Meditations in Meaning & Values 24. Accountability
Deut 18:17-19 The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
We are, just in case you had forgotten, looking at aspects of life that impact upon meaning, how the world works, how we work. It is interesting that in the Bible the word ‘account’ is usually used to mean a recitation of events, of a person’s story so when for instance, to take the first use of it in the Bible, we find, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,” (Gen 2:4) it means this is the story of how it came about. But then we find verses like those above where it means that a person will have to tell their story to God and explain why they did wrong and then (by implication) take the consequences of their actions. We are not shielded from the consequences of our wrong actions.
Now here is the principle: actions have consequences. I know I have said this many, many times in this series but we take these things so much for granted that we miss the wonder or the warning. I must be getting near the end of considering these things and get ready to move on to values, so let’s state it again, meaning is about understanding the significance of how things work. When we talk about grappling with ‘the meaning of life’ we are talking about understanding the dynamics of this world and what it is all about.
Understanding consequences is fundamental to learning and as we’ve said in various ways through this series, life is about learning and changing. A child understands that some things cause pain – touching a hot pan, picking a nettle – and pain is unpleasant and is to be avoided next time! That is learning from the consequences. We live in a cause and effect world.
Do you see how God has made this world and made us? Pain and pleasure do teach us. Long back we spoke about boundaries and pain warns us that here is a boundary not to be crossed. Pleasure tells us that here is something that invites us, but we learn that even in that we have to be careful for excess use can be harmful; there are consequences, for example, of over eating, or over drinking.
Consequences are fundamental to understanding the world in which we live, a Fallen World. God said to Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16,17) The consequences of disobedience were clearly spelled out and when they were disobedient it all worked out as God had said.
But consequences can be very positive. Moses taught, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, (action) so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, (consequence) who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6)
Jesus prayed a similar thing: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (action) that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us (consequence) so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20,21) Remember earlier I spoke about understanding the wonder and the warning. These were two of the wonders of what can be.
But consequences can also be negative. Moses went on to teach, “After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time – (bad actions) if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that (bad consequences) you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you.” (Deut 4:25-27) That was actually a prophecy and it was fulfilled in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC. The consequences of wrong behaviour had been spelled out to Israel and therefore they had no excuse for it. Moreover the Lord reiterated His warnings of the consequences of their wrong behaviour again and again and again through His prophets.
If we are people in the West with easy access to a Bible, none of us have any excuse. The Bible lays it all out so clearly. The warnings are there so clear and one of the forms they come in is through laws given by God. So that is the clue that we need to move on to start considering values. In the meantime, think some more about this most basic of ways the world works, because it affects every single one of us – every day!