Once upon a time life was simple and uncomplicated. Oh sure, there were struggles and problems, but they weren't all that complex. Good and evil did battle with each other. So did willpower and laziness. Right fought against wrong in the main event and not too many folks remained neutral. There was a clear, unmistakable line between winning and losing . . . victory and defeat . . . accomplishment and failure . . . actual war between opposing forces and peace, real peace—not smoldering, game-playing peace.
Sometimes we hated ourselves and we openly confessed our guilt and shame. On other occasions we tightened our belts, did the hard thing, and we made it happen. We felt proud of our determination and we passed on that pride to our young. They even believed in us! A marriage was for keeps. A job was for work. A crime was for punishment. Irresponsibility was frowned on, a broken promise was inexcusable, adultery was a scandal, hardship was endured, extra effort was admired and applauded.
Then, ever so slowly, the fog rolled in.
All the evils of the world, once black as tar, turned strange shades of gray. Instead of our seeing them clearly as wrong or someone's fault, they became fuzzy . . . and ultimately "explainable." Which, being interpreted, means "excusable." And the outworking of all this is a remarkable twist, a subtle switching of roles.
It's now the guilty (you'll excuse the expression) who is more protected than the victim. It's the one who protests an act of violence who is frowned upon, not the doer of the deed. It's the guy who uses words like discipline and diligence and integrity and blame and shame who is the weirdo, not the one who has developed the scientific gift of explanation and rationalization.
"If a drunk driver kills my wife or cripples my kids, how dare I hate him? We all know alchoholism is a disease and nobody gets a disease on purpose. But if I do hate him and if I'm caught up with such rage that I kill the driver, you can't be angry with me. After all, wasn't I suffering from temporary insanity? (That's a brief disease . . . like the flu.)"
Explanations abound, everything from poor toilet training and unfair parents to oppressive work conditions and governmental rip-offs. Sometimes in my more maddening moments I entertain crazy "what if" ideas. What if we were suddenly stripped of our twenty-first century maladies and "scientific" explanations? What if there was a resurgence of such dated phrases as:
"I have decided to . . ."
"I will . . ."
"I will no longer . . ."
"I am wrong . . ."
"Starting today, I won't . . ."
That would mean saying farewell to foggy terms like:
"I am thinking about it . . ."
"I'm working on it . . ." and,
"Someday I plan to . . ."
which psychologists, pastors, and counselors worth their salt realize mean little more than, "I'm working out some great excuse for not doing it."
How do I know? I've learned those phrases too! And occasionally, when I get cornered by a hard set of facts, I dip into my bag just like you do—especially if I'm not ready to come to terms with my own responsibility. Out come those handy little guilt-relieving "explanations."
Little by little I'm learning just how enamored I was of all those catch phrases that made me forget I was on a sinking ship.
Let me level with you. And I say this for one reason only—to encourage you to replace explanations with decisions and actions. If I had continued giving in to those lame excuses, my marriage would not have held together, my ministry would have become mediocre, I would never have finished one book I wanted to write, I would not have a close friend, I would have jumped from job to job because of the pressure, and I would still be a fat slob.
Jesus was right. After telling His disciples how to live fulfilled lives, He put the clincher on it by adding, "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them" (John 13:17, emphasis added).