What does God see in the world of man?
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God speaks next, and he immediately launches into a criticism of the way that “all creatures” are “unkind” to him (“unkind”, in this context, means “undutiful” – not serving God properly). People are living without “dread” (fear) in the world without any thought of heaven or hell, or the judgment that will eventually come to them. “In worldly riches is all their mind”, God says. People are not mindful of God’s law, or his prohibition of the seven deadly sins (and, God reminds us, they are “damnable” – they send you to hell).
Everyone is living purely for their own pleasure, God tells the audience, but yet they are not at all secure in their lives (“nothing sure” ). God sees everything decaying , and getting worse “fro year to year” (from year to year) and so has decided to have a “reckoning of every man’s person”. This “reckoning” is a counting up, an audit, of people’s souls. Are they guilty or are they godly – should they be going to heaven or hell?
God, disappointed in humankind, calls in Death, his “mighty messenger”. Death says that he will travel throughout the world and “cruelly outsearch both great and small”. He is going to “beset” (perhaps meaning "attack" or "deal with") every man who “liveth beastly” (lives in a beastly way). People who love wealth and worldly goods will be struck by Death’s dart and will be sent to dwell in hell eternally – unless, that is, “Alms be his good friend”. “Alms” means “good deeds”, and it is an important clue even at this stage that good deeds can save a sinner from eternal damnation.