Answerable for Our Actions
We cannot overemphasize: Man is miserable when he does not take responsibility for his own inner life, his own reactions and behavior toward the people and circumstances that come his way.
Jesus stated an obvious truth, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). We all have our share of trouble and always will. But the presence of trouble does not alter personal responsibility. “For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:11-12, italics added). Also, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Being either clearly or vaguely aware that we are answerable for our own conduct, is it any wonder that more and more people become miserable as they forsake biblical principles?
The Bible contains the guidelines that told Mr. Weller what his reaction should be to the people and events of his life. It also contains the guidelines that tell him what he ought to do about the people in his life. For example, Paul spoke plainly about our responsibility to others when he said that no Christian should “put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in… [his] brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13).
Jesus said: “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1-2). Again Jesus said: “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:31-32).
The struggle for inner peace, as far as Jerome Weller was concerned, centered in his reactions to the engineer and in his decision about what he would do about him. When he accepted these responsibilities, he was well on the way to peace because he was then in step with what the Bible commands.
What good news it was that he could have inner peace if he wanted it, that the decisions were his own to make. He need not be a helpless victim of people and events. He himself determined whether or not he would have peace of mind and heart.
How Does Our Past Shape Us?
“Are you ruling out past history as the cause of a person’s behavior?” you may ask.
There does appear to be a basis for assuming that past history shapes you. In counseling, I generally find that the unhappy person who has been rejected rejects others; the victim of mean, angry, hateful people is also mean, angry, and hateful; the person who grew up in an atmosphere of suspicion is suspicious of others. People seem to reproduce in themselves what they are exposed to.
We would agree that a man’s circumstances seem to rub off on him, thereby giving him cause for happiness or discomfort. There is the mark of his parents, experiences with brothers and sisters, relationships gained through church and school activities. He is the product of his family’s economic status, his education, his body, his talents, his opportunities.
People who are unhappy have been mistreated. A woman who is withdrawn and sullen often has a mother who was withdrawn and sullen. People appear to be caught up in a circle, a vicious one, forged by generation after generation of example.
Harry and Val Adams were seriously at odds with one another. Among other things, they fought over the issue of going to church. Val insisted that they go for the sake of the children. Harry flatly refused.
“My father was a mean, selfish, two-faced man,” he said. “Yet he was looked on at church as a saint. He made us go to church twice on Sunday and every Wednesday. ‘But for what?’ we kids always wanted to know.”
“Sometimes my father and mother would get into a violent argument at the dinner table–less than an hour after dismissal of the Sunday School in which they both taught classes. I vowed that I would abandon church as soon as I got out on my own, and I’m sticking to my word.”
As a boy, this man had witnessed some frightening conflicts between his parents. Here he was, carrying on similar quarrels with his wife. The subject was different, but the spirit was the same. He was as inconsiderate of his wife as his father had been of his mother. Despite his protests otherwise, Harry didn’t go to church because he didn’t want to go–-not because of his father.