Sometime back, a Colorado man brought a “malparenting suit” against his mother and father. He sued them for $300,000 for “lousing up his life.” He claimed that they had intentionally done a terrible job of parenting and had made him what he was.
The judge dismissed the suit by saying that there must be a “statute of limitations” on parenting. [Thank goodness for that.] The judge went on to say that there must come a time when an adult takes responsibility for his or her own life. If we don’t, then next will come suits against brothers, sisters, teachers, and even friends.
It’s like a headline that appeared in a small-town newspaper: “State population to double by 2040; babies to blame.” Really? Are babies to blame for their births?
There it is: a crucial theological statement–a statement so critical to our understanding of life that it often goes unspoken and unexamined. As human beings we are responsible for our actions and inactions. (In Martin Luther’s terms “our sins of commission and our sins of omission”.)
When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, they were given the responsibility for tending the garden and keeping God’s one commandment: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you shall eat of it you shall die.” (Gen. 2:17) Unfortunately they failed the test of responsibility. Later God gave human beings “dominion” over the earth. Now despite what politicians may think that word means, if you go back to the original Hebrew the word “dominion” does not mean dominate. The word “dominion” means caretaker…we are to be caretakers or servants of the earth. You can easily see how confusion over the meaning of the word “dominion” has lead to the mistreatment of the earth and the befouling of the planet.. Rather than caring for the earth we have spent our time trying to dominate or ravage it. Which makes human beings responsible for the consequences.
Adam and Eve had two sons–Cain and Abel. Cain slew Abel in a jealous rage. When confronted with his crime, Cain cried out, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In other words, he was asking if he was responsible for his brother. You know the answer to that.
A lawyer once asked Jesus a question very similar to that one. When Jesus said that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, “How far does my responsibility extend? Am I responsible for my family, my immediate neighbors, the people in Springfield, how about the school in Parkland Florida, the people of Mexico or Haiti? Where does it all end?”
There has been a lot of discussion revolving around the school shootings on Valentine’s Day. Seventeen young people and their teachers died. Who or what is responsible? Of course, 19 year old Nicholas Cruz, the young man who fired the AR-15, is directly responsible for this shooting. But there have been so many more mass shootings in this past year that one cannot help but conclude there is a problem in our land. According to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that continuously tracks gun-related death and injury reports, based on official records there were 345 mass shooting in the United States last year. And even more daunting, two of the five most deadly mass shootings occurred within the span of just 35 days.
Why is our society so riddled with violence, why are American so prone to act violently, what are we as a society doing that creates these walking time bombs, where does the ultimate responsibility reside? The answers I have found are so complex and myriad it seems as if there is no one way to stop these atrocities unless we make some drastic changes in the way we live and deal with one another. But where should the change begin?
Our government certainly seems to be averse to even admitting there is a problem much less doing something about it. Some blame the NRA, some blame the weapons industry, others say bullying in school causes this madness, still others blame broken homes. But it seems to me that the fix is not going to be found in arming teachers, mandatory counseling or restricting or even eliminating access to automatic weapons. (Although I would personally agree to the latter two rather than the former.) As far as I can see it there is no one fix, save one, our society will never get any better unless we realize each one of us is responsible for the wellbeing of our neighbors, no matter what color they are, no matter what nationality, what country they live, in sexual orientation, creed, brand of coffee they drink or sports preference. To be a human being is to be a citizen of planet earth, and if violence occurs to one of us, it truly does diminish the quality of life for us all. We are responsible for one another, especially if we claim to be a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, as Christians our responsibility is just what the word suggests: it is our response to God’s love as manifested in Jesus Christ. If we resent responsibility, it may be that we do not understand what responsibility is. Responsibility is our joyful response to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. That is why the Ten Commandments and the Great Commandment are relevant to our lives. We read in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” We take responsibility for ourselves and others because He took responsibility for us on the cross of Calvary. Responsibility is not a terrible weight we carry. Responsibility is the road we travel on our way to the abundant life Christ has provided for us.
Responsibility without faith in Christ can feel more like a straitjacket than a desirable way of living. Another word for responsibility is “discipline”. Discipline is another loaded word nobody wants to talk about anymore. It sounds like a real killjoy. But if you look to the root of the word… it means to be act and live your life as a disciple. For Christians, discipline calls for us to act as disciples of Christ…to live according to the way Jesus taught us to live: loving God and having concern and compassion for others, especially the poor and downtrodden, those who are bullied, those who are treated as outcasts, those who are fearful, those who are alone. Christianity is more than nice sounding words. It is a lifestyle. It is a discipline.
God created us to be disciplined and responsible—responsible parents, responsible citizens of our nation, of our community and representatives of our church. During this season of Lent, let us return to responsible living. No more excuses! Let us look less to our own wants and desires and embrace the life Christ has called us to with humility, gratitude and joy. For what God asks of us is far less than God has already given.
Blessings on you and yours