“Come let us reason together (settle the matter),”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18
The times they are a changing… or maybe not. Merely looping and repeating. The context, the culture, the nation, and the language changes for sure. But people (like us, anywhere in the world) still bleed when cut, experience hunger and thirst, take flight from fear, and yearn for peace, better times, and love. In many parts of the world we’re living in turbulent and hostile climates of division, suspicion, and hostility. Why are we so fractured?
It seems to me that one of the key ingredients for community life at any level might be found unpacking the controversial word – accountability. It’s become a bit like an old hand grenade covered in the brush of decades. “Best left alone”, “Don’t touch, it may explode!” In the negative, accountability evokes interfering, blame, answering to someone with control issues, reluctantly having to converse when I’d rather keep to myself.
I believe that at it’s best, accountability is about walking in the light with others, communicating with respect, being curious and interdependent, being teachable and part of a team, enjoying not knowing it all; learning from others without fear or defensiveness. Ironically Christians don’t seem to be very good at this. And neither is the rest of the world. I’ll admit my sensitivity upfront. As a pastor for many years it seemed on many occasions that I was to be held accountable (quite rightly) to those who bristled at the thought of being accountable themselves (quite wrongly). Where it’s a one-way street we can pretty much guarantee unhappy endings. How can we be better?
Imagine if marriage was explained like this. I made a commitment twenty years ago, I believe that my wife exists, we have core values and understandings, and we get together from time to time for conversation but ask no questions. I don’t like her being involved in my personal life, politics, or telling me what to do. That whole description describes a contractual agreement with a legalistic accountability highlighting some form of commitment but bled dry of life. Many talk about God in such terms and are surprised that life is not more fun with him. Accountability is unattractive in a cold contract.
The missing ingredient quite obviously is love, relationship, conversation, questions and answers, listening and sharing, learning and growing – together. All ingredients, I would suggest, are the hallmarks of healthy accountability and interdependence – whether at home, in churches, in the community, or even within the realm of politics.
The core of accountability is extremely life-giving, and essential for stability, understanding and mutual growth and learning. It involves trust and respect as a context for questions and answers. Many people refuse to ask probing questions and even more detest giving answers. Hence the dysfunction and disconnect. Throw words at one another rather than graciously pass words carefully back and forth.
There can be no truth, or the establishment of facts – without questions and answers.
God questions all the time. “Let us reason together,” he told Isaiah. He questioned Adam and Eve -“Where are you? Who told you?” Job is a famous example – “Who do you think you are?” We could probably go through every book in the bible and find questions, not always leading to comfortable answers. But they do acknowledge the freedom, identity, and responsibility – of another, and they invite conversation.
Consider Jesus and his disciples. Jesus, like his father, asked questions. Do you believe? Who do you say I am? What do others say? Why are you afraid? Do you want to get well? Why did you doubt? Do you still not understand? Are you also going to leave? What does the Scripture say? Who touched me? Do you love me? Why have you abandoned me? Why do you say one thing and do another?
Peter questioned, and was questioned a lot – and often his weakness and poor attitude was exposed. But because he travelled with Jesus he wrestled out the answers along the way and was transformed. Later he would write: Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have. 1 Peter 3:15
Read Paul’s letter to the Romans. His whole method of teaching is by asking questions. Someone produced a list of 58 questions in this letter.
I recently reviewed my father’s diaries and was interested in a comment he made. His father was an Anglican priest and my father was full of questions. My father asked his dad a question about life after death. He writes: I asked dad what he thought of this. He said that the whole subject was one of belief – you believed in life, of one form or another, after death or you didn’t. If you believed you did not need proof. Can’t agree with his opinion. If you don’t believe, surely it is only reasonable to ask for some sort of evidence if one is asked to accept matters outside the normal run of things?
I agree with my father’s response. This is accountability.
Jeremy Riddle, a worship leader out of Anaheim, has written a book called ‘Reset’. In it he challenges those who lead worship to rediscover the essence of worship rather than careers, recording contracts, and performances. In his own journey of reset he describes having to re-evaluate his life and values. He was angry and frustrated at his father’s challenging questions and sought the counsel of three pastors. He writes:
I set up meetings with three pastors to seek “godly counsel.” The first two meetings were fine, and the pastors simply encouraged me to keep following the Lord in my pursuits. The third pastor however, a beautiful, faithful man of God by the name of Jim Fredericks, thoughtfully listened to me. He never answered my questions, but instead asked me to answer his. And somehow, as he began to poke and prod my “belief” systems with his questions, I began to see the lie. The lies I believed about God and the lies I believed about living a “normal” life. I left that meeting broken. I can’t even explain why, but I was finally ready to surrender.
Riddle, Jeremy ; Riddle, Jeremy . The Reset: Returning to the Heart of Worship and a Life of Undivided Devotion (p. 46). Wholehearted Ministries. Kindle Edition.
I’ve always appreciate questions? I used to invite anyone and everyone: “If you have a question about God, or Christianity, or me…. feel free to come and ask. It’s important, otherwise how can we know, understand, or believe?” I was saddened as to how few were able to do that. I was more saddened by how few in leadership, at every level, genuinely entered into asking or answering questions – no matter how sensitively delivered. The norm was avoidance, silence, or even anger. A preference for second-hand information, speculation, or assumptions.
I used to be threatened by questions. What if I don’t know the answer? I learned that nobody minds if we don’t know. The most authentic response is to say so. Perhaps together we can find an answer that will help and satisfy? That’s accountability. Nothing to do with control or superiority. Everything to do with humility, seeking to understand, and growing forward together. If we want to be salt and light in a fractured, disunited world – let’s invite questions, ask questions, and discover interesting answers. We may even learn something new, understand each other better, cut others some slack where there are differences, and learn to live in greater harmony and peace.
Here’s a song by Jeremy Camp called Answer. Even when Jesus is the answer to every question most of us need people to help unpack that answer, just as my father questioned, I have often questioned, and perhaps those around have legitimate questions.