Is Accountability a Good or Bad Thing?

Rayabuse, accountability, burdens, christ, Culture, depression, faith, grace, Happiness, mercy, Mormon, Peace, religion, repentance, righteousness, salvation, spiritual progression, spirituality, surviving 12 Comments

I am struck regularly by how many members fail to focus on the life of Jesus and, thus, fail to realize that there are incredible lessons (particularly in the Gospels) about specific things we can do to become more like Him – things that can lessen the effects of our sins and actually help decrease the frequency of those sins – thus bringing internal peace and a measure of calmness to our lives in the here and now, regardless of the storms that rage therein. I believe we sometimes buy into the apostate obsession with the afterlife – as though it’s OK to be miserable here, since we’ll be happy there. The problem is that we are told that the same spirit we develop here will rise with us there. (Alma 34:34) In other words, if we become peaceful in this life, we will be at peace in the next life. That’s worth pondering all on its own – that we are accountable for whether or not we develop internal peace.

Having said that, I need to point out that depression and issues relative to similar physiological difficulties that suppress our joy and impede our growth in this life can be an exception to that last statement. I hope NOBODY takes what I said above as a reason to feel guilty over their struggles to conquer those types of difficulties. I realize completely that there are some things for some people for which enduring to the end is the only course. That’s why medical help should NEVER be stigmatized in any way for depression or other similar challenges. If proper medication provides a degree of peace for someone, taking that medication is an act of establishing a degree of accountability that will be rewarded, imo.

I believe the whole doctrine of accountability is one of the most beautiful in Mormonism. It see it as so much more expansive than restrictive. We tend to focus on the “punitive” aspects of accountability (“You are responsible for the effects of your actions when you are accountable and will be punished for your mistakes.”), but we also should understand more fully the “merciful” aspects of that same principle. (“You are not responsible for the effects of your actions when you are not accountable and will be covered by God’s grace for those mistakes.”)

We understand and acknowledge openly the concept as it relates to the “extremes” (children and the mentally handicapped on one end; fully accountable adults on the other end), but we often overlook it when dealing with the “emotionally handicapped” and the “abused” and any others whose thoughts and actions are influenced by things they didn’t choose – things often outside their full control. We are learning more and more about how to treat these things, but I believe there are still so many manifestations of these types of issues which we haven’t even identified completely. Therefore, “Judge not” becomes an even more vital command.

Having spent much time talking with many people who struggle mightily with feelings of guilt and isolation and despair and unworthiness, I have come to believe that many of them do so largely because, to some degree, they are wired to do so (either at birth or through trauma) – that they simply can’t help those feelings of despair and guilt that arise out of unrealistic expectations. I believe strongly that those people are not “accountable” for their actions during those times of guilt and despair in quite the same way as others are without those episodes. I’m not saying that they are completely free from the responsibility to understand their condition and try to “repent” (simply meaning “change”); I believe all have the command to look inward at themselves, identify their weaknesses and strive to improve.  What I am saying is that “repentance” in these cases often is as much (if not more) about learning practical coping mechanisms (including taking medication) and proactively acquiring personal characteristics than it is about the classic “exercise of will” often associated with repentance.

If we understood more fully that accountability is the concept that allows repentance to be a positive thing (that we have been given the freedom to proactively participate in the progress of our souls – to construct a process of growth that includes almost anything that helps us become “righteous” (right / in harmony with God), I believe we could begin to tackle the “natural” guilt associated with the effects of the Fall in a much more productive and ennobling manner than we tend to do currently.  We could separate “sin” (for which we are accountable), “transgression” (for which we might or might not be accountable), “weakness” (for which we are not accountable) and “natural, mortal crap” (which just is, well, crap).

So, how do you think of accountability?  Do you see it as a positive or negative concept?  How do you think what we now call “disabilities” affect accountability?  Are there other things that you believe reduce or impact accounatbility?  What are some things that we often associate with sin and guilt that you believe should not be classified as sin and induce guilt?  How do you feel about taking medication to alter one’s natural moods and/or actions? What are any other implications of accountability that are not addressed in this post?

Comments 12

  1. Accountability, as part of agency, is what lifts us from the animals and gives us the potential to become as God. When we cease to be victims and begin to apply our power of choice, we touch the fringes of divinity.

    It is true that some may have less opportunity to apply agency (choice and accountability, which is taking responsibility for choice, both good and bad) because of physical or environmental affects, but all mankind has the opportunity to exercise agency within their own sphere. It does not matter if we are given one talent or five of such opportunity, so long as we exercise it to the best of our abilities.

    I have had occasion to observe the choices given to ones who are victims of physical maladies (mental as well as physiological) or abuse. In my experience, no matter how strong the influence, each and every person has an ability to choose life and death, to turn to the Savior and learn joy, or to allow themselves to wallow in despair.

    Sometimes, taking medication to aid us in limiting the influences we cannot control is a good thing. I believe, however, that medications should never be taken without also learning how much responsibility and choice is available. When speaking of mental difficulties, medication can sometimes be the only thing that can give a person an edge in combating their illness. However, when the medication becomes the solution, when a person sets aside their own ability to choose in favor of popping pills, they do not use the medication wisely and they miss their chance to become like God. Fortunately, only God Himself can justly judge a person’s individual efforts. I am more than happy to leave it up to Him.

  2. As far as medication, accountability and depression (which runs in my wife’s family) goes, I like to compare it to heart disease (which runs in my family). With heart disease, even if it runs in your family, there is a ton of things that you can do to help negate it: exercise, maintain a healthy body weight, have a good diet, learn how to cope with stress, etc. But sometimes even if you do all these things you still end up having to take some medication. As someone who’s family has a history of heart disease, I feel I am absolutely accountable in doing the things that I need to help negate the heart disease so I can live a long healthy and happy live where I am in a condition to care for my family and serve in the church. If a time comes when I have to medicine I will do it, because I know I have done all the things in my power to stay healthy.
    Like I said at the beginning, depression is a lot like heart disease. There is a lot of things that a person with clinical depression can do to negate the effects of depression ( a lot of these are actually very similiar to the things needed to combat heart disease: exercise, good diet, coping with stress, etc) but sometimes there is still a need for medication and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people who are depressed are in such a depressed state that they can’t get themselves to do the ‘natural’ things that would help them fight depression. In these cases medication is especially important because it can help the person to get to a state where they can start doing the things the need to do to fight the depression. The important thing then is that when they do get to that state that they are encouraged and supported in doing all that they can to fight the depression INCLUDING continuing to take their medication if it needs be.

  3. I could not have said this better myself, Ray. Nice post. The idea of repentance as improving or becoming well is a fascinating way to couch the term and help it lose its stigma. Guilt is a beautiful thing when it moves us to change and have an increase in joy, but a powerfully bad thing when it blocks the possibility of change. So much of our negative reaction to being called to repentance is a manifestation of guilt. Even if we feel judged wrongly, it is a reaction out of fear of the stigma we give the sinner because they are, well, guilty.

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about disabilities, of all sorts, environmental as well as physical.

    If I’m healthy, with a good night’s sleep and things are going well at work it is easier to be pleasant. When I’m sick, tired and need to go back to bed, it is easier not to seem pleasant.

    My daughter with Tourette’s responds very well to medication, though it has to be continuously adjusted as she grows. She is lucky to be very bright and to be caring, teachers tend to be more forgiving if you are smart and if you are nice to others.

    Even before we had her in our lives I started thinking about just how much of what we are and how we act is our environment and our physical state. How much is what we are doing and how much are we getting credit for really is just the setting we are in?

    Great topic, I just still, after twenty years of thought, don’t have enough to say on it.

  5. Enjoyed reading the post! As I have worked with people with severe mental illness–including schiphrenia, bipolar, depression, PTSD–there are times when some who suffer with these illnesses are either so delusional or confused that only God can judge whether or not they are responsibile for their choices. In some instances, I am convinced they are not. Many carry such heavy burdens with these illnesses that I believe our merciful Father will welcome them with open arms when they return to Him.

  6. I think accountability before God is a good thing. What we often get wrong in the church (in my opinion) is the accountability we try to enforce on each other. That is what I have a hard time with.

    Mosiah 29:12 states-

    Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.

  7. Post

    Fortunately, only God Himself can justly judge a person’s individual efforts. I am more than happy to leave it up to Him.

    #1 – Amen, SilverRain.

    #2 – kevin, that’s a great analogy. Thank you. I hope “it’s all in your mind” dies of neglect. True or not, so what?

    #3 – Doc, I am concerned greatly about what I believe to be improperly applied guilt through unrealistic expectations, since I believe the Atonement has paid for much of what we often use to cause ourselves and others continued suffering and guilt. It is a well established legal principle that we are not judged to be guilty of things that happen outside our control. I believe that same principle applies to us spiritually.

    #4 – Stephen, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, as well, and, in the end, all I am left with is to be as charitable as possible. God sees all, but I don’t.

  8. Post

    #5 – Thanks, MH. Now add something substantive! 😉

    Many carry such heavy burdens with these illnesses that I believe our merciful Father will welcome them with open arms when they return to Him.

    #6 – Beautifully said, Chris. I agree wholeheartedly, and I believe we will be judged partly by how much we contribute to those burdens.

    What we often get wrong in the church (in my opinion) is the accountability we try to enforce on each other.

    #7 – Exactly, Eric! I think we generally don’t give enough credence to the absoluteness of the way Matthew 7:1 is phrased. Joseph added “unrighteous judgment” – but I’m not at all comfortable in my ability to see enough to judge righteously. It’s one of the reasons the burdens Bishops carry are so hard – and the main reason anyone who covets that calling is just a bit insane, imo.

  9. Interesting Post–

    When it comes to some of the challenges we experience in life I remember reading the following:

    Niels P. L. Eskilkz, a Danish convert to the Church. At age ten he was seriously crippled and deformed. He writes of a vision he received:

    What was shown him related to his existence in the spirit world, mortal experience and future rewards. He comprehended, as if by intuition, that he had witnessed a somewhat similar scene in his pre-mortal state, and been given the opportunity of choosing the class of reward he would like to attain to. He knew that he had deliberately made his choice. He realized which of the rewards he had selected, and understood that such a reward was only to be gained by mortal suffering–that, in fact, he must be cripple and endure severe physical pain, privation and ignominy.

    George C. Lambert. “A Modern Stoic, “Treasures in Heaven” p. 21-22. 15th Volume


    I share these kinds of experiences with some reservation because they can be misapplied, but I think it explains the reason that many among us are dealing with various kinds of life challenges–they were given to us because we asked for them with a specific purpose and goal in mind.

    [Sorry, Jared. For some reason, this got stuck in the Spam Filter. I don’t know why, but that’s happened a couple of time recently.]

  10. Post

    I can respect that, Jared – as you say, as long as they are not over-generalized and misapplied. In individual instances, yes; as a universal rule, no.

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