Column: We – not God – are responsible for our path

by Father Mike Stubbs

At times, we try to evade responsibility for our misdeeds by placing the blame elsewhere.

We maintain that we developed these bad habits because of faulty upbringing by our parents, on a dysfunctional family. Or, we are predisposed to this behavior because of the genes that we inherited. The environment influenced us toward this self-destructive behavior. Ultimately, we might place the blame on God. After all, isn’t God the one in charge?

Sunday’s first reading, Sir 15:15-20, rejects this line of thinking. Instead, it emphasizes human responsibility in choosing either good or evil. Accordingly, Sirach informs us: “No one does he (God) command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” In other words, if we sin, the blame is ours.

Sirach presents the choice that lies before us to either sin or avoid sin as a clear-cut choice. It’s black and white. To emphasize that, he lists incompatible opposites: fire and water, life and death, good and evil. They serve as a metaphor for the clear distinction that separates sin from goodness. For Sirach, there is no risk of confusion.

We cannot evade responsibility for our misdeeds by blaming them on God. On the contrary, God tries to steer us away from sin by giving us the commandments: “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you.”

This may sound a bit strong to our ears. After all, don’t we believe as Christians that Jesus Christ saves us by his death on the cross? How can we reconcile that belief with these words?

On one hand, the commandments can serve as a useful tool to guide us in making moral decisions. They can help us to avoid sin. At the same time, the grace that enables us to obey the commandments comes from God, through Jesus Christ. We need God’s help to live a good life. We cannot do it on our own.

There is a fine balance between taking responsibility for our own actions, while at the same time relying on God’s help. Too much emphasis in either direction can get us into trouble.

The old saying reflects that balance: “Act as though it all depends upon you. Pray as though it all depends upon God.”

When we pray, we are entrusting ourselves to God’s mercy. Prayer naturally arises out of trust in God. And that trust will lead to fullness of life.

As Sirach tells us: “If you trust in God, you too shall live.”

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