Whose fault is it anyway?
It's taken me longer than I would have liked to write this; I apologise. However, I wrote here about Tadej Pogaçar’s victory in the Tour de France, reflecting on the role of the domestiques in selflessly serving their teammate, despite the great personal cost. We considered how, in the Christian faith, we are called to prefer and to serve others, and to spend ourselves for the sake of others.
That said, I want to draw another analogy from the Tour de France (please forgive me). If you’re not aware, the Tour de France consists of many stages, and the overall winner is the one with the fastest accumulative time. So, if you beat me on one stage by 24 seconds, and I beat you on the next by 10 seconds, your overall lead would be 14 seconds. You see how it works? It’s not unusual – particularly when the race hits the mountain stages – for whole minutes (and sometimes more!) to be lost or gained as teams ride strategically (hence the domestiques!)
The Time Trial, however, is not a team effort. It’s a solo, lung-bursting effort where the individual rider has nowhere to hide. One by one, riders are released to complete a shorter-than-normal course as quickly as they can, racing against the clock, knowing that seconds gained or lost impact the overall times and therefore standings. It was on this particular stage where Tadej Pogaçar really excelled. You see, going into the Time Trial stage - the penultimate stage - he was 57 seconds behind then race leader, Primoz Roglic. Such was Pogaçar’s effort – with no support or assistance from his team – that he not only overturned the 57 second deficit he faced at the start of the day, but also left Roglic 59 seconds behind him overall. Over the 36km, Pogaçar was 1:56 quicker. His success – whilst ably served by others – was not ultimately dependent upon them, but upon his own effort (see the climax here)..
As I wrote the previous blog, I knew I wanted to bring a word of balance to what I’d said. Encouraging the attitude of servanthood is good and right, and we must heed the challenge. However, if we are not careful, we can inadvertently encourage unhealthy attitudes and expectations among one another, particularly on behalf of the one benefiting from being served. An entitled attitude can easily ensnare us; unreasonable expectations can creep up, and where others don’t deliver as we’d like, we can attribute responsibility for our actions and reactions to them. Played out to its worst case scenario, we can blame others for our lack of success in our Christian walk.
In his Time Trial exploits, Tadej Pogaçar highlighted the important principle: we are individually responsible for our ‘success’. Now, don’t hear me wrong – I don’t mean that we ‘win at Christianity’ by our efforts; no, faithful obedience to Jesus is by His grace alone and not based on our efforts. The whole story of God’s great rescue of us is a story of grace – beginning, middle and end.
No, what I’m talking about here is the idea that one day we will be held accountable. For our actions, for our words, for the decisions we’ve made towards or away from obedience to God. In that moment, we won’t have the option to blame our success or otherwise on the domestiques. We couldn’t then say, for instance ‘well, I didn’t honour you in that, but it was because that person didn’t do that for me’ or ‘that thing that happened to me made me do that thing I knew was wrong’. We will be held accountable because – whether we like it or not - we are responsible.
Responsibility is never comfortable. If we’re honest, we love to have someone else to blame for our shortcomings; someone or something to apportion fault to when we fail to live up to God’s standard. Maybe we ought not be surprised. The account of the first sin contained in the Bible sees Eve disobey God, and Adam quickly follow suit. When confronted with his own rebellion, Adam’s response? “She made me do it!” Absence of responsibility. And when God asked Eve about it? “The snake made me do it.” More lack of responsibility! It’s a pattern that repeats throughout the pages of the Bible, and that we see play out in our own lives. Constantly seeking an excuse, a justification, an explanation through which we can wriggle out of being responsible.
But passing the buck doesn’t work. The pages of the Bible are littered with people trying to avoid responsibility for their own lack of obedience; their own sin. Could they wriggle out of responsibility? Blame others for their lack of obedience? No. Indeed, we read in a letter to the early church in Rome that because of his actions, Adam was responsible for sin entering the whole world. He tried to blame Eve, but he was held responsible.
Each of us has a responsibility to pursue obedience to Jesus. To do the hard yards, the lung-busting, self-denying, temptation shunning work of pursuing the path of obedience. Whether others serve or assist along the way is, in one sense, irrelevant. Ours, and ours alone, is the responsibility to “show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Phil 2:12, NLT). We have a load to carry. We are responsible.
One day, we’ll give account for how we acquitted ourselves in the Time Trial. Did we bear our own load? Did we faithfully walk the path of Christ? Did we battle against sin and the thigns that so easily trip us up? Or did we sit and passively imbibe and indulge the things that make life a little easier, a little more comfortable for ourselves? On that day when we’re asked to give an account, there’ll be no opportunity for blaming others for our lack of obedience, our shortcomings. Our responsibility has already begun!
So, how about this? We own up; we put our hands up. We stop wriggling and accept responsibility. We acknowledge our failures, our weakness, our sin and our defiance. And we run with it the One who didn't try to shirk responsibility for something he'd done, but gladly accepted responsibility for the wrong he hadn't done - my wrong and yours. And as we run to him, allow him to exchange our rank failure for his perfect success. That sounds like a worthwhile trade to me.