He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’”
Shortly after I got my first driver’s license, I also got my first ticket. I was driving 15 miles over the posted 25 miles per hour speed limit and a motorcycle cop caught me red handed. I was upset about the ticket. But mostly I was upset about telling my dad. In twenty-five years of driving, he had a perfect record. My driving perfection lasted all of two months. I was afraid that my dad would be angry with me for being such a lousy driver.
So, I spent a couple of days concocting a long list of “reasons” why I got a speeding ticket. I was late to an appointment (true). I was going downhill (true). I was in some traffic and paying attention to the road rather than the speedometer (true). Finally, I faced my fears and told my dad what happened. Yes, I got a ticket. But I was late and the road went downhill and there was traffic and so on. My point? It really wasn’t my fault. I was just the helpless victim of bad circumstances.
As I rambled on with my excuses, my dad listened for a while. Finally, he interrupted me, “Stop!” “Stop what?” I asked. “Stop making excuses!” I stood there in fearful silence for a moment before he continued. “Why don’t you just say you blew it? Why not just admit you made a mistake?”
Although I don’t think I would have scored any points with my dad, I might have answered, “Because that’s what I’m wired to do! Avoiding responsibility is the oldest trick in the book. It’s built into my moral and spiritual DNA.”
Indeed, that’s what we see in Genesis 3. After the first humans ate the forbidden fruit, they tried to hide from God. But when God found them and asked what was going on, the man explained that he was trying to hide from God because he was naked. God asked how the man knew this, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (3:11). But, rather than taking responsibility for his actions, the man responded, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate” (3:12). Wow! Talk about making excuses. The man doesn’t only blame the woman. He calls her “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” In other words, rather than accepting responsibility for what he had done, the man blamed the woman and, implicitly, God who made her.
A similar script plays out millions of times each day, in offices and grocery stores, in private homes and press conferences, among colleagues and neighbors. Yet, our unwillingness to take responsibility for our mistakes and sins keeps us from experiencing forgiveness and reconciliation. It limits our growth and weakens our leadership. It undermines trust and nourishes cynicism. If we want the respect of those whom we lead, if we want to grow as leaders and as disciples of Jesus, if we want to nurture healthy families and workplace teams, then we need to learn to admit our mistakes.
God responds well to an honest admission of sin. As it says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s pretty much what my dad did, by the way. When I finally admitted that I was wrongly driving too fast, my dad said, “Are you sorry?” “Yes,” I answered quite truthfully. “Have you learned something that will help you be more careful in the future?” “Yes,” I said. “Then that’s the end of it,” my dad concluded. “People make mistakes. You made a mistake. You’ll make more in the future. Next time, just be honest.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think a time in your life when someone’s honesty about mistakes had a positive result? Why did this happen?
Can you think of a time when someone’s unwillingness to take responsibility made a bad situation worse? Why?
What helps you to admit your mistakes to God? To other people? To yourself?
Gracious God, once again, as I read about the first humans in Genesis 3, I see myself in the story. I hate making mistakes. I hate admitting when I do. You know this, of course. But I need to say this to you today, especially given the theme or our text.
Help me, I pray, to be someone who tells the truth, even when that truth has to do with my mistakes, my sins. Help me see myself and my actions clearly. Give me the courage to admit when I’ve done wrong, whether to you, my colleagues, my family, my friends, or my neighbors.
Thank you, dear Lord, for the promise of forgiveness when we confess our sins to you. May this promise guide our behavior and embolden our hearts. Amen.