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Societal Changes and the Flight from Personal Responsibility

By Steve Springer

religion, articles, christianity

Not usually viewed as a behavior model, the book of Jonah provides compelling testimony regarding our behavior and how we both 'judge and refuse to accept responsibility. Society today often attempts to flee the personal responsibility by institutionalizing the blaming concept behavior.

We blame auto makers for not providing safe enough cars when we have a wreck, even though we were exceeding the speed limit. We blame the shortcomings of our children on the school system which at best is purely secular and devoid of Christian values. Even if we fail to attend church services we deny personal responsibility-our parents were at fault for making us attend Sunday School when we were little.

The retreat from responsibility is found throughout the Jonah method. This is evident in the first chapter of Jonah, verses 2 and 3. Although clearly stated for Jonah, the plan to preach to the sinners at Nineveh was rejected and he attempted to flee from the presence of the Lord. This running away from responsibility, which I refer to as the Jonah method, illustrates another way to avoid responsibility. This, of course, is a different manner than Moses used when he offered excuses for not coming to the aid of Israel in Exodus the 3rd chapter.

Moses indicated roadblocks to the Lord and offered reasons for not participating, whereas Jonah offered no explanation. He simply fled to avoid responsibility. This fleeing to avoid responsibility is so prevalent in our society that the story of Jonah becomes a commentary on our behavior.

Certainly the book of Jonah offers no reward or consolation to those who use the Jonah method. We quickly note in the first chapter how the storm appears and the crew of the ship discovers that Jonah is escaping from the Lord. No matter how hard the crew tried, they could not win a battle with the elements. Jonah knew he couldn't fight the Lord and the crew finally threw him overboard.

The rest of the story shows submission to the Lord and a strong lesson on the value of human life. Jonah, in chapter 4, is angered over the gourd and God teaches him the value of the people in Nineveh as contrasted to the value of a simple gourd. Jonah finds the loss of a gourd bothers him much more than the loss of human life and God points that out.

Although separated in the book of Jonah, the account of the great fish and the gourd illustrate the importance of God's Word. We are admonished by the Scriptures to perform certain tasks and we often fail to follow them through. We rebel against the Lord and perhaps use the Jonah method. We may even fail to recognize the importance of the task or tasks assigned. The gourd incident illustrated clearly the gravity of the task Jonah was to perform.

Thousands of people, living within a city that was "an exceeding great city of three days journey" (Jonah 3:3) would be given an opportunity to repent because of the work God had assigned Jonah. We too are provided numerous opportunities on a daily basis to offer service to the Lord; yet some choose to escape and run from the Lord and the tasks assigned. Perhaps now that we have established that the human condition may be one of escape from responsibility, it is wise to analyze some of the reasons individuals do seek escape.

There appears to be four central reasons why individuals flee responsibility. Some are too afraid to act. In essence, once a person commits to action, change must occur. Change can lead to stress and new challenges. Some people, even Christians, cannot deal with change. Therefore, it becomes easy to remain complacent, sitting in front of a television and making no effort to become a stronger Christian. Doing other things doesn't require that change of habits and beliefs.

Certainly, Jonah exhibits the second point of being too stubborn to do what is right. The last chapter illustrates Jonah's stubborn attitude toward preaching and taking care of people. His attitude toward things was much more positive than toward people. It took several incidents to teach him-how many does it take to teach us? Will being stubborn cost us our soul?

Although difficult for some of us to grasp - some people enjoy doing corrupt and evil things. The sins defined in Romans are commonplace and things some today would have no concern over. In fact, our political polls seem to indicate that the American people are not really concerned about the morality of their leaders as they once were. Perhaps we are repeating many of the same mistakes Jonah was to point out to the people of Nineveh.

We were once a nation dedicated to challenges. We wanted to be the best, be first, be a winner! Even as a body we wanted to know the Bible and be able to give account of our beliefs. Today we retreat from responsibility because it is too hard.

Some followers of Christ found his teaching to be too difficult and they left him. People leave the church today because they see it as too restrictive and they cannot bring themselves to do what is right. People say they just can't attend services-too much to do. They complain that there is just not enough time to do the Lord's work. It seems there are just too many other things that do not require as much effort. I suppose going to heaven is too much effort.

In retrospect, the Jonah method is a malady many face who are "playing church" every week. Fleeing responsibility and finding appropriate excuses could be the motto of our current generation. Jonah is becoming more appropriate for reading and study each day.

Published December 1996