Last week we talked about the threat to the spiritual life. The earthquake, the flood, the tornado of that threatens to destroy our areas of personal and spiritual responsibility. This week we’re talking about the “responsibility” of the spiritual life. This is the city that the threat threatens.
Before we talk about responsibility we have to acknowledge how our culture currently views responsibility. A significant amount of people my age see responsibility purely as a burden. It might evoke a memory of tedious chores and dutiful drudgery. The hero of my generation is he or she who is liberated from responsibility, someone who can go off on their own, travel the world without any traditional responsibility.
There is still a loud voice in our world advocating for responsibility. It was in 1948 that the world council of churches coined their slogan “a responsible society.” And in 1994 the Republican Party had the “personal responsibility act” in their contract with America. Religious people often talk about taking responsibility and secular people often talk about taking responsibility. Oftentimes when we do speak favorably about responsibility we use guilt or a forced sense of obligation to compel people. It doesn’t take much to see how these two approaches to responsibility are related.
What do we, as Christians, make of this? If there is a real threat, there is a real responsibility. If there is an earthquake than there is need to protect people from that earthquake. But so often we follow our culture into either valuing the liberation from responsibility or a form of responsibility which is motivated through guilt and forced duty. The cure for this is in returning briefly to our section on glory. If God’s love is the catalyst for a God-focused life than guilt and forced duty shouldn’t be a method of motivation we either respond to or employ. Remember it was at the burning bush that Moses realized his responsibility, prior to that his responsibility was tending sheep. Os Guiness articulates this well when he writes, “Apart from the call there is no responding and thus no responsibility.” Responsibility must, at a fundamental level be a response to a previous encounter with a living God. If it isn’t it will be dead moralism rather life-breathed God-inspired action.
Another way our culture has come to understand responsibility is through the terms “responsibility for,” rather than “responsibility to.” We hear a lot about what we should be “responsible for” rather than who we should be “responsible to”. This, in essence, strips the relationship away from duty. It focuses on the “what” without the “who.” It yells exodus and takes away the burning bush. Again, dead moralism is the result.
Hopefully it’s clear, any talk of responsibility should be rooted in a response to God.