Blame sounds like this: “I’m not okay and it’s your fault.”
“He makes me so mad.”
“She drives me crazy.”
“If he would just … then I …”
“If she would stop … then I …”
Blame is the way we assign responsibility for us to others. It’s the way we dodge being responsible for ourselves. It’s the way we give our power away to other people. Blame is the way we become powerless in our relationships, in our lives and in our world. Blame is the path to being a victim.
Blame is not a new tactic.
“He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”” (Genesis 3:11–13, ESV).
When I blame you, I embrace powerlessness over my own choices, attitudes, reactions and responses, surrendering ownership of me to you. I’m not powerful over my own life; you are.
If you have that much power over me, I wonder if I have that much power over you?
Control sounds like this: “I need to change you so that I’ll be okay.”
Control assumes that you’re just as powerless over you as I am over me. If I’m not okay and it’s your fault (I blame you for controlling me), then I must obviously be able to control you so that I will again be okay. There are all kinds of ways to control someone. Some of those ways are aggressive and active. Some are more passive. We control others by the things we do or the things we withhold. We control through fear, anger, guilt, withdrawal, stonewalling, withholding affection, shame, judgment, rejection …
The list could get pretty long if we gave it a little thought.
But it doesn’t work. Ever.
I may think I control you. I may try to control you. You may allow me to think I’m controlling you. But you are always controlling you. I can’t control you. I can’t control anyone but me. Which means that you probably can’t control anyone but you. Which means you never control me because I’m always controlling me. Which means I have no one to blame.
I am responsible. For me.
Power and Love
There’s a different way to live with others in relationship. It begins when I embrace responsibility for my own life, my inner world, my choices and reactions in every situation. It begins when I become powerful over the only thing I have any ability to control: myself. When I’m stuck in blame and control, even kind and loving behaviors feel manipulative and somehow self-serving. If I need you to be a certain way in order for me to be okay, then I’m ultimately relating to you for my benefit. This kind of selfishness excludes love because it’s the opposite of love.
Love is a powerful thing exchanged by powerful people. Living in blame and control robs me of my capacity to truly and powerfully invest who I am in our relationship for your benefit. But when I see myself as powerful over me, when I give up my drive to control you, when I assume you’re in control of your own self and I wouldn’t want it any other way—then and only then can love happen between us.
A husband locked in blame-and-control thinking might buy flowers for his wife. Maybe she’s been nagging him about not being romantic like he used to. She’s not okay and it’s his fault. She nags at him to control him so that she’ll be okay. He doesn’t know how to be powerful over himself in the face of her disappointment and manipulation. He’s not okay and it’s her fault. He buys her flowers to appease her (control her) so that he’ll be okay. She feels the manipulation in his gesture. He feels the manipulation in her nagging. What could otherwise be a completely lovely and loving expression of romance becomes the catalyst for a big row. He thought it was about flowers. She thought it was about romance. The real issue here is two powerless people trying to control each other so they can feel powerful in some small way.
Small is actually a good word to describe it. This blame-and-control way of living tends to result in everyone involved feeling very small. Or very big if they’re successful in making sure the other person knows just how very small they are.
God is Love
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, ESV)
Love is what God is. It’s not just something He chooses or does. It’s who He is. It’s His nature.
If God is love, and if what I’ve said already in this article is true, then there are some ideas that naturally follow from all this. If God is love, then I would expect God to be powerful. Of course He is powerful in the “He can lift heavy things and do amazing feats” kind of way. But more specifically—and more relevant to this context—I mean God is self-governing. He is powerful in and over His own being. He manages His own choices, responses, thoughts, actions and attitudes. God is responsible for God. He is never powerless in a relationship. I can’t control Him. I can’t make Him unloving. I can’t make Him dishonorable. I can’t make Him controlling.
That’s the other idea that follows from God being love. If God is love, then God is powerful. If God is powerful and loving, then I should expect God to NOT be controlling.
But God is in control, right? Yes—but it depends on how you mean that. He could be in control of everything if He wanted. He is definitely in control over Himself. In His sovereignty He reigns supreme over all. But God is SO sovereign, He is SO in control, that He is free to give real freedom away to His creatures. And it seems in governing Himself He has chosen to do just that.
I bet you’ve done something today in absolute violation of what He would’ve done.
I bet I have too.
I’m actually amazed at how non-controlling God is.
Adam and Eve walked right up to that tree and ate that fruit, explicitly in violation of God’s sovereign will, and God didn’t even try to talk them out of it. The rich young ruler decided he couldn’t possibly give up his stuff to make room for eternal life within his heart and walked away sad. Jesus didn’t even try to dissuade him. The prodigal son decided he wasn’t willing to wait for dad to die—he wanted his inheritance now. The Father wrote him a check—didn’t even suggest another possible course of action.
C.S. Lewis says that “there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” (The Great Divorce, p. 75)
God doesn’t control others. In Eden, God chose not to control Adam. Instead, God became a second Adam, the last Adam, and in another garden chose to control Himself.
Saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, ESV).
Even at His most vulnerable, Jesus was never willing to abdicate power over His own life.
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:10–11, ESV).
Pilate wants Jesus to realize that he (Pilate) has all the power in this relationship. Jesus won’t play that game. He never will. Jesus is loving, powerful and non-controlling to the point of death. Here’s what Jesus understood about Himself:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18, ESV)
God controls Himself. He expects us, as those made in His image, to control ourselves. Why? Because He made us for love, and only powerful people who govern themselves can live in relationship like this. Or not, if they don’t want to.
It’s up to you.
No one to control.
No one to blame.
*Article originally posted on Destiny in Bloom. Used with permission.