President Harry S. Truman did not coin the phrase, but he certainly made it famous.
The slogan may have originated with poker players. In frontier days poker players often used a buckhorn knife as a marker to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If a player did not wish to deal, he could skip the responsibility by "passing the buck” to the next player.
Truman knew that unlike card players he could not “pass” when it came to the tough call. His farewell address to the American people made that very clear. Mr. Truman said, “The President--whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.”2
Elijah knew the importance of being decisive! The Old Testament prophet lived among a group of perennial buck passers. The nation of Israel waffled so much you could have poured syrup over them and served them for breakfast.
Should we follow God or not? Hmmmm. Yes or No? Yes or No?
Israel simply could not make up its mind. Elijah, on the other hand, had very clear convictions when it came to his allegiance.
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah.When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is it you, you troubler of Israel?" And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals. Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table."So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:16-21 NLT)
Elijah was decisive! He was not afraid to draw a line in the sand because his convictions rested in the absolute certainty of God’s Word. It seems many Christians today do not possess his confidence. A 2009 Barna Research Group survey of 1,871 self-described Christians reported:
A slight majority of Christians (55%) strongly agree that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches, with another 18% agreeing somewhat. About one out of five either disagree strongly (9%) or somewhat (13%) with this statement, and 5% aren’t sure what to believe.3
Caught somewhere between the “Yes!” of faith and the “No!” of unbelief, many Christians live in the shadowy land of “Maybe,” a dangerous place when eternal issues are at stake. Truman was right. ”No one else can do the deciding for us.” Resting on the absolute certainty of the Word of God is the basis for the convictions, values, and principles that help us say, “The Buck Stops Here.” Truman stood out because he took a stand. He said, “That’s my job!”
It is our job too! "God, give me Elijah’s backbone and steadfast confidence in your Word.”
1Mitford M. Matthews, Editor. A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles. 1951. 2Harry S. Truman, The President's Farewell Address to the American People. January 15, 1953 3The Barna Group. Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist. Barna.org, accessed January 13, 2011.