Reflections on Personal Responsibility and Accountability

Recently author and actor (and maybe good old-fashioned philosopher) Ben Stein wrote an article about a very close friend taking his own life. He was a man that Mr. Stein had respected and been in his circle of close friends since early childhood. Apparently this gentleman was alone and dejected about his health and though once wealthy, he had found himself deeply in debt with no means of making a living. He saw his only options as poverty or death, or so he thought. Mr. Stein said, “The suicide of this man has burned through my brain like a brush fire that never goes out.”

Mr. Stein went on to reflect that he had given money to this man on various occasions before he died but regretted that he had not done more for him. Mr. Stein, with his usual disarming candor, admitted that because he had be burned (or taken) in the past for loaning money to relatives, he was leery about this man. However he reflects that “I should have been willing to take the gamble that I would get ripped off another time.”

The second thought that Mr. Stein revealed was that this man maybe could have made arrangements to live more modestly including looking into a small apartment or even Section 8 housing and spent more time in the public library among the other free activities he could have enjoyed. He could have asked for help in redefining his life. His conundrum was that, “he did not have enough money to be the man of means he wanted to be, and that made his life unbearable.” His life had become about envy and status and not gratitude. He saw life as only what he could have (or material possessions) and in no way about what he could give to others.

Mr. Stein's final reflection was that the man who shot himself did not believe in God but that God did indeed place him on this earth and “therefore he had a right to be here whether he was rich or poor.” Maybe this man just wanted to stop hurting so much and have some peace. “Maybe he wanted to go home.”

Once again it is the time of year where Christians are asked to deeply examine their lives and get rid of the excess that may have taken hold in some negative manner. Though some treat it as a fable, the story in Genesis about Adam, Eve, and the one tree that should not be touched rings true. God planted a beautiful garden and placed human beings there. God wanted life to be lived to the very fullest possible and he still desires that for us. The Garden was a place of delight, of color, of romance, where human energy and endeavor could interact with other created things. There was vast or immense freedom. Science, politics, culture, entertainment, conversation, friendship, and love were all available. Life was rich beyond anything we can imagine. 

But there was a prohibition surrounding one tree in the middle of the Garden which should not be touched. It was to be respected, reverenced, and honored. It represented the reality of God's prerogative to be God and to determine what is good and what is evil. That is indeed God's prerogative but it is not done to shame or punish us. It is done to foster our ultimate happiness and everlasting joy. When we take on being the arbiters of good and evil, to decide right from wrong, we, in essence, have attempted to make ourselves gods. This Original Sin haunts us to this day, and all of the agony and struggle flow from this fundamental error on our part. This is the human story and we all are a part of that story. We are the creature and He is the Creator. He is omnipotent and we are powerless. Infinite and finite, it seems so apparent. 

The Garden became desolate, and Adam and Eve had to take on life in very harsh terms – just as we do today. There are realities that we cannot transcend no matter how much we think we possess. Pleasure, honors, and power are the paths we take to circumvent God's grace acting in our lives. This is why Lent is a call or a return to not only common sense but to personal responsibility and accountability. An examination of our conscience is well overdue on how we might have offended God and our neighbor.

When Jesus is confronted by the Devil in the desert, he takes on evil. He confronts pleasure – and we are a pleasure-obsessed society. He humbles himself before offers of honor and is unconcerned about his reputation or being highly admired by others. And finally, when offered power, he resists for His Kingdom is not of this world. His power is found in humility, in being little and perhaps unnoticed.

This blog began with one man's reflection on the unfortunate passing of a dear friend. As we approach Spring, milder temperatures let us reflect on what we are seeking in life. Is there room for God in our busy lives? What is tempting you? Is it pleasure, honor, or power? Re-engage with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Trust in Christ. Avoid bitterness or divisiveness. Tell God and Jesus you want something different for yourself. This is a time of renewal, a time of rebirth. Jesus heals our wounds and frees us from anxiety. Let go and Let God.