Why Do We Act So Surprised At Human Failure?

This is a repost from my old blog on Blogger. I have another post I’m thinking about writing, and wanted to reference it. But I figured I might as well redirect the traffic here. I’ll provide comments at the end. This was originally written on 15 December, 2008:


A couple of years ago, I showed up at church on Wednesday night ready to teach the final class in my series on Judges. I worked hard to prepare for that class. It was on Judges 20 and 21, the aftermath of the slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin. I thought it was going to be very interesting, and I got, well, angry when I found out that we would instead be assembling in the auditorium (in the churches of Christ, we’re forbidden to call it the sanctuary; we are the sanctuaries) for some kind of “family meeting.” I am almost ashamed to say that I normally don’t think too highly of those things. I don’t like it when we break our normal routine for these gatherings. I don’t like it when missionaries visit and we cancel classes so they can talk. I said I’m almost ashamed because I really don’t surprise myself much anymore.

That night, when I found out that the class I worked hard to prepare for was replaced, my thoughts immediately went to the cynical. I had thoughts like “Oh, great, somebody stubbed her toe and we have to get together and pray for her”. The 4 elders we had at the time (we added 2 more a few weeks after this account occurred) gathered at the podium. I don’t recall the exact words used, but apparently somebody in the congregation did something really bad. I tried to imagine who it was. For a second I worried it might have been me although that was groundless. It’s just human nature. It turned out that the youth minister that we had at the time did something very bad; so bad that we may never again have a youth minister. I’ll leave out the details here on my blog. When the thing he did was mentioned, very straightforwardly, some people gasped in horror. Some started crying. Some started shrieking. Some had to run outside to cry, others just numbly walked up and down the aisles holding their head saying something to the effect of “Oh, no, oh no, this can’t be happening!” The funny thing is, although I was shocked, I was not surprised. I don’t remember being surprised at all. If anything, considering what was done, I was almost glad I didn’t find myself in similar circumstances to fall in the exact same way.

I don’t understand why we always act so surprised when people do bad things. The governor of Illinois thing has me wondering this. A corrupt politician from a state known for it’s corrupt machine politics gets caught being corrupt. Where is the news in this? Why does everybody act so surprised? What’s the point? He screwed up and acted corrupt too far in the open, so he’ll get impeached and his power to replace the Senator who didn’t do a darn thing as Senator but run for President to the highest bidder will go away for this time, and he’ll be replaced by another corrupt Illinois machine politician, and life will go on until another one steps out of line and discusses corrupt things on a tapped line. The corruption won’t go away, but the corrupt politician who screwed up will for now.

This is why the “messianic theory” of politics has me so scared. It seems to me that when you ask people who voted for either McCain or Obama why they did so, the most common answer is some variation of “I hope he’ll deliver me from…” It doesn’t matter what. “I hope he’ll save me from health care.” “I hope he’ll save me from taxes.” “I hope he’ll save me from Global Warming.” “I hope he’ll save me from McCain.” “I hope he’ll save me from Palin.” “I hope he’ll save me from Obama.” “I hope he’ll save me from liberals.” “I hope he’ll save me from fundamentalist Christians.” The list goes on and one. Of course, most of the promises made by these candidates and most of the reasons people voted for them have NOTHING to do with the job description of the President of the United States found in the Constitution of such United States. It’s just that people are afraid and somehow believe one of these men might be the Messiah and save them from whatever they fear, no matter what else the man might screw up in his attempt to, if he actually kept that particular promise, which is not something that politicians are known for anyway. Then, when President Obama doesn’t keep his promises, or screws something up, people will act surprised! “How could he have done this? Oprah told us that he might be THE ONE!”

Knowing the capacity for human failure, I have to ask: why do you act so surprised when people fail horribly, and why do you look to other humans to somehow deliver you from whatever has you scared this election or the next? I’m asking this question in the “you” context because I’m honestly not surprised in the majority of cases, and I honestly don’t believe politicians can deliver me, nor do I trust them to. I’m happier if they just leave me alone and I vote for the one who will just leave me alone. At least, I do now. I once subscribed to the “Messianic” theory of politics, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Additional commentary:

I no longer go to a Church of Christ. I have nothing against them. I just moved on. I currently attened what is described as a non-denominational church, where our pastor has a Pentacostal background. I’d never been in a charismatic leaning church before, although that is not emphasized.

The “youth pastor” thing I was referring to is far enough in the past to explain. I kept it vague for a reason, but like I said, it’s in the past and I’m divorced from the wife I’ll be referencing.

That church brought on a youth pastor shortly before I joined it in 2002. He was approximately my age. Him and his wife had two daughters who were both born within months of my two sons. His wife had to work. I was able to structure things so that my ex-wife was able to quit working and become a full-time stay at home mom when my first born was about 7 months old and she was pregnant with my second. My ex did not love or respect me one bit, so let’s just say even with her NOT working, things were not good. I had needs that were not being met, and had somebody come along to meet those needs, I would have easily fallen for her.

The night I was referring to, it came out that the youth pastor had a two-year affair with one of the teen girls. She was 17 at the time. You do the math as to when it started. What did NOT come out in church (which we found out through the family involved) is that he’d gotten her pregnant, gave her money and sent her to get an abortion. Yeah, very youth-pastorly.

He was convicted, served five years in county jail. His wife forgave him, and last I heard they were still married and he is working as a youth pastor. Far away, praise the Lord. That church apparently knows about his past. They get what they get, I guess.

But it goes back to the question: why do we act so surprised when people fail? I could have failed in a similar way had the temptation presented itself, although I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to end up alone with a 15 year old with daddy issues. But even a woman my own age at the time would have caused enough trouble.

I deal with this kind of temptation in a couple of ways. One is accountability. I have a few really good friends I firmly trust to throw the bullshit flag on me. And I have permission to throw it on them. A good friend will not let you get away with bullshitting yourself.

Another is to not let it happen in the first place. If you’re married and committed to being faithful to your wife, NEVER let yourself be alone with another woman. Women, never let yourself be alone with another man. Even when I travel, I make sure to go out in groups if there are women present.

I also deal with temptation by operating under the assumption that I will get caught.