In the past year Americans have seemingly gone to war with one another, as we’ve experienced great disunity between those who claim to side with Black Lives, with Blue Lives, or with All Lives. Unfortunately, extreme hostility has emerged before our eyes as people are killed on every side of the issue. Not only that, but terrorist strikes come one after another, all over the world. As we look around, we don’t have to look far to realize that this world is filled with all sorts of evil. Have you ever wondered how we got this way? Have you wondered just what kind of world we’re living in? In my last blog post I addressed the issue of God in relation to human suffering and evil, but this time I’ll address our relationship to the wickedness and evil we see around us every day.
How on earth could anyone commit the evils we’ve observed lately as we watch the evening news? How could someone take an axe and attack people on a train in Germany? How could anyone deliberately drive a truck into a crowd with the intent to slaughter other humans? And, hitting more closely to home, how could anyone deliberately shoot the very people who are protecting protestors? How is it that a person could want to kill someone due to the color of his or her skin or the occupation they’ve chosen? Surely the problem lies with “those people,” and not with us. There’s no way that you or I are capable of committing these heinous acts of violence, right? Right?! Could it be possible that it’s not “us” versus “them”? Instead, maybe we are them, and they are us. It would be nice to think that I’m one of the good guys, but how do I really know I’m one of the good guys? How can I really know that, even in the darkest days of my life, I’d be incapable of doing these evil and wicked acts myself?
Historically, the Christian church has believed in the doctrine of original sin. Simply, this doctrine teaches that when the very first humans fell into sin, the entire human race was affected. David, in Psalm 51:5, wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David was acknowledging the fallen human condition that he inherited when he was conceived, and the church has historically embraced this doctrine.
However, during the Enlightenment, modern thinkers began to oppose the traditional, Christian view of mankind as being inherently sinful, and instead began to view mankind as being inherently good. While this doctrine played out in various ways for different Enlightenment thinkers, their ideas have nonetheless carried on and are of great influence upon our thinking today. We see it clearly in our culture’s focus upon self-esteem, which I will define as the love of self and self-worth. This self-esteem ideology concentrates on the building up of oneself and on seeing one’s inherent worth and value.
But here lies the tension: What if humans truly are inherently evil? Or what if we are, at the very least, not good? How then will building up the self benefit a person? What if each of us is capable of committing all the heinous and atrocious acts that we are currently seeing in the news? What if it is only by God’s grace that we are restrained from acting upon what is truly in our wicked hearts?
My question for you is this: Are we inherently good, or is this just how we want to view ourselves? After all, if we’re fallen creatures (Genesis 3), our perception of ourselves will be radically different from reality. How can we trust our own evaluation of ourselves? We can’t. Therefore, we look to the Bible, which is reliable and trustworthy. Our inclinations and feelings are subjective, but God’s Holy Word provides us with objective truth; truth that is absolute whether we agree with it or not. It’s in the Bible that we learn about the radical corruption of mankind, also known as total depravity.
God’s Word teaches us that no one is righteous, no one does good, and that all have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:10-18, 23). The Bible also declares that every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5, 8:21), that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and that the human heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
Now, this doesn’t mean we will do all the evil we’re capable of doing. Fortunately for us, God’s common grace restrains many people from acting upon the true inclinations of the heart. God has placed the government, the church, our families, and other institutions into our lives to teach us and to prevent us from acting upon the true nature of our will. However, just because we don’t carry out all the evil acts of which we are capable, that doesn’t necessarily make us good.
As descendants of Adam we are all born in him, which means that we are all born with a sin nature. Clearly stated, every one of us is born as an unrighteous, self-serving human being. As R.C. Sproul puts it, “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”
This is why we see all sorts of evil atrocities around us, and if not for the grace of God, every one of us would commit the same heinous acts, if not worse. We are all sinners by nature; therefore, we all have a serious problem. The problem, however, is not that we are capable of executing all sorts of wicked, malicious evils; the problem is that each one of us is at enmity with God. Every single one of us is rebelling against the Holy God. Every single one of us loves our own self more than we love the Creator who made us for Himself. The first chapter of the book of Romans teaches us that while God created us, we fail to honor Him as God. He created us and gives us all things, but we fail to give Him thanks. And while He has given us His truth, we suppress that truth. We act like the truth isn’t there. We run away from the truth of God and exchange that truth for lies; lies such as the inherent goodness of humanity. We think that we know ourselves best and that we know what is best for ourselves. Each of us wants to be reigning on our own throne. Each of us desires to be the master and ruler of our own little world. (If you have children, you don’t have to look far to observe this truth.)
Thus, since we are sinners who stand in opposition to the Holy and Just God, we are in terrible trouble. We are at His mercy, and His perfect holiness demands justice.