The Dog Ate God’s Homework
“The dog ate my homework.”
This familiar phrase is one of the most classic examples of avoiding responsibility for a stupid action. But it points to a very human trait that gets the better of all of us at one point or another.
There are various ways of describing it. There is a phrase that originated in Chinese culture that we now take for granted in English: saving face.
There are actions that are taken in order to save face, sometimes called cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face or shooting oneself in the foot.
The basic idea is that we, as human beings, will do almost anything to avoid admitting that we were wrong.
One of the greatest examples of this happening in my own family is a story my father tells of being taken along on a vacation with his aunt, uncle and cousins. They all grew up in Atlanta, and the big trip to Florida was planned amid much excitement.
It’s a fairly straight shoot from Atlanta to Florida, pretty much due East.
Uncle Frank would not admit he was going the wrong way until they crossed the Alabama border.
There are many famous examples as well, such as contractors building a bridge across a bay that does not end up meeting in the middle, and then saying their calculations were only slightly off.
We have the conspiracy theorists who believe in the third man on the grassy knoll in the JFK assassination and that 9/11 was an inside job.
There are actually scientific studies done that show that when people are given contradictory, empirical evidence that controverts a strongly held belief, they believe in their own disproven theory even more strongly.
Facts really have nothing to do with it when you might have to admit you were wrong.
Probably the worst example of this phenomenon of having to be right no matter what is the subject of a Darwin Award. For those of you who are not familiar with the Darwin Awards, they are a tongue-in-cheek award given to someone who meets his demise due to his own catastrophically stupid actions. The idea is to give the person an award for removing his DNA from the gene pool and thus avoid passing on the stupidity, hence the title “Darwin Award.”
Well, there is a particularly unfortunate one that is the clearest illustration of human beings not being able to be shown up or admit they are wrong.
According to the Darwin Awards website, which goes to some lengths to verify their stories, “Polish farmer Krystof Azninski staked a strong claim to being Europe’s most macho man in 1995. Azninski, 30, had been drinking with friends when it was suggested they strip naked and play some ‘men’s games.’ Initially they hit each other over the head with frozen turnips, but then one man upped the ante by seizing a chainsaw and cutting off the end of his foot. Not to be outdone, Azninski grabbed the saw and, shouting ‘Watch this, then,’ he swung at his own head and chopped it off.”
He won the contest, but at that point it really didn’t matter.
Hopefully none of us are that committed to being right.
But everyone gets caught saying or doing something phenomenally stupid at one time or another and that’s when the excuses come out.
And the deliverer of the finest example of the “The dog ate my homework” defense is right here in our scripture from Exodus today: Aaron, Moses’ brother.
Aaron has really screwed up, big time.
Moses has been up on the mountain with God, getting the 10 Commandments.
They’ve just survived all manner of hardships and calamities in the desert, and all Aaron has to do is hold things together for a short time while Moses confers with God.
Well, it doesn’t work out too well. And when Moses comes down and sees the disaster of the Golden Calf, Aaron presents a classic defense, which appears just a few verses after our passage today.
“Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?’ And Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. They said to me, “Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off;’ so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”
“I threw it in into the fire, and out came this calf! I don’t know what happened! Don’t look at me!”
It’s just so stupid. Really, Aaron?
You just threw it in the fire and out came this calf.
The entire nation of Israel has forsaken the God of their fathers, and shucks, that’s a real shame, but you just can’t be held responsible.
The fact of the matter is, there are few things more painful to our fragile self-image than having to admit we are wrong.
But no matter how awful it is, we have to take an honest look at ourselves and ask, “Is there an area or situation in life where it’s time for me to admit I’ve taken the wrong path?”
Maybe it’s time to admit that yeah, the alcohol use has been edging into abuse for some time now.
Maybe it’s time to eat humble pie with a relative and say, hey, I don’t even remember why we were fighting anymore but I miss you and I’m sorry and I love you.
Maybe it’s time to admit, yeah, maybe giving up all that time with my family for the promotion at work was a mistake and that’s a big part of why my marriage ended.
Because admitting we were wrong is the only way we will have the chance for a fresh start.
It’s one of the most basic things Jesus taught us to do: to ask forgiveness for our sins.
But we all know, the injury that hurts the worst and takes the longest to heal is hurt pride.
How can we gain the strength to admit we were wrong?
We’re given a remarkable example in our scripture today.
God is so angry with the Israelites, and plans to destroy them with a burning hot wrath.
But Moses pleads for them and begs God to turn away the wrath.
And God changes God’s mind.
It says it right there in the scripture, Exodus 32:14: “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
If there were ever anyone who spent most of the time being right and would shock everyone for admitting being wrong, it would be God.
God is omnipotent, all-powerful, the Alpha and the Omega.
Isn’t everything planned out and known by God from before time down to the tiniest bounce of one molecule off another?
“And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
Rather than a frightening destabilization of the sovereignty of God, I take this as one more example of the overwhelming love of God for God’s people.
God just doesn’t care what has to happen so that we’re taken care of.
It doesn’t matter who has made stupid mistakes or who has been backed into a corner, God will change everything and do anything to keep us safe.
And perhaps God will say, “You know what? I was wrong,” so that by following God’s example, we frail humans have half a chance of doing the same.
And if we can learn to admit we’re wrong like God, maybe there’s some chance of us learning to love like God.
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