Guilt-Free Consequences

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day, night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world'” – John 9:1-5

Most of you know this story well. Jesus is walking along and comes across a blind man. The disciples display a comprehensive grasp of prevalent theological thought at the day and rightly ask their Rabbi about the issue. Namely, whose fault is this? Something bad has happened (this man was born blind) so clearly somebody is at fault. The only obvious candidates are the man himself or his parents. So, whose fault is it? Who sinned that this awful thing happened? (Kind of interesting when viewed through today’s theology … how could the man have sinned before birth? – but that’s another issue.)

(As a side note, their argumentation is not all that different from Job’s “friends”: When you serve God, good things happen; if bad things are happening you must not be serving God. Not unlike the devil’s argument to God: When You bless Job he serves You; if You stopped blessing him, he’d stop serving You. Both God and Job reject the reflexive nature of the relationship. But this too is another post.)

We live in a fallen world. We (Christians) believe that man is fundamentally broken, fallen, corrupted, lost. That though men would like to do the right thing, we are given over to self-serving desires and we often do the wrong thing with regards to our neighbors. In such a world, bad things happen. The question of “who sinned that this bad thing happens” implies that no bad things would happen unless somebody tightly coupled to the situation directly caused them. I don’t think this is consistent with the current state of humanity. “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God” (Rom 3:23). It is not in vain that we pray “Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Who sinned? Every last one of us.

I had a conversation with a good friend a while back regarding government policies on assistance for those in need (welfare, in this case). I, of course, feel like all of these policies should go away, on both moral and pragmatic grounds. (1) I don’t think the government ought to have the authority to take from one and give to another in defense of some government-defined (even if it’s right) morality and (2) the policies have not worked. My friend said to me “you assume that everyone in that situation is their of their own fault”. Now, I hate it when people do that – ascribe positions to me that I in-no-way hold. But, it happens a lot and I’m sure I do the same to them – so I won’t complain too loudly. I do not believe that everyone in that situation is their of their own fault, but then again I’m not looking around to find someone else to blame either (like the US taxpayer).

We hear the same logic coming out of Washington DC quite frequently. Of late we hear “we need to help homeowners who are affected by the economic crisis through no fault of their own”. Well there’s plenty of blame to go around for this economic crisis (though crisis is a bit of a strong word just yet). But when politicians talk this way it means: your neighbor had something bad happen through no fault of his own, so we’re going to take your money away (which, I also will now lose through no fault of my own) and give it to him. Hey guys, consequences happen. They suck. They’re no fun, but they happen. Federally mandated consequence amelioration is like playing whack-a-mole.

Now, before you jump on my back and call me a heartless monster. I absolutely believe in helping people in need. I just don’t believe in federally mandated (or state mandated for that matter) solutions. Let the community handle it. Let that person’s support network handle it – whether it’s church, or rotary, or whatever. What about people without support networks? Hey, I know of quite a few support networks looking for ways to add people who are in need. Government has tried (through no fault of their own?) to eliminate our need for those other social support systems, like church and family. The results have not been good. Perhaps we’re moving in the wrong direction.

I don’t believe for one second that society would collapse into chaos if we took away government-run consequence remission programs that have only existed for a short span of human history. Are we addicted? probably. But we can still kick the habit.

As for consequences, stuff happens (it’s a family-friendly blog, so I didn’t use the more common colloquialism). You can’t protect your kids from skinned-knees forever, and you’ll go absolutely crazy trying to find someone to blame every time things go south. You can help people in need, but you should do it yourself. Join up with a community (or international for that matter) organization working to solve problems you care about – or start your own organization, even if you only have one member. Put your skin (read time & money) in the game. Quit deferring to government to solve problems. They spend a lot of money and get little results – and we’re all worse off for it.

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