A Difficult Question of Morality and Accountability

I find it very hard to fault people for their thoughts, feelings and inclinations, even when they are clearly wrong; probably because I haven’t learned to control my own thoughts. And I can’t deny, part of me feels like it isn’t possible. I am ashamed of this meagerness of faith. I do believe that right thinking is a gift that God bestows in increasing measure as we grow in Him. This train of thought, though, has me wondering about sin and accountability.

The Bible tells us that our thoughts can be sinful, just as our actions can be sinful. Matthew 5:28 is a good example:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This verse has always been hard for me. How does one keep things from occurring to them in the first place? I don’t believe that Jesus would tell us not to do something if we had no ability to abstain from it. Again, I think we have to rely on God for help.

But what about people who have diminished capacity, or some other circumstance that brings their accountability into question? For example, I’ve known people whose childhoods were full of painful abuse and neglect. Consequently they lacked understanding of appropriate behavior in some way or another. Impulses and desires learned in childhood don’t always go away with age. One person in particular that I’m talking about has these disadvantages coupled with decreased capacity. I don’t know what his developmental age is, but I know it doesn’t match his physical age. Now, as an adult, he knows what he is not supposed to do, knows that at least in name, those things are “wrong.” He still does them, or at least tries.

I don’t know much about Catholicism, but the Catholic acceptance of an age of accountability has always intrigued me. I don’t know if this idea is biblical (if you know any applicable scripture, please share), but I vividly remember changing – a sort of transition from childhood – when I was 11 years old. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but it is an oddly distinct memory for me. My question is this: What if, developmentally, some people never reach that age of accountability? Is the evil they do really their own? And what if they don’t turn to God in their lifetime because they simply have no concept of God? Or must we assume that every single person has the capacity to know God? That simply by virtue of being, they already do? John 1:9 could be read that way, I think:

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

These are tough issues for me. I have a hard enough time with absolutes, but when they concern what goes on in someone’s head… well, that’s harder, still. I can’t know what happens in anyone else’s brain. Very often I can’t even follow what’s going on in my own! But the Bible does use words like “every” and “all.”  My views and beliefs are becoming more specific, but accepting the things that are black and white is an ongoing struggle.

I’d love to know how other people think and feel about these things – please feel free to share! And if you have scripture that might help clarify a related biblical position, it would be very much appreciated. Thanks for reading and have a GREAT weekend!



One of my prayers for this blog is that it will reflect spiritual growth. Gradually (and I confess sometimes grudgingly), I am accepting that such growth depends on my willingness to do more than just think and read and write. I need to get over my stand-offish tendencies and act.

I am an introvert. Sometimes I think life would be much easier not having to worry about human relationships. When my phone rings, my inclination is usually not to answer it… be the call from someone I love or a stranger. I also tend to want to turn down invitations, even when they sound like fun. I don’t know why I lean this way. I’ve been blessed with passable social skills and I really do like people. But for whatever reason, I do. As a result, I often avoid getting involved or making commitments. In the past, even when a commitment is entirely voluntary, I resent the subsequent feelings of obligation.

I’m happy to say that I seem to be changing and growing. These feelings are still there, but they are being overpowered by a tug and desire to be more involved. I no longer view my deep feelings of obligation and loyalty as burdens. They keep me honest and help me overcome laziness. These changes have come over a long stretch. I can trace them back about five years. Having a baby has made them even more noticeable.

Okay – thanks for bearing with me. That was kind of a long intro, but it seems relevant to my point. In my spiritual life, I’ve behaved the same way. I’ve avoided commitments. Sermons that are less intellectual and more touchy-feely kind of irritate me. As I listened to last week’s message at church, I started to feel that way and then felt immediate contrition. The touchy-feely stuff is at the heart of the matter. It IS what matters. God loves us. How much more important is that than who authored the gospels or which word is a more accurate translation in a specific verse? I still find those things interesting and even important to a certain point, but I have to remind myself periodically that while they are great tools for understanding and sustained searching, they are not the point.

And while study can deepen our feeling of connection to God, how much greater intimacy can we achieve if we involve not just our minds, but our hearts and hands in His work? I think we’ve all been given different capacities for service; and knowing ourselves and how we can make the most impact is wonderful. However, I also think many of us underestimate our capacities – or if you’re like me – stubbornly refuse to see them.

So this morning I lift my coffee cup to all of you who put yourselves out there for God. I’m hoping to join your ranks. 🙂 Have a great day, everyone!



The “A” Part of this Q & A Blog – Indirect Clues to the Nature of God

A few days ago I posted an entry based on a few verses in Acts 16. I talked with someone about that post today and she brought me face-to-face with just how sadly lacking my Biblical knowledge really is! 🙂 If you’re interested in the overall aim of that entry, you can read the entire post here:


In Acts 16, Paul cast out a spirit of divination from a girl who had been following him around for days stating that Paul and his companions were “…slaves of the Most High God who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (verse 17) In trying to understand why Paul would be particularly bothered by this, I conjectured that the word “slave” might have been offensive or a misrepresentation. It was brought to my attention, however, that this word was used by the apostles themselves in reference to their relationship with God quite frequently (See Romans 1:1 for an example). A little historical context helped me to understand how this status would have been accurate and favorable to them. If you are interested in this, Google the word “doulos.”

My educator went on to say that while the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why Paul was “annoyed,” it would seem that this demon (while not not being deceitful as far as we can tell) was hindering Paul’s work.

Please don’t hesitate to set me straight if I’ve misrepresented you, C! Thanks for your insight and for taking the time to respond!




Hey, God – You’re Kinda Creeping Me Out

Earlier this week, I was talking to another mother that I know and our conversation very briefly landed on theology. I mentioned Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son as a part of this conversation and she asked me, “So, what do you think of that anyway? If God wanted me to sacrifice my son, I think I’d say ‘Hey, God – you’re kinda creeping out.'” I laughed, but it’s a fair question. Setting aside all the New Testament parallels, what do I think about that? My initial thought was that Abraham’s experiences with God had given way to complete trust. I still think that’s true, but I must admit, I can’t fathom sacrificing my daughter for anything.

And then I started thinking about other reasons God might have used this method to determine the depth of Abraham’s faithfulness. My hunch is that God uses our ideas about society and culture to get through to us or to help us understand certain things. Baptism, for example. Why, when the disciples started baptizing people who were newcomers to the faith did these people not say, “Huh?? You want to do what?” Numerous historical sources tell us that baptism was not originally a Christian practice and had, in fact, been around for a long time before Christ.  Of course, it meant something new when Christians incorporated it. I know that some people will get prickly about this, but why should it be at all diminishing to think that God would use an existing practice to help people identify with and understand the step they were taking?

I also hear people attempt to discredit Christianity based on the fact that the story of Jesus closely parallels stories of pre-Christian religions. But again, it makes sense to me that God would help us to identify with Christ by using familiar elements.

You would have to research further to confirm, but I have heard that even circumcision was a custom prior to God’s instruction to Abraham.

So, back to Abraham and Isaac. I think it is safe to say that at the very least our forefathers had familiarity with polytheism. It is referenced throughout the Old Testament. Indeed God addresses it directly with the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” -Exodus 20:3. (It is interesting to note that God does not say that there are no other gods.) If the culture and religions of the time dictated that the people appease their gods to avoid mayhem and disaster through methods such as sacrifice, God’s order to Abraham to sacrifice his son may not have seemed quite as unbelievable as it does in our current culture. In the end of course, we must remember that God did not actually require such a sacrifice.

Just a few thoughts…


Indirect Clues to the Nature of God

I confess that I sometimes read between the lines more than I should when I study scripture. But at least part of the reason I do this is because I’m searching for more information about who and what God is. While the Bible does give us some very direct statements about that, I think His less-visible presence in scripture deserves as much attention. For instance, if someone tells me about a woman named Jane Doe who is very honest, I might have a good feeling about her based on that. If I read that Jane turned in a stolen purse with hundreds of dollars in it, I might believe in her honesty with greater conviction. Finally, personal interaction and experience with her might fully convince me of her honesty. Today I’m focusing on that middle step.

A couple of weeks ago the pastor at my church gave a sermon based on a passage in Acts 16. It was interesting (as usual) and she went a direction with it that I never would have considered, but a couple of verses stood out to me for different reasons. Acts 16:16-18 reads:

  • 16As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servantse of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

The first thing that strikes me is that Luke (the author of Acts) doesn’t say anything about this “spirit of divination” being false. And then I wonder why Paul would be bothered by her. This girl was actually acknowledging God’s ultimate power. The word “servants” does stand out to me. When I refer to the reference at the bottom of the page in my Bible, it says “Greek bondservants.” The version used at church actually uses the word “slaves.” It makes sense to me that Paul would be offended by this usage, since his message is one of freedom and liberation from sin and death. The word “slave” would be a misrepresentation.

But then I wondered if Paul was upset for a different reason. He traveled performing miracles which benefited people. I’m not aware of the disciples performing any other miracles simply because they were “annoyed” or that didn’t have some humanitarian merit. So perhaps, even though this girl just might have converted people who were not otherwise open to the message of Jesus, Paul was taking a burden from her, relieving her suffering. I can’t imagine knowing things that God was going to bring about. I think that could be very painful knowledge to carry. If this theory has any truth at all, I think it speaks to the idea that God “cares” about us on an individual level. He didn’t use this girl as a means to an end.

There are a couple of other ways I could go with this; I’m just working my way through some different implications. Honestly, the first one rings truer to me. Perhaps both are entirely off-base. My point is that we can glean a lot from the Bible about the nature of God. If we take the time and make the effort to really consider scripture and weigh our ideas against other passages as we read, maybe we can come away with a kernel of truth, or at the very least, come away from our studies and devotions with renewed interest and enthusiasm.