Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East

Shifting the blame

Posted by jac/cdc on January 3, 2007

(Proverbs 19:3)אִוֶּלֶת אָדָם תְּסַלֵּף דַּרְכּוֹ וְעַל־יְהוָה יִזְעַף לִבּוֹ׃

i -VE-let a-DAM t’-sa-LAYF dar-KO v’-al-a-do-NEYE yiz-AF li-BO

A person’s foolishness perverts their* way, but their* mind is enraged against the Lord.

This proverb is quite transparent: even when we ruin our lives through our own stupidity, we often rage against God rather than own up to our responsibility in the affair. This problem seems all the more prevalent in theological traditions that stress God’s sovereignty versus individual responsibility, but the writers of the Hebrew Bible have no difficulty juxtaposing the two. Compare Proverbs 16:6: A person’s mind plans his/her way, but the Lord establishes his/her steps.

Of course, finger pointing as such is not limited to the religious realm. Society is rampant with ways to excuse one’s own action. We need not rely on medievalist reasoning such as “the devil made me do it.” Instead, “society led me to be this way,” “my parents are to blame,” “my teachers are to blame,” “the manufacturer is to blame,” etc. There is no end to the possibilities and no end to the money to be made determining who is really responsible for my troubles in therapy and in court!

*Translation note: In my editorial work, I would probably not accept ‘their’ used of a singular antecedent, but in the interests of gender-neutral language (the term אָדָם is better translated as ‘person’ and not ‘man’) and in keeping with grammar habits of the younger generation (Colin writes this way instinctively!), I am allowing it.

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