buck (and the blame) to someone else.
But in fact, it isn't just today. And it isn't just politics. It's human nature to want to avoid blame and pass the buck. Today's first reading from the very beginning of Genesis is a story that's intended to show us what human nature is like when things go wrong.
In this second creation story, God has created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden that has everything they need. They have one (and only one!) restriction - don't eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Clearly, this irked them...! (When questioned by the snake, Eve says, "we can't even touch it!", which was not part of the instructions!)
So, the snake plants the idea that if they eat the fruit they'll be "like God", which is the little nudge Eve needs to give it a shot. Adam sees that Eve got away with it, so he gets in on the act, too.
But then God asks what's going on? And immediately, they both try to pass the buck:
- Eve says, "the serpent tricked me" - the first ever attempt at "the devil made me do it!"
- Adam has a two-fold argument - "the woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit!"; "you see God, this is really your fault - if you had planned this creation thing better this wouldn't have happened!"
But passing the buck didn't work for Adam and Eve. And although people ever since have tried to make it work, passing the buck really doesn't work for anybody else either.
We sometimes think of "original sin" as being about eating the fruit God told Adam and Eve not to eat. (That is, messing up with one little rule.) But really, original sin is about messing up relationships. It's about how people inherently mess up their relationship with God, with each other, and with the world around them.
Trying to pass the buck was really what made things bad in this story. And in general, trying to pass the buck is a great way to mess up your relationship with:
- other people ... (can you imagine the conversation the next day when Adam had to figure out how to talk to Eve after trying to blame her for his mistakes ...?)
- yourself ... (it's not entirely clear that Adam or Eve really learn from their mistakes, because if you can't admit your own mistakes, or even your own part in the mistake, you can't possibly learn from them and grow in your own life ...)
- God ... (Adam and Eve are separated from the presence of God not because they make a mistake, but because they insist that they're right and God is wrong, and they don't even ask for forgiveness ...)
This ancient story of creation calls us to remember that, even though we're human beings created and loved by God, we inherently want to be God instead of loving God. And that tendency shows itself through wanting to pass the buck and the blame on to others for everything that happens.
Inherently, human beings mess up our relationships like that. And the prescription for our sin isn't to stop being human, or pretend that we don't have this problem (that's simply another way of passing the buck.) The prescription that God gives us is God's forgiveness.
But the problem is that many people understand forgiveness as God saying, "yeah, OK, I forgive you. (or maybe pretend I don't remember how you messed up.") But in fact, forgiveness is a renewed relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. It's hard work, and it needs practice.
And in some respects, living into God's forgiveness is about a daily struggle against original sin - that inherent desire to pass the buck and blame somebody else. And so, living into forgiveness is about: