Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Being Accountable: or, I Don't Believe in "The Final Judgment"

I have written about accountability as my New Year's Resolution focus this month, but it struck me this week that I have not written about how I view accountability at the most basic, fundamental level - of how I understand the concept of being punished for our own sins and not for Adam's transgression.  I hinted at it in my first post this month, but, with my cross-country move and limited time, I have not written my typical "topic intro post" this month. 

This is that post.

The whole doctrine of accountability is one of the most beautiful in Mormonism, in my opinion. It is so much more expansive than most people realize.

This week, I want to describe three fundamental aspects of accountability as I understand them - within the framework of our 2nd Article of Faith: 

1) As I wrote in a post last year, we understand the concept of accountability 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 that we haven't even identified completely that "Judge not" becomes an even more vital command.
I am convinced to the core of my soul, that many people who struggle mightily with feelings of guilt and despair do so largely because they are wired biologically to do so - that they simply can't help it. 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 conditions and try to "repent" (meaning simply "change"), but I am saying that "repentance" in these cases often is more about learning coping mechanisms or taking medication than it is about the classic "exercise of will" often associated with repentance.

If we understood more fully that "repentance" is a positive thing - a process that includes almost anything that helps us become "righteous" (in harmony with God), I believe we could begin to tackle the "natural" guilt associated with depression and other issues in a much more productive and ennobling manner than we tend to do currently. 

2) Given my belief that ALL of us are "handicapped / disabled" to some degree as a direct result of our mortality (as a result of Adam's transgression), and given my belief that most of us don't understand some or most of our own disabilities, I believe it is important to do our best without imposing debilitating self-judgment - and to give that same consideration to others, whose disabilities we generally know no better than we know our own. This is a central aspect of charity, in my opinion - since it recognizes the lack of clarity in our natural judgments (that we "see through a glass, darkly") and refuses to judge others (and ourselves) as if we could see with perfect clarity

3) With that as the foundation, coupled with Mormonism's view of eternal progression, I view judgment itself quite differently than many people. 

When Jesus said that we will be judged with the same judgment we judge, I interpret that to mean that how we judge (how we create our perceptions of ourselves and others) molds and shapes who we become.  In other words, at the most fundamental, basic level, we act according to how we see ourselves and others - which means that, truly, we can be known by our "fruits" (what we produce).  Therefore, if we want to change our actions, we first must change our view / perspective / framework of judgment.  We must SEE differently - which is why the definition of repentance in our Bible Dictionary begins with the statement that repentance is all about "a fresh view".  (I wrote about this specifically four years ago: "A Fresh View of Repentance".) 

This relates to accountability and the "Final Judgment" in a very simple way:

We speak of Jesus as the Judge, but we also speak of him as our Advocate with the Father.  We literally speak of him as both lawyer AND judge.  I accept this, but I view those roles much more symbolically (or as a "one-time act") than literally - at least, more so than most people view them.  I don't believe in a literal "bar of judgment" before which every act of our lives will be played out or presented vocally, with a "judgment" being "pronounced" verbally.  Rather, I believe Jesus' atonement provides the "bridge", if you will, to a judgment that is much more "organic", "natural", "internal" in nature.  I believe we will be our own judges, if you will - in that Jesus' atonement abolishes the standard structure of judgment by others and provides the power directly to us to become whatever we will become.  I believe we will "be judged" not specifically by what we believe and do but, rather, by what we become as a result of our beliefs and actions.  I know that is splitting hairs to a degree, but I believe it is important to split those hairs, since I believe recognizing our own responsibility to "be" is the heart of understanding acountability in its fullest, deepest sense. 

In conclusion, a word of caution that points back to my first two points:

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within us. 

In a very real way, I don't believe in a "Final Judgment" in the traditional sense - but that is because I believe in "ongoing judgment" that simply, at some point far into the eternal future, will "end" when we reach the point where we have progressed as far as we, as individuals, are capable of progressing.  I believe my own "judgment" is happening every moment of my life, since every moment of my life is shaping my current "I AM".  I am accountable to be whoever I can be, while the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows me to become who I can't become on my own by removing the constraints of time and mortal judgment.  

I love that concept, since it allows me to focus on BEING without undue, unrealistic, unclear, debilitating expectations.  It really isn't about the speed of my progression or the exact location of my current steps; rather, it is all about the direction I am facing and my determination to "endure to the end" - at which point I will be made into what I hope to become, despite the distance between what I am at any point in the here and now and what I desire to be in the there and then.  To say it differently, I believe Jesus' Atonement / God's grace is nothing more than the manifestation of their eternal patience in extending infinitely the day of final judgment in such a way that all who truly desire to be like they are will be allowed that greatest blessing. 

That, to me, is true charity - the heart of "Christ-like love" as it is described in 1 Corinthians 13. 


Grant said...

This is a wonderful post, so well expressed and full of hope and charity (and faith, I guess, too)! I will ponder this a bit. Thanks!

Richard Alger said...

'we will "be judged" not specifically by what we believe and do but, rather, by what we become as a result of our beliefs and actions.' This is very well stated.

Instead of 'at some point far into the eternal future, will "end" when we reach the point where we have progressed as far as we, as individuals, are capable of progressing.'

I would say willing to progress. And I mean that not in any kind of short term way. Only after every and all and even after I can conceive as a mortal. The Lord will give me every chance to progress. And then He may only limit us to what we are currently willing to "become as a result of our beliefs and actions". Once we become willing, I see no reason why He would not delight in us becoming more like Him.

Papa D said...

Thank you, PMM.

Rich, we are saying the same thing, but I really like how you worded it - being "willing" to progress.