Wednesday, December 28, 2022

On Giving Account

 "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." - Hebrews 4:13

Hebrews 4:1-13 was one of the readings that showed up in my lectionary.  As I am trying to slow down and practice a more thoughtful and engaged process in my Scripture reading in 2023 (Lectio Divina, in case anyone is wondering, and on which I should probably post a separate article).  As part of the consideration of the passage, one reads and meditates and sees what sections or portions come to fore (for Christians, God's Word represents God's thoughts and so, it should speak to us). 

Give Account.  

We humans have lost this practice of giving account, or rather at least the practice of giving account to something or someone beyond ourselves.  Protagoras the Greek philosopher is credited with the statement "Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are; of the things that are not, that they are not."  We live in the apotheosis of this statement.

One can make an argument that the belief in a higher power or force may or may not have been believed by the powerful, but it had enough moral force to sway the powerful in at least the outward appearance that they must give an account at some point for their lives.  The religious of their day at one time could (not always, of course), appeal to the divine power of their experience to force accountability of those in power (the Popes and Kings of Western Europe; the Heian era of Japan with the Monks of Mt. Hiei able to call even the Emperor to account in the name of deities).  And to those that lived under or even suffered under mis-rule or bad rule, there was always the belief and indeed, the expectation, that ultimately all deeds, good and bad, would be brought to light in the afterlife.

We no longer truly believe or practice that.

We live in an age where the only account given is to those that have the power and temporal authority to enforce their will, in service to their philosophies and beliefs.  For them, there is no "giving account" as a two way street -  think on the structure of the world and the power in it right now.  The politicians of every stripe parrot "accountability" to the voters every election cycle, then disappear into the higher planes of government, leaving the voters behind.  Policies are set by bureaucracies within countries or trans-national bodies outside of countries which are give account to no-one (lest one argue, remind me of a significant government or trans-national agency that has significantly changed its operations based on its accountability to the elected body it in theory serves).  And religious for Christians (as I am a Christian, my arena), too often account is no longer given to God, but rather to the church body that has reinterpreted Scripture for the times.

Those in power, it seems, need only give account to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.  For lesser beings - the common folk - we must give account in everything to those above of us for all that we think, believe, and do.  But for Our Political And Social Betters (OPASB), there is only the need to give account for that which either 1) embarrasses the current structure and thus needs to be "dealt with"; or 2) becomes inconvenient.  In all other matters, Machiavelli's dictum "The ends justify the means" have become the fait accompli of modern life; the account to be given is to the ends - the means matter not and thus are not to be accounted for.

Oddly enough, this discomforts me less than it should.

The first reason it discomforts me less than it should is because all that I have written above does not change the fact that I, too, must give account, that all of my deeds are "naked and open".  It is easy enough to look all around me and look at everyone else that needs much give account; it is much more difficult to look within myself and see the same thing.  I am enough of a project for the rest of my life.

The second reason it discomforts me less than it should is because the more it becomes self-evident, the less account is given to those above them by those that live in the system - the less the system gives account where it claims it should, the less that those in the society trust in and are invested in it.  Friend of this blog ERJ has helped to clarify my thinking on such matters with his discussion of a Low-Trust Society:  account is given to those that matter in our lives (family, friends, tribe), the rest are endured with as little interaction and enthusiasm for the structure and those that run it as possible.  The overall structure of such a thing becomes weak and fragile as the constituent parts are not invested in the system - in a way, like a Jenga tower:  one keeps pull blocks out, until the structure crumbles.

The third reason it discomforts me less than it should is because an account will still be given to Him who sees all naked and open.  Yes, I am impacted by that - but yes, so is every single person of every Age.  What a horrible and terrifying moment it will be - as it has been, for the history of man - to realize one moment after nothing can be changed that all that you thought had been done for best of reasons was completely wrong and that now one has to explain it all to the only truly Just Being in existence.

Because ultimately, that is what giving an account will be:  explaining our actions and the reasoning behind them, why it was "the right thing" to do - or why it was it was the wrong thing to do and we did not realize it.  If we thought more on giving account for all we do rather than just doing, likely we would do less things or do them differently.

Better to learn now - even today - than to find ourselves under the unyielding gaze of Him who we believed not to exist and discover that all actions are paid in full, justly and exactingly.


  1. Anonymous2:50 AM

    Part of my daily prayers is asking for forgiveness for my sins and my weakness for giving in to regretable actions. I ask for patience and strength to help me stay on the straight and narrow path. I acknowledge I am a sinner and hope that God can forgive me.

    1. I have to admit as I have read the daily prayers of the Orthodox Church, they sound very similar to what you are expressing. This seems to be a place that Western Christianity has very sadly fallen down on the job.

      The biggest thing for me must be my responsibility, not the responsibility of others. Ultimately I will be judged for what I did or did not do, not what happened around me.

  2. Accountability is definitely not a popular concept nowadays. So much easier to make excuses, point the finger elsewhere, and blame someone else. Unfortunately, this seems to be part of human nature.
    God: "Adam?"
    Adam: "It's Eve's fault!"
    God: "Eve?"
    Eve: "It's the Serpent's fault!"

    We're still in the same rut.

    1. Leigh - As humans we seem pretty good at looking everywhere but ourselves for the accountability. What disturbs me (more and more as I think of it) is that the idea that we have to give account - all of us - is something that is slipping away out of our cultural consciousness. What replaces it? Machiavelli's dictum "The end justifies the means", and historically we have seen what happens when that becomes the standard.

  3. Nylon126:47 AM

    A thoughtful post TB. A loss of cultural consciousness as you stated accompanied by a loss of believers in God. This country doesn't have the same belief in a deity as back a century or more ago.

    1. Nylon12, while I try not to relate current trends too closely to a lose of Christianity (as it leads to unpleasant arguments and not conversations, which I try to foster here), this is one place where the cause and effect is clear. Even the Founders, who were not all Christians, all believed in some higher Deity that they in some way were accountable to - yes, I know, they did not always get it right, but what we are left with today is everyone having no sense of giving account to anyone, especially anyone "beneath" them. After all, if there is nothing after, except this general sort of "good place" which most everyone gets to based on a rather indeterminate set of rules but which the "bad people" do not (again, instinctively the "bad people" are known), what account is needed to be given on what one has done with one's life? It ultimately appears not to matter in that world view.

      The only sort of "accountability" that is current and trendy is the accountability "to each other", a phrase taken from Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I have always found it a disturbing and pernicious thought.

  4. Yes, there is definitely a lack of accountability from the powers that be - when was the last time that any politician or similar person in authority resigned over their mistakes or bad judgement? And, increasingly there just aren't any ways to hold them to account?

    1. Will, that is the other side of the account - even if there was a desire to hold various and sundry to account, there is simply not a meaningful way to do so. And if there is no longer any meaningful way to hold someone to account, that seems a lot like a tyranny to me.


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