People have been blaming each other for as long as there has been something worth blaming someone else for. Clear back in the Garden of Eden, we see the first man and woman, coming off of the first sin, already explaining why their sin was not entirely their fault. Adam blamed his sin on his wife and on the God who put her on earth with him. Eve blamed her sin on the serpent. Both were seeking to justify their actions based on the actions of others around them.
Neither excuse held any water before the Lord.
Their claims even had some merit on a surface level. Would Adam have eaten the fruit if Eve didn’t do it first? Would Eve had even considered trying it had the serpent not come along?
Maybe, and maybe not. We don’t know for sure. But God did not look at the logical chain and go, “Oh, so it’s all the serpent’s fault then.” He dealt with Adam and Eve individually for the real choice they each had to make before taking a bite. The serpent could not “make” Eve try the fruit. She chose to do so. Eve could not “make” Adam partake with her. He chose to do so. Each were responsible for their own sin.
Most of us are pretty familiar with this concept. But I’ve been considering this lately as it pertains to two pretty touchy areas: body image and lust.
These are two areas where people — specifically, men and women — blame each other a lot. While it’s true that we have the power to serve or hurt each other in these areas, we cannot point to our brother or sister as the cause of our stumbling. Allow me to elaborate a little.
Many men have a legitimate struggle with their “eye-gate”. This is tremendously common and understandable, and it is reasonable and good for Christian women to serve them in this area. However, some people make the shift from saying, “I need help with this,” to, “I wouldn’t sin if you would just carry yourself differently.” This is how we end up with long, insistent lectures of what women may or may not wear, and we view any woman in violation of one of the rules (intentionally or not) as a selfish temptress leading the brethren astray.
Now let me qualify that I am a big fan of modesty. I’ve had a strong aversion to revealing clothing since the age of three (and my mom can verify this). I dress pretty conservatively and consider many of the current summer fasions to be outright gross. Modesty is incredibly important, and Christian women (as well as men) should embrace it gladly.
That being said, men do not get to blame women for their lust problem. When Jesus addressed this very issue in Matthew 5:28, He did not say, “Whatever woman causes a man to look lustfully at her, that woman is a harlot.” He said, “…whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He’s not talking about what the woman is wearing (or not wearing, case being). He’s talking about where the man is looking and what he’s thinking.
Again, can women dress in a way that makes a man’s battle harder than it needs to be? Yes, absolutely, and women should strive to avoid that. But men don’t get to blame women for their own sin any more today than Adam did six thousand years ago.
Suppose the Lord addresses a Christian man, saying, “We need to talk about your lust problem.” Suppose the man responds, “Well, Lord, all these beautiful women around me are wearing provocative clothing. What’s a guy to do?”
God is not going to respond, “Oh! So that’s what the problem is! My bad, never mind. I’ll go get on their case about how they dress. Geesh, women these days, huh? Sorry about the mix up.”
He’s going to respond something more like, “I’m not talking to those women right now. I’m talking to you. You can’t change how they dress, but if you come to Me, I can change your heart. You need to make a covenant with your eyes.”
Now, lest we seem to be picking on the men, let’s look at the other side. Many women have a legitimate struggle with their body image. Enormous numbers of women hate the way they look (counter to Psalm 139). Some slide into eating disorders, plastic surgery, and other such things that are poor stewardship of the body God gave them. It can even result in immodest dress, attempting to overcompensate for perceived lack by unduly showing off whatever is deemed worthy of showing. This sort of attitude really boils down to offense at God for not making them pretty enough.
I have heard women blame men for this as well. “All the guys I know only date the cute skinny girls.” Or, “Men only like the kind of stuff they see in Hollywood”. Women can get defensive and angry at men for being shallow in their perception of beauty. If men were only more reasonable and open-minded, they reason, then I would be okay with my image.
However, this is no more true than the claim that a prudish woman can cure a man of his lust. Women don’t get to blame men for their offense at God. Women cannot blame cultural prejudices for trapping them in self-hatred any more than Eve could blame the serpent for tricking her into sin.
Again, to qualify, can men make women’s battle harder than it needs to be? Absolutely. Rating women on a scale of 1 to 10, openly gawking at more physically attractive women, or making comments (even positive ones) about weight gained or lost can throw women for a loop. Believing men should seek to serve their sisters by refraining from evaluating them according to the world’s standards of beauty.
However, a woman cannot take a man’s comment about her weight and then blame him for her resulting offense at God. When Peter talked about this, he did not say, “Society really puts a lot of stock in the outward appearance. What a shame. Too bad you have to roll with that.” He said, “Let not your beauty be merely outward… rather let it be the hidden person of the heart…” (1Peter 3:3-4). Fancy hairdos, jewelry, and the latest fashions — including the perfect body — may be what the world calls beautiful. But believing women are to have a much deeper standard that holds steady, good clothes or not, great hair or not, magazine-ready figure or not.
Suppose God tells a woman, “We need to talk about your offense over your body.” Suppose the woman responds, “But Lord, the men around me only like dainty, petite women — they’re all so shallow that I can’t stand up to it. What’s a girl to do?”
God will not respond, “Those jerks. When are they going to learn to see past the surface? No wonder you have self esteem issues. I’m going to go give them a piece of My mind, and that will fix everything.”
He will respond with something more like, “I’m not talking to those men right now. I’m talking to you. You can’t change their value system, but if you come to Me, I can change yours. You need to agree with the truth of my Word.”
Will God deal with an immodest woman? Yes. Will He deal with a body-prejudiced man? Yes. But will either excuse the other’s sinfulness? Not at all.
We need to seek to serve each other in these areas. We need to give preference to each other and go out of our way to help each other pursue righteousness. But we also need to recognize that if we sin, we can’t blame it on our brother or sister dropping the ball. Our failings are just that — our failings. They are an indicator that our own hearts are out of line with the Lord’s values and perspectives.
This is actually a very freeing way to live. It allows us to love our weak brothers and sisters, rather than resent them for their weakness. It allows us to seek immediate help and healing from the Lord, rather than waiting for the world around us to finally shape up. It keeps us from being helpless victims of circumstance and lets us begin to wage war and overcome darkness in our own souls. It allows us to transcend the “his fault/her fault” debate and instead seek the mercies and grace of God.
Refusing to pass the blame takes a lot of humility, and it is a painful blow to our self-perception, but ultimately it liberates us to pursue righteousness and fix our eyes on Jesus alone.