Changing the Way We Think About Human Nature


I’ve made the case (or at least mentioned it) many times before on this blog about how human nature is inherently broken. We are NOT inherently good. When we were conceived, we were wrapped in a fallen flesh. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t born with sin already on us, but we ARE born in a totally depraved state due to a common defect of human nature. In other words, when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden, they laid on all of their descendants the disease they created: tenacity (not just proclivity) for sin. They did not pass on the sins which they themselves had committed – as if Cain, Abel and Seth were considered culpable for Adam and Eve’s noshing. But instead, Cain, Abel and Seth committed their own sins in their times as the fallen nature they inherited from their parents clouded their vision of God’s original intention for their lives. And it seems – by listening to all of the philosophers and humanists moan about a “good” God not allowing “bad” things to happen – that as we diverge further through the ages from that perfection of Eden, we find it harder and harder to view ourselves as the source of the pain, suffering and death which we endure.

This isn’t just a theological point, interesting only to some Th.D. or M.Div. students in a seminary. It’s foundational! If this idea of human depravity is not understood, everything in Christianity falls apart. Where is the need for Christ on the cross without a depraved man to nail Him to it?

I think that most Christians probably understand a little bit of this principle intuitively, even if they haven’t been taught it formally or thought about it critically. After all, Christians have faith in God to “save them from their sins” – which indicates an inherent understanding that they themselves have sinned. But that acknowledgement is only half the idea. Admitting that I have sinned is different from recognizing that ALL have sinned; and we sometimes fall prey to the fallacy that says, “just because I’m messed up doesn’t mean that everyone else is.”

Do you see where I’m going here? Recognizing sin in oneself only says that God must save you from sin through His Son Jesus. On the other hand recognizing that everybody has sinned says that God must save everyone from sin through His Son Jesus. And that’s a huge step to take cognitively because it does three things: 1) it puts into perspective our own sin; 2) it causes us to look at everyone with the pity that might bring us to share the gospel with them; and 3) it gives us a better perspective on the problems of life.

Regarding the first point (it puts into perspective our own sin), this isn’t some sort of opportunity for us to look at our lives and let ourselves off the hook for the sins we have committed. You can’t excuse your sin by saying, “Well, everyone does it!” Furthermore, it’s not a valid defense for us to excuse our covetousness by saying, “Well, at least I didn’t steal – like that other guy.” That’s what Christ taught when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27f). The fallen-ness is IN us to the point that we ARE sin … that is until “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Cor 5:21) … but we have to accept His offer of salvation in order to escape our relegation to hell as objects of sin.

Which segues nicely into the second point (it causes us to look at everyone with the pity that might bring us to share the gospel with them). If we have a good understanding of the fallen state of human nature (that “tenacity for sin” as I called it earlier), then we should by all means be driven to share with others the way that they too can be free. Pity is not something that we should be afraid to feel, provided it induces us to act. But too often in our culture pity is viewed as some byproduct of superiority. For some reason our minds only accept it as a feeling which drives a “better” to toss a nickel to one of his “inferiors.” However, pity is much more deeply derived than that. It can come directly from the soul … that is, if the soul is tuned right. And that is the target for which we should aim as Christians: once we accept our own fallen-ness and subsequently accept God’s salvation, should it not drive us to action for the poor souls locked in damnation around us? That’s not pity of a better over a lesser, that’s pity of someone who has experienced a grace too good to keep to oneself.

Finally we get to the third point (it gives us a better perspective on the problems of life), which was incidentally the reason for me to begin writing this post. I sometimes wonder just how much of our time is locked in self-absorption. We find ourselves crying out at the injustice of our parent dying, or disease coming to our child, or the indignity of yet another job layoff and career reset, or the injustice of horribly corrupt people having massive amounts of surplus cash while we’re scraping by; and these thoughts inevitably lead us to some position between frustration with “the world not being right” on the less-damaging end of the spectrum and anger at God on the more-damaging end. But the cause of it is a self-absorption born out of an unrealistic view of the world and the source of its ills.

Think about it: if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (which we know from scripture that He is – see below for select verses) how can anybody then make the case for His justice (something else which we know from scripture about His character – see below for select verses) when they also see babies dying from malnutrition, people slaughtered in ethnic purges and suffering due to rampant disease? After all, surely an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and just God would have rectified death, pain and suffering over the intervening years since the bite of the fruit in the garden? That’s the question posed by all of the anti-Christians who deny Him, isn’t it? Ironically, that’s just what God has done by sending His Son though: He has offered a way out of the death, pain and suffering we experience … we just don’t recognize it because of our self-absorption and arrogance. We think we know how best to fix the problems we see, so when God does it another way, it goes unnoticed and unappreciated. The only way to resolve these aspects of God’s nature, and then begin to notice and appreciate His mercies, is to admit that it is mankind with his bent nature – not God – who has messed everything up. And then we must follow that up with the admission that it is God with His knowledge, power, presence and justice – not mankind – who is actually bringing about a solution to the source of death, pain and suffering.

So you see that this third point (it gives us a better perspective on the problems of life) is not just some conversation about life as we know it – as in an exposition on explaining the physical situation in which we walk now. It’s a conversation about all of reality; a reality that moves far beyond that horrible last, gasping breath of a dying man, woman or child. In acknowledging that we are sinful in our entirety we start to see that the world is broken because we’ve broken it and that God isn’t conducting some pitiful rescue from the consequences of our breaking of the world, but from the very nature of destruction and chaos to which we have bonded ourselves. And, as I understand it, this healing can’t take place in this physical, transient realm. It must take place through the re-creation of the physical into what it always was meant to be: good, noble, beautiful, and right.

Let’s go back to Romans 8 again (as I do so often on this blog): “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (vv. 22-25). This indicates that even we who have accepted Christ as our Savior are still waiting for “our adoption to sonship” and “the redemption of our bodies” because we have not yet been fully healed. The full healing will take place on that day of judgment when we break free from the effects of the sin from which we have already been healed. Does that make sense? To say it another way, we have had contact with the blood of Jesus and we are washed clean from our sin … but we still groan under the strain of our human nature until it is finally destroyed! The ‘day of judgment’ becomes our ‘day of liberation!’

Now, think of what that means in our interpretation of what we see presently in the world, because it changes the framing of the questions we ask, and certainly changes their answers:

— A war rages in Syria and Iraq as Christians, Yazidis, and Alawites are slaughtered in evermore gruesome and creative ways by the barbarian group ISIS. Is this something we should blame on Obama? Sure, he may be culpable for its spread, but he’s not to blame for it arising. Maybe we should blame it on Bashar al-Assad? Sure, he may be guilty of not snuffing it out earlier, but he’s not to blame either. Maybe we should blame it on Muhammad himself? Sure, he’s responsible for his violent and oppressive teachings, but he’s not to blame for this instance – he’s dead. No, we blame it on the individuals who commit the travesties and on the human nature which gave them that capacity.

— A woman runs for President of the United States even after she’s lied about her protection of government classified information, lied about the reason for the slaughter of American State Department people (right to the faces of the deceased’s survivors), lied to cover up shady real estate developments, lied to protect her cheating husband’s career, and continuously lies to the American people regarding where she stands on key issues – yet she leads in the polls for one of the two major parties. Do we hold her responsible? Sure we do. But should we be surprised that so many people still apologize for her foibles and half-baked ideas when they are only seeking absolution for their own lies and bent nature by doing so? No.

— Attacks of black people on white people and vice versa happen just because of the pigment of a person’s skin, and our media either glorifies it or tries to explain it away as the only option available to a good person corrupted by an unjust culture. But does that make sense if mankind is innately evil? No.

— Abortion is rampant amongst people who know (if only deep down inside) that they are doing wrong, and our culture tries to excuse it as the only avenue open to a young girl/rape victim/woman with a life-threatening condition. But do those extenuating circumstances excuse the deepening of the disease of human nature by its perpetuation? No.

— A politician tells the American people that more money ought to be redistributed from rich people to poor people – calling it “just” to take from a person who worked hard to create the wealth in order to give to someone who covets that money. And the American people buy into the idea. But does that make sense against the natural idea of property rights, the Golden Rule and Paul’s instruction that if a capable man does not work, then he shouldn’t eat? No, but fallen human nature explains it.

We keep falling for the same lies because we have a warped view of our own abilities to heal the problems of death, pain and suffering. If we are the source of our own pain, then what makes us think that we can FIX our pain? No amount of “enlightened” or “wise” leadership can overcome the natural tenacity of man for sin; and so we continue in our spiral of lies, lying and acceptance of lies. Regarding those examples above, I only bring them up in order to show that nothing – and I mean NOTHING – that is wrong in this life will ever be made right without God’s intervention. Intervention either supernaturally – by things unexplainable by human understanding (i.e. miracles) – or by natural means – by a loving Christian attempting to ease what pain and suffering they are able to ease. God’s intervention is necessary because man’s proclivity is to sin (he is tenacious in it) … and when done with one sin, he sins some more. THAT is our nature. Our nature is not good. Anyone trying to tell you that man’s nature is good or that man can fix man’s problems, is either naïve, appallingly ignorant, or is trying to sell you something.

So changing the way we think about human nature is necessary because it puts into true perspective the dung heap that is this life. True, we experience beautiful things in this world (e.g. holding a newborn, seeing the sky lit up as the sun sets, standing before the majesty of a snowcapped mountain, glorying in an unselfish act, finding true love, receiving forgiveness from a friend, etc.) but I would submit to you that they are all only a fleeting glimpse of the last vestiges of God’s nature within us (“let Us make man in Our image”) either acting or thinking nobly and not an example of any goodness inherent within man.

That statement might be a little hard to read for you. You may not view your life as a “dung heap.” And if you do not, then take a moment to thank God because that probably means that you are learning to love life because God gives it and not because of some fleeting pleasure or some sad idea that ‘things must get better.’ C.S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce (with George MacDonald talking to the protagonist/narrator):

Son, … that is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why the blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

If what George MacDonald, through the pen of C.S. Lewis, says is true – and I have no doubt that it is (after all, how can we take any horrible thing, even a memory, with us into heaven) – then even our sinful nature cannot prevent us from one day seeing the glory of God amongst the pain and suffering of this life. But, in the meantime, our view is clouded and our perspective jaded, and we eagerly yearn for a life yet lived and very dimly understood. A life when our disease is healed fully and we enter in to the glory of heaven, even if to find that we have, by the grace of God, always been there.

And so, the sooner we accept our fallen nature, and the fallen nature of all those around us, as an absolute, the sooner we can truly begin to appreciate the beautiful and noble ways God moves in this world. Furthermore, the sooner we see human nature for what it is, the sooner we can be free of the lies of the humanist that says we are gods unto ourselves and capable of solving the consequences of a problem we can’t even seem to acknowledge.

After talking about this, we now begin to see that man’s tenacity for sin is an undergirding principle of the gospel. It’s not just a theological curiosity (theodicy), it is necessary. Therefore our challenge right now is to throw aside our rose-tinted glasses which make us view man as good, but just a little rough around the edges, and perceive clearly through the eyes that we are given, and through the understanding provided by the Holy Spirit, that if there is any goodness in this world it is a grace from God and not a product of men.

 

Notes:

God’s omniscience: Ps 147:5; Is 40:28; Jer 1:5; 10:12; Dan 2:20ff; Rom 11:33-36 1Cor 1:25; 1Jn 3:20;

God’s omnipotence: Job 42:2; Is 43:13; 45:7; 46:10; Jer 32:27; Mt 19:26; Mk 10:27; Lk 1:37; Rom 1:20; Eph 1:19-22;

God’s omnipresence: Job 34:21; Ps 139:7-10; Pr 15:3; Is 57:15; Jer 23:24; Mt 28:20; Acts 17:27; Rom 8:38f; Eph 4:6; Col 1:17

God’s justice: Dt 10:18; Ps 7:6; 33:5; 84:11; Ecc 3:17; Is 30:18; Jer 9:23f; Rom 12:19; Heb 4:13; 10:30

Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. Harper-Collins Publishers Inc., New York, NY: 2009. Pg. 69.

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