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?