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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

At some point in December, the popular film “A Christmas Story” is always aired. Set in 1947 Indiana at Christmastime, we find we can easily identify with that earlier time and culture, as do many people our age. Ralphie was a typical boy with simple dreams, and his premiere dream that Christmas was to find a Red Ryder BB gun under the Christmas tree. The way the story is told elicits nostalgia. At one point in the story, Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsley) is honored with the opportunity to help Dad (played by Darren McGavin) change a flat tire. As Ralphie holds the hubcap with the lug nuts, dad accidently knocks it out of his hands and the lug nuts go flying. We watch as the slow-motion camera zooms in on Ralphie who says, “Ohhh, fuuuuudge” Except that was not the word Ralphie actually used.

When they get back into the car, Dad tells mom about the swearing incident (whispers in her ear) and she freaks out. When they get home, it is up to Mom to punish Ralphie for his offense by washing his mouth out with soap.

At one point, Mom takes the soap out of his mouth to demand that he tell her where he had heard the word. Ralph thinks to himself that he had heard the word at least 10 times a day from his father, but he chickened out, and blurted to his mother the first name that came to mind. “Schwartz!”

Here, rather than be honest and implicate the truly guilty party, Dad, he put the blame on an innocent (at least of this crime) victim, Schwartz, who was subsequently punished by his own mother for a sin which he had not committed. Through the phone, you can hear poor Schwartz yelping in the background.

These days, it seems that anyone can be blamed for someone else’s problems or for the sins of others, no matter that they have not participated at all in what they are accused of. No proof is needed — a mere accusation is good enough for a public hanging. Evidence and reason is apparently outdated. It seems all so strange, especially from a nation that always prided itself on following the rule of law, and whose most cherished ideal was “innocent until proven guilty.” Truth and justice seem to have been tossed out when we were not paying attention. The “why” is easy, of course. It is far easier to accuse someone than to prove actual guilt. And we can’t let “truth” get in the way of a good story…

But in a sane world, which eludes us at present, who should be punished for wrongdoing? Should it be the actual perpetrator of the deed, or a convenient dupe who, after all, is likely to be guilty of something else anyway? If we live outside of a Judeo-Christian morality and ethics standard, the answer is that it doesn’t really matter. If a scapegoat is needed, anyone will do since everyone is guilty of something. This is especially true if the accused is identified with a group currently seen as being “politically incorrect.”  For one example, Christians are fair game, while Muslims are not.

Scripture speaks to this issue directly in the book of Ezekiel, devoting a whole chapter to God’s view on this important matter of justice in chapter 18. A prophet and priest of God, Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon along with most of Israel in 567 B.C. His ministry encompassed 23 years. He reminded Israel and Judah of things they seemed to have forgotten. God is holy and transcendent. He is not dependent on His creation and creatures. Because He is holy, He requires justice for bad behavior. As The Apologetics Study Bible points out:

The transcendent God was concerned about and would judge the sinfulness of humanity. Earlier, Amos (c. 760 B.C.) had stressed the social injustices of the nation. Ezekiel took Amos’s view of sin a step further and identified the spiritual root of sin as violation of God’s holy character and commandments.1Kaiser Jr., W. C.; 2007. How Has Archaeology Corroborated the Bible? In T. Cabal, C. O. Brand, E. R. Clendenen, P. Copan, & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1188). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

It was a common saying or “proverb” in Israel at that time that “The father eats the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge.” It meant that children were judged by God and forced to pay for the sins of their fathers. God emphatically did not approve of this human proverb and told Ezekiel that they were not to say it anymore. That is not how God judges at all. He does not punish children for their parent’s or ancestor’s bad behavior. Ezekiel 18:1-3 The ones to be punished were not the innocent, but those who are actually guilty! God follows this up in Ezekiel 18:4:

Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine. The soul who sins shall die.

In the whole of Ezekiel 18, God laid out some clear rules. They all come down to personal responsibility. For example, if a man lives an upright life but his son is a thug who steals, robs the poor, doesn’t pay his debtors, is cruel to his wife, is an adulterer, etc, the son himself shall be punished for what the son has done. The father is not held responsible or punished. A child’s behavior may grieve a parent’s heart, but they are not accountable to God, society or other individuals for what their offspring does. The children are to be held personally responsible. (Ezekiel 18:5-13) Then God reverses it. If the father lives an evil life but his son lives a God honoring life, the father is punished for his behavior, and the son is in no way responsible for what his father had done. (Ezekiel 18:14-21)

In verse 19 we see an interesting response to this as Israel cries out that it’s not fair that the son should escape punishment for his father’s sins! What? Obviously and rather amazingly, the people thought the son should be punished for things he was completely innocent of! It is rather hard for us to imagine just why they were eager to blame one person for the actions of another, but there you have it. Is it possible that those Israelites attended modern American Universities? Well, probably not, but obviously they had some similar ideas.

In verse 25, after God spells out what true justice is, they accuse God of injustice over the issue, saying,

‘The way of the Lord is not right.’

Hmmm. He continues on:

Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?

Comparing Gods way with human ways, we’d honestly have to side with God every time! In the balance of the chapter, God provides redemption and forgiveness even for those who have behaved badly but are willing to turn away from their sin.

When we sin against another person, the first One we owe repentance to is God Himself. Why is that? God is holy and is the creator, so when we sin against anyone, we harm one of His creatures. Our debt is to Him first and foremost. People should be treated with respect and shown God’s love. We should seek restoration and forgiveness from those we personally harm and forgive those who harm us. We ask God to forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Are we responsible for what our father, grandfather or someone even further in the past may or may not have done? Absolutely not. That whole concept obviously goes against the justice of God. We as Christians should put away both false accusations and false guilt, and love others with a pure heart.

As a final thought, have you noticed that the further our culture drifts away from God, concepts such as truth, justice, peace, kindness, forgiveness, love and goodness get scarcer and their definitions murkier? As far as it depends upon us though, we need to held fast to these things as the culture darkens.Ω

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