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!