Take Responsibility

Ezekiel 18

What is Blame Shifting?

It is a personal defense mechanism in which a person deflects feelings of accountability, guilt, or personal responsibility by accusing or redirecting blame to someone else. This is what Adam and Eve did when God asked about their sin in the Garden (Gen 3:12-13).

This behavior has become a pervasive phenomenon in our culture. Everyone, it seems, blames someone else for their problems. To be sure, some blame shifting may seem at least partially justified, because other factors and people do affect our choices and circumstances. Still, we are personally capable of responding to other factors and people in a proper way and are therefore held responsible for doing so.

Holding Adults Accountable

According to Num 14:29, when God rescued the Hebrew people from Egypt and they persistently complained and disobeyed him afterwards, he prohibited them from settling in the Promised Land and gave a second chance to the next generation. Only those who were 19 yrs. and younger qualified for this second chance. Everyone else 20 yrs. and older (except for Caleb and Joshua, Num 14:30) died in the wilderness.

This approach indicates that God holds individuals and generations accountable for their actions, especially in their behavior towards him.

The Backdrop of Ezekiel 18

Nearly a millennia later, the nation of Israel had been removed from the Promised Land and forced to live in foreign lands. As God prepared to remove them from captivity and restore them to life in their land, he sent prophets to teach them a correct perspective about themselves and his plan for their lives. Three of these prophets were Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, who spoke to Israel at about the same time. God had assigned these men to prepare the hearts of the Israelites to return to the land and resume worship him and living in a godly way.

A “So Called” Proverb

In the messages of both Ezekiel and Jeremiah, they refer to a so-called “wise saying” or proverb which had become a common, popular motto among the next generation of Israelites. They said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jer 31:29-30; Ezek 18:4). The problem was that what this motto taught wasn’t true. God wanted them to stop spreading and using this motto entirely (Ezek 18:3).

Using this motto was a way for the current generation of Israelites to avoid taking personal responsibility for the consequences of their sins. They were, in essence, claiming that they behaved the way they behaved and experienced what they experienced because of their parents’ and grandparents’ choices and influence in their lives. This is a common form of blame shifting even today. An older generation blames a younger generation for their family’s, church’s, or community’s problems. At the same time, a younger generation blames an older generation for their issues and struggles. God does not accept this excuse.

The Problem with Blame Shifting

One crucial, subtle problem with blame shifting is that while it feels empowering and healing at first, it cuts off a person from true freedom and meaningful change. If your problems are the fault of someone else, you are trapped in your current condition until the other person reverses course. In many cases, the other person can no longer change or may be absent entirely and permanently, eliminating all possibility of a resolution.

What God Thinks about Blame Shifting

Ezekiel 18 reveals to us what God says about blame shifting.

  • First, he describes a theoretical person who lives a conscientious, faithful, godly life and acknowledges that such a person will not experience the consequences of careless, disobedient life (Ezek 18:4-9).
  • Next, he describes this person’s theoretical child, who chooses to live a careless, unfaithful, ungodly life entirely opposite of his father; this person will experience the consequences of a sinful lifestyle (Ezek 18:10-13).
  • Finally, he describes this son’s theoretical child, a third generation who chooses to live a conscientious, faithful, godly life like his grandfather; this person will not experience the consequences of a careless, disobedient life, nor will he be forced to experience the consequences of his father’s sins (Ezek 18:14-17).

After describing these three generations, God comments once more about the second generation, the one who behaved very badly and insists that he and he alone will suffer the consequences for his sins (Ezek 18:18).

According to Ezek 18:19-20, God insists that “the soul who sins shall die,” meaning that each person will experience the consequences for his or her own sins, not the sins of someone else.
At this point, God shifts from explaining how things work to urging people to take personal responsibility for their lives (Ezek 18:21-23). He does this by encouraging people who are living badly to realize that they can change. They can “turn from all his sins,” meaning that he can reverse course and choose to live in a faithful, godly way. The word all highlights the extent of this possible, revealing that as we rely upon God, it is possible overcome all of our sinful habits and tendencies.

The remainder of this chapter (Ezek 18:24-32) consists of God answering further the complaints and excuses of the people and urging them to take responsibility. If they would turn away from their sins rather than blaming their parents and God, God would give them “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek 18:31).

Reflection Questions
  • What are some examples of blame shifting in our culture today?
  • Does labeling and comparing generations like Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z, etc. encourage blame shifting or taking responsibility? How?
  • Should teenagers be held accountable for their relationship with God and lifestyle choices? Should college students? At what age does this become a personal reality?
  • What’s the difference between real inherited family traits and tendencies and blame shifting?
  • How does blame shifting prevent us from following Christ?
  • How does taking responsibility for our relationship with God liberate us to move forward and solve problems?

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