That's one of the questions I hear a lot from clients. They hate their lives, but feel powerless to move on. When life comes crashing down, one of the first things we want to do is figure out who is responsible. We feel like we have no answers, only questions. What caused this? How did this happen to me? What went wrong? Could anything have been done differently?
Our minds trick us into thinking that if we only had the answers, THEN we could get unstuck. But sometimes the truth we need isn’t at all what we’re aiming for. I was certain that I would never get beyond my divorce until after I had figured everything out. I obsessed on things like:
Uncovering what exactly went wrong
Determining who was to blame
Wondering what could have been done differently to change the outcome
Looking for some “fatal flaw” in my character that may have been the cause
Do any of those sound familiar? When my 20 year marriage unraveled I was desperate to know: Did I choose badly when I got married? Was I so needy or unloving that I drove my husband away? Was I a fool for believing in the permanency of marriage?
The truth is that the more we try to pursue answers to such questions, the more we exhaust ourselves and stay stuck. Like investigative reporters, our minds go over and over the who, what, why, and how of our failures, confident that if we can just make sense of why it happened and who is to blame, we’ll be able to move on. Let me save you months of searching fruitlessly: We can only move on by letting go of the desire to figure everything out.
That desire to figure it all out didn’t originate with you. Way back in the garden of Eden, when Eve was tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3:5, the Bible tells us, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Imagine knowing whom to blame, exactly what the problem was, and what should have been done differently. What woman wouldn’t want that? With all that knowledge, Eve would be able to play God. (A tempting promotion, indeed!)
Of course, Satan had only told Eve half the truth. He didn’t mention that she’d also suffer alienation from God and Adam, and bring on loneliness, emptiness, sickness, and death. (Sin is never enticing when you know the whole truth.) Instead of gaining freedom from her newfound knowledge, Eve became a captive in its trap. Satan tempts us the same way. Every time we try to gain our liberation by knowing who to blame, we become captives, too.
Blaming never liberates. It traps us into a negative mindset, focusing our attention and energy on what we’re against rather than what we’re for. I've never seen someone get better who was focused on blaming others for their troubles. That just makes them consumed with the problem, rather than the solution. Only righteousness can lead us in a positive direction forward. Consider Proverbs 11:6: “The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.” Did you catch that? The "unfaithful." In other words, when we lack the faith to believe that despite whatever has happened, God still has a plan and is still working for our good, we're easy prey.
Here's one evil desires that gets to us all: The desire to get even—to want another person to hurt as much as he/she hurt you. Our gut reaction to being hurt is revenge. We want to lash out, to even the score. It wouldn't be a temptation if we didn't really want to do it. The problem is that retaliation only adds more damage to a broken heart. It doesn't help us get better. Often clients tell me: “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know what he’s done to me!” No. I don’t. But I know what unforgiveness will do to you. And that’s much worse.
In his book The Search for Significance, Robert McGee wrote: “We tend to make two major errors when we punish others for their failures. The first is that we condemn people not only for genuine sin but also for their mistakes. When people who have tried their best fail, they do not need our biting blame. They need our love and encouragement. . . . A second major error we often make by condemning others is believing that we are godly agents of condemnation. Unable to tolerate injustice, we seem to possess a great need to balance the scales of right and wrong. We are correct in recognizing that sin is reprehensible and deserves condemnation, yet we have not been licensed by God to punish others for their sins. Judgment is God’s responsibility, not man’s.”
When we’re preoccupied with assuming and assigning blame for failure, we get trapped in a negative mindset. Others become defensive. Then we get even more negative. And they get more defensive . . . and the downward cycle continues. It's my natural reaction to want to know who is to blame when things go wrong. But I have come to realize that the need to prove I’m right and the inclination to analyze things beyond all measure have never satisfied my spiritual hunger. By pinning the blame on someone else, I merely feed my ego. I evoke others’ sympathy, justify my complaining spirit, and feel morally superior. That makes recovery from pain murky, at best.
I don't think I'm alone. Consider whether placing blame has helped or hurt you spiritually. Does it make you feel closer to God or more distant? Does it get you out of a hole or dig it deeper? Are you still hanging on to a hurt caused by someone else?
How do you let go of that? By being the opposite of "unfaithful", by believing: God knows the truth about your situation. God will judge it fairly. And He has a wonderful way of revealing what we need when we’re ready for it. You couldn't have figured it out anyway. But you can trust God to teach you what you need to know as you lean into him. You will move forward if you set your eyes on him.
We'll continue looking at BLAME next time with more excepts from Chapter 1 of my NEW BOOK!
 Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003), 78-79.