Irresponsibility and Bitterness: two sides of the same painful coin

Not responsible for broken windshields.”

We’ve all seen that sign on the back of large trucks on the highway.

But if the rock hitting my car flew out of that truck’s unsecured load, the driver is responsible, regardless of the sign.  The lawcourts have established this, and lawyers get rich making the point…again and again and again.

I write on this website for pastors and church leaders.  We try to encourage pastors to faithfulness and greater effectiveness, and to lift their spirits when circumstances crush them.  As a result, I sometimes receive critical notes from those who have been abused by pastors.

My pastor husband divorced me and ran off with the secretary.  The church supported him and kept him on.  The children sided with their dad and now will have nothing to do with me. Where is God when this happened?  I’ve quit going to church and question whether God really cares.

I hear from the adult children of ministers who were mistreated by their churches:

I don’t go to church any more.  The people were so cruel to my hard-working dad.  They cut him off without anything, in spite of the years of sacrificial service he had given.  If this is the way the church treats its best people, I want none of it.

So much bitterness.

Discarded spouses are bitter at the husband/wife who left them and seems to be prospering, enjoying Heaven’s blessings, and receiving the support of the children.  Churches angry at former pastors and ex-pastors bitter at the churches, politicians bitter at the electorate that turned them out, people in business carrying grudges over mistreatment from co-workers or bosses.

My automobile insurance company instructs policy-holders on what to do when in an accident.  “Do not admit fault.”

I was in an accident the other day.  Legally, it was not my fault.  I was rear-ended at the intersection.

And yet.

I was slow reacting when the light changed and the college student behind me drove into my back bumper. Did I at least share responsibility?

Thirty years ago my car was totaled because I was first into the intersection when the light changed.  A teenager rushing his family to the hospital was running the light.  I learned the hard way not to jump when the light turns.

Whose fault is this?

That seems to be a popular question for our society.  When the economy goes south, when the president’s popularity takes a hit, when a team posts a losing season, when a disease becomes widespread, reporters and analysts begin their search for the underlying causes.  Unable to find them, they sometimes resort to placing blame.

“It’s not my fault” is a recurring note in Scripture.  When Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord held them accountable. Adam said, “Lord, the woman you gave me…”  The woman said, “The serpent you placed in the garden…”  (The bad joke says, “And the serpent did not have a leg to stand on.”)

And thus began this sad refrain which continues to the present day.

In Exodus 32, Moses confronted his brother Aaron about the idolatry in the Israeli camp when he had been on Sinai receiving the law from God.  “It’s not my fault,” said Aaron.  “You know this people’s heart is set on mischief.  They said to me, ‘Make us a god.’  They brought their jewelry to me. I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!'”

Throughout their wilderness travels, the suffering Israelis turned that chorus into a symphony.  “Why did God do this?” “Why did you do this?”  “It’s not our fault.”

Years later, the people developed a saying. “Our fathers ate sour grapes and our teeth are set on edge.” That is, the older generation had all the fun and we’re paying for it.  Blame it on the old folks.

It’s easy to do. No generation has been faultless.  No people have been sinless.

The power of confession is amazing

When David said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” God forgave him. (2 Samuel 12:13). Don’t miss the timing of that.  He had not said anything more than that he was responsible.

“If we confess our sin,” Scripture says, “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us of our iniquity” (I John 1:9).

To confess, according to the word used here homologia, literally means “to say the same thing.”  We are agreeing with God that a thing we did was wrong, and that we did it.

Even when others clearly mistreated us and we were victimized, often we share some of the blame.

I’ve written on these pages of the circumstances in 1989 which resulted in my leaving a great church after only three years.  Most would say I was forced out. However you cut it, I was jobless for a full year. At the request of a national magazine for pastors, I wrote a lengthy article on the conflict which led to my departure from that church. I tried to be fair.


I’m well aware that I made mistakes during my time there.  I could have been wiser, stronger, more patient, and a lot of other things.  To blame only “the other parties” is unfair.

None of us is perfect.  We will all make mistakes.  When divorces occur, it’s almost always a mistake to put all the blame on one person.  When churches divide or pastors are ousted, usually there are mistakes and errors on both sides.

Therefore, humility is the order of the day.  After all, “if the Lord should mark iniquities, who would stand?” (Psalm 130:3).

We have all received grace; we should be extending it to others.

Jesus applauded the prayer of a tax-collector whose simple plea was “God be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13).  Now, that man–unknown to us–lived in a sinful, fallen world, had been raised by flawed parents who sometimes made mistakes, and had been wronged on numerous occasions, we feel sure.  We can conclude this because it’s true of all of us.  And yet, he did not blame anyone, but pointed the finger at himself, asking God for mercy.

I’m unsure how the insurance company would take it if I exited my car and said to the shocked college student, “I’m as much to blame as you. I was daydreaming and should have gone when the light turned green.” Now, legally, daydreaming is no crime.  I delayed going forward no more than 10 seconds after the light changed. And rear-ending the car in front of you is illegal, although perhaps not a crime as such.  So, while an admission like this might not change the circumstances or the responsibilities, and while her insurance company would still be liable to repair my bumper, such a statement from me might lessen the pain and guilt the young lady may be experiencing.

And, I’m not sure how the company would feel about a truck driver replacing the usual sign with one reading: “If my load is unsecured, and if something falls off and hits your vehicle, then I am responsible.  Be sure to let me know.” But it might be refreshing.

A little humility when someone has been hurt or offended is a great thing and does wonders toward healing breaches.













4 thoughts on “Irresponsibility and Bitterness: two sides of the same painful coin

  1. Excellent thoughts. On a distantly related note, I am amused at how, after the stock market has taken a tumble — or risen — the news media can explain to us what events caused that change. But they are not able to look at those events when they happen and predict what the stock market will do. It is an economic form of “blame,” and makes about as much sense as our own tendency to do the same.

  2. A slippery slope indeed. I believe true Godly sorrow requires no excuses and no justification [ taking ownership] . To me this is the only way to be compliant to 2 Cor. 7:10 . At times pride makes me slow to do this , I am ashamed to say.

    For me personally if I truly believe God is sovereign, informed, and involved then bitterness has no place . Many many times this is a sheer act of my will and I “feel” bitterness. I have struggled with being the man below :

    Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past … to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. Frederick Buechner

  3. Pastor Joe,
    Your articles (insights) are consistently good – this one… and all others. I am inspired, encouraged, and learn so much from you. Thank you.
    Ron C.

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