So, as lockdown eases in the UK (it doesn’t end until 4th July and even then, with strict social distancing rules in place), we have the scenario of beaches being packed with sun seekers at places like Bournemouth.
In response to the Government and other authorities expressing concern at this, former UKIP and Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell wrote
As it happens, Carswell has been one of those strongly challenging the idea of lockdown. It may therefore be the case, that he thinks that those who flocked to the beaches were being entirely responsible, that there is nothing to worry about and basically we should all be doing what they are doing. That’s a legitimate argument to make. He can argue that the policies on lockdown and social distancing are wrong and he can present evidence for that.
Except, for some reason, that is not the argument he is making. Rather, he is arguing that public policy makers have failed by allowing people to be paid not to work through furlough schemes and kids are denied access to school and university.
I find that just a little odd. For years, whenever there have been rises in crime and anti-social behaviour, those on the left have been quick to announce that fault lies with society, a lack of jobs, poor social conditions, oppressive government etc. At that point, right of centre politicians are quick to step in and say “no, you can never excuse such behaviour, people are personally responsible for the choices they make.”
So, it is fascinating to see right of centre commentators say that it is the State which is to blame for questionable decisions people make, not them.
I suspect that when people excuse the individual and blame the state/society an element is, as with Carswell’s position that they don’t really think that those involved have really done anything wrong at all. So, the radical left is generally suspicious of the idea of private ownership and therefore property laws, so when someone vandalises a shop front, or after smashing the window makes off with a wide screen TV, from their perspective, they haven’t really done anything wrong. It is not just that the State have caused the person to commit a crime, it is that the State has withheld from the person what is legitimately available for them to take and so they aren’t really stealing at all, just making use of things that should be in common ownership.
The Bible takes a different approach. It recognises that we live in a fallen world and that life at times can be unpleasant. Fallenness includes the idea of original sin so that we too are fallen and dead in our sin. However, it is also clear that we are willing participants in sin and therefore morally responsible. We have no excuses.:
This week, I have been reflecting quite a bit on Hebrews 4:15.
15 This High Priest [Jesus] of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
Jesus experienced the trials and temptations we do. He knows what it is like to live in a sinful world and face suffering and oppression. He has experienced hunger and thirst, mockery, rejection and physical pain. In all of that, he did not sin.
In effect, Jesus’ response is that he sympathises with our struggles and pain. However, those things do not justify our sin. We remain responsible.
However, he goes a stage further. Jesus by bearing the punishment for our sin and by justifying us, declaring us righteousness doesn’t just take away the excuses, he takes away the need to make excuses. We are free to won up to our sin and take responsibility in stead of excusing or blame shifting. We can do this knowing that our sin will not be held against us to shame us. We are forgiven.