Just How Messed Up Are We: Making Sense of Sin & Depravity


Baren Landscape

As I have written of previously (cf. Can Men Be Good Without God), the questions of the origin of evil and the extent to which Man himself is evil are big questions which people have been discussing for generations.  The biggest problem that Followers of the Way of the Cross have faced with trying to make sense of these questions of Sin and Depravity, is that our experiences are inconsistent and therefore often do not line up with popular Christian teaching on the matter, which tends to either oversimplify or overlook reality.  Everyday we are likely to come into contact with truly good people who have a monster living inside them and truly evil people who are capable of inexplicable acts of selflessness.

It is an awareness of this complexity in Human nature and behavior which has, at least in part, driven the current philosophical redefining of morality and ethics – seen everywhere in popular media’s love affair with the Anti-hero.

The movement away from a definitive morality is logical in a society that has embraced philosophical pluralism with its romantic notion of secular existentialism and mechanistic behaviorism.  For Followers of the Way of the Cross however, to abandon a definitive morality is to abandon the testimony of the sacred text and in so doing to put one’s self in danger of ship-wrecking their faith (1 Timothy 1).


So the question then which the Follower of the Way of the Cross faces is one of reconciling our experience with the scripture in a way does no violence to either our reason or God’s self-revelation (cf. Assumptions & Premises).

I would contend that much of the debate on this issues directly from the historic overemphasis of Christian theology on the systematic categorization of people into two groups; the righteous and the wicked.  For while the scripture certainly draws this distinction to articulate the exclusive nature of covenant relationship, the distinction is neither intended to explain – nor can it explain – the whole gambit of the present human condition and experience.

It is out of this improper usage of the text that the Doctrine of Inclination has arisen.  This explanation of  human behavior asserts that our choices are driven by our spiritual condition of Death or of Life – the former producing wickedness and the latter producing righteousness.  By this reasoning – since our spiritual condition is determined by our relationship to Yeshua in Covenant – when we are in covenant with Him and His Righteousness produces Life in us we will be inclined toward righteousness, but when we are not in covenant with Him and Adam’s Rebellion has produced Death in us we are inclined toward wickedness.

The error of this view is not that it is unbiblical (Romans 5:19) but that it is myopic, reducing an understanding of human behavior to a simplistic explanation because of its reliance on systematics to codify the sacred text.

This is of course the primary weakness of systematic theology, it is incapable of making sense of every variable in the Divine revelation and so it employs a kind of philosophical reductionism so as to explain away anything that doesn’t fit.  The problem doesn’t so much arise with Evil people doing “good” stuff; this is often explained away by saying that many altruistic behaviors are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts at self-gratification, often unconscious but always ego driven and manipulative at the core (John 12:1-8).  Rather the problem arises mostly when trying to understand how Good people do evil things when they are supposedly inclined to the good.

Think outside the box

Addressing this issue in his reflections on what he calls Generational Theology, Rev John Garner points to the pendulum as a analogy for explaining the human condition and behavior in a more holistic way.   The pendulum – which by its very design rests when it is allowed to be undisturbed – cultivates an understanding  of why Humanity, created to be at Rest in God, intuitively desires that Rest.  Likewise, just as a pendulum is put into motion by force, so also is Humanity disrupted from the design to Rest in God by the temptation to seek Rest elsewhere (Genesis 3:1-6).  Humanity knows intuitively what is right, but our instincts disrupt the process (Romans 1:18-21).

Thus Humanity itself can be understood to possess an innate goodness [Conscious/Self-Awareness] because of the Image and Likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28) and yet also an innate evil because the Fall has seared our conscious leaving us like animals acting on our instincts (1 Timothy 4:2/ Jude 1:10).

We are all like Helen Keller.  Her DNA was intact, she was fully human, fully alive… but she was cut off from everything because she could neither see nor hear anything.  She was isolated by a sickness that disrupted all of her senses and that isolation cultivated a fear which fueled an anger that exploded in violence.  It was not until God sent her a tutor who cared more about Ms. Keller than about herself that Helen Keller began to experience the life she was born for.

Like Ms. Keller all people are born into brokenness because of Adam’s rebellion – spiritually blind and deaf, isolated and scared, angry and violent (Psalm 51:5).  Sometimes aggressive and sometimes passive, sometimes outward focused and sometimes inward focused, but always instinctually driven to find Rest and Peace anywhere but where they intuitively know it will be found (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Like Ms. Keller we are both good and evil, broken and longing, hoping for Salvation but losing hope with every moment that slips past.

And it is here that Yeshua finds us.  Here that He takes our hand and guides us.  Here that He begins to restore in us an alignment of intuition and instinct so that we might once more be whole.

Hand in the Darkness

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