Robert and Maureen McQuillan recall President Harry S Truman’s famous declaration – and the sign that was prominent on his White House desk.
Passing the buck is the act of attributing to another person or group one’s own responsibility.
Etymologically the expression is said to have originated from the card game poker, in which a marker or counter called ‘the buck’ was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the buck to the next player.
Passing the buck isn’t something new or unexpected – as wise Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes1:9, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’ The Message version reads: ‘What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There’s nothing new on this earth. Year after year it’s the same old thing.’
The same old story
Take it back to the beginning of human relationships – Adam and Eve discovering life and each other in the incredible Garden of Eden. A relationship between a special couple that was intended to be ongoing and filled with just not passion and genuine love but with strength, caring, respect, honour, integrity and deep trust.
You’ll recall what happened… Adam and Eve disobeyed the creator’s direct command and ate of the forbidden fruit. The result? Sin entering the world and Earth’s first couple expelled from the garden because they had broken God’s law.
1John 3:4 (NLT) pointedly explains sin as ‘contrary to the law of God.’ The Message strongly emphasises breaking of God’s law as ‘a major disruption of God’s order.’
Major disruption indeed. Humanity has been in strife ever since! Today the horrifying news from the Middle East is terrifying, sickening. Indeed so much evil around the world relates in one way or another to buck-passing, to blaming others.
Back to its origin…
Men love to claim it was all Eve’s fault – she was to blame.
When God asked Adam the simple question: ‘Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?’ Adam’s wimpish response was: ‘The woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree…’ (Genesis 3:11-12 Message).
Here’s the first incidence of buck-passing and it’s been going on ever since! In short Adam blamed Eve for the problem. In fact he was stupidly blaming God…we could embolden the ‘you’ of ‘you gave me’ to an emphatic you!
Blaming others is the reverse of accepting personal responsibility. So many times in life we experience others being blamed for something that has gone wrong. We ourselves recently had an incident of supplied goods not being as ordered despite clear instructions as to what we wanted. Guess who was blamed? Not those who wrote the order but the manufacturing factory!
Honour, integrity and personal responsibility are so often missing today! Instead of owning up and admitting our mistakes and accepting responsibility, we tend to blame others, claiming ‘It’s their fault – their problem.’ It becomes yet another case of S.E.P!
SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem – is a psychological effect where people choose to dissociate themselves from an issue that may be in critical need of recognition. It’s really a deceptive way to shift attention from oneself to others.
Faultfinding, blaming someone else, and taking (or not taking) personal responsibility are mentioned quite a few times in scripture. Paul, James and Peter were very much aware of this.
For example, in Galatians 6:5 Paul instructed Christians to be responsible in life – ‘Each one should carry their own load.’ The Message puts it this way: ‘Each of you must take responsibility.’ This is the godly opposite to SEP.
Easter is coming!
Next month Christians will be celebrating Easter – not rejoicing over yet another public holiday or fun time for the kids with chocolate eggs – but in thanking God that his Son Jesus undeservedly took the blame for our faults – our sins – as he died on Calvary.
Jesus didn’t have to take such responsibility but he willingly did so without throwing one aspersion at any of us. Christ expiated the penalty for our sins. ‘Expiation’ – one doesn’t hear this noun mentioned in church circles today but expiate (the transitive verb) literally means to pay the penalty for sin.
This is like our good friend, Kerry, who last year expiated a speeding fine (not deliberate speeding by the way but nonetheless guilt attracting). Now Kerry didn’t have to pay the fine but graciously and willingly rushed to do so. What Jesus did is far more meaningful!
Interestingly another meaning of buck-passing is the French expression bouc émissaire meaning scapegoat.The terms bouc émissaire and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament (Lev. 16:6-10) reference to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the ‘buck’ was sent or ‘passed’ into the wilderness to expiate them.
In 1 Corinthians 5:7 Paul explains that Jesus became our scapegoat in respect of our sins and failings – ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.’
Romans 3:23-24 declares: ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ Paul confirmed this redemptive act in Ephesians 1:7 – ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.’
It’s just not at Easter we can be thankful for all that Jesus became and did for us – we ought to be continuously thankful! One way of showing this is not to be passing the buck for mistakes we’ve made but to be responsible individuals.
It was said of Jesus that he had integrity (Matthew 22:16). We should all follow his example, especially leaders! (1 Timothy 4:12).
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It is a personal choice to uphold oneself to consistently moral and ethical standards. It’s regarded by many people as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.
To quote Harry Truman: ‘A person who is fundamentally honest doesn’t need a code of ethics. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all the ethical code anybody needs.’
Says it all, doesn’t it?
This month’s links: Inspirational – Carol Round’s About True Love / Missional – George Forbes’ Making Disciples – God’s Priority / Focus – Tait Berge’s Great Encouragement For Christians Living With Disability / Generational – James Alviani’s Unpacking the Kingdom – From Ambition to Achievement.