“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5
“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” I Corinthians 15:22
So often, humanity is described with such praise. We are told, repeatedly, how good we are. Amid all this praise it is easy to begin to think that we are self-made and self-sufficient, not beholden to any other being. Even a few scriptures can be used to make the case. And, of course, we look for this affirmation because it is so “affirming.” Who is not easily persuaded to think favorably of themselves?
But, in the light of this self-praising perspective, what must we do with our Bibles? The scriptures, on the whole, paint a much different picture of humankind. On our own, “we are dead in trespasses and sin,” “without hope in the world.” We have all sinned and fall so short of the glory of God. That among the first truths illuminated by scripture, and by the Spirit, that we need to see on our journey into salvation.
The story of the Fall of Humanity in Genesis points to our total depravity, apart from God. According to the story, evil took over the heart of humanity. In this state, we live by the philosophy of “I will,” rather than “thy will.” We live for our own pleasure, independently of my creator. We became functional atheist in the world. Our love became centered on the world. Our desire became happiness in the creature rather than the creator. We may have learned to cloud this focus with etiquette and manners, and even religion, but sinful appetites reign and the fruits we bear are born out of greed, fear, and selfish pride. As we search the depths of our soul, we must ask, is this not the case? Has not the “imago dei,” the image of God, been distorted? Are we not prone to rebel and to seek our own way? Do our eyes not follow objects of perceived worldly pleasures, even as these quests leave us with abortive hope and deluded expectations, over and over again? Does not the image of God need to be renew and restored within us?
In this state, many imagine that they love God at some level, but God is rarely in their thoughts, and often then only as an irrational fear or superstition. Most of the time, God is left to manage his own affairs, quietly in heaven, out of our way, where we are called to manage the affairs of earth. We don’t imagine that such self-focus might lead us into destruction and death. We delude ourselves into believing that there is nothing to be feared along our journey without God. We just don’t think about it, because we are too busy looking in the mirror.
A theological choice is before us. Do we stand with the great admirers of human nature, believing that we are intrinsically good, on our own, and able to overcome our vices by our own efforts? That’s one possibility. The other is to stand with the scriptures which assert that we are empty of all goodness, that the imaginations of our hearts are corrupted with greed, envy, anger, and the like. We are full of pride, self-will, and love of the world. In terms of doctrine, we call this original sin – it is who we are in origin or at the core of our being. Left on our own, there is no hope.
The first choice acknowledges that, while we are infected with vices, we are able to overcome with proper education and perhaps some therapy. We can do it! We can discipline ourselves to outward goodness, or obedience at the least. With this perspective, all inward struggles of our hearts are dismissed, hidden, or dealt with as private matters. Our goodness is affirmed in our outward display.
The other perspective requires something much more. From this perspective we recognize our sinful nature and this leads us to Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s method of healing souls which are so diseased that they could never be healed by any human endeavor. In fact, trying to heal by human endeavor is part of the disease itself. Jesus Christ is the great physician, able to apply medicines to heal this sickness and to restore us to God and to our true human nature. Through Jesus Christ, God heals our “functional atheism” by giving us faith – that divinely-given conviction that God is with us and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. This is the first blessing that comes from God.
Next, God leads us to repentance, where we can turn from the path of harm and heartache that we are on, see it for what it is, and turn towards God’s vision for our lives. By this repentance, the deadly disease of pride is healed. Another remedy is termed “resignation,” by which the deadly disease of self-will is healed. We put our trust in God and open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit in us and through us. And then, we are transformed, from one degree of glory to another, into the love of God. By this love, and our growth in this love, the deadly disease of love for the world is healed. This is God’s “therapeia psyches,” God’s method for healing our souls. This method is at the heart of true religion. True religion is “faith working by love, working to transform us into the whole will and word of God.” And first we need to know that transformation is needed.
Indeed, if humanity were not inflicted by the disease of sin, there would be no need for any of this. We could just take another class or go to another session. In terms of religion, we could focus only on the outside presentation. If the inside is not diseased, and thus already clean at the core, what is left but to “clean the outside of the cup?” to use a reference from Jesus. Outward reformation is all that would be needed.
But, in truth, so much more is needed. The greatest end (or purpose) of true religion is the renewal of our hearts in the image of God, to repair the total loss of true holiness which we sustained by the sin of our first parent. All religion which does not answer this end, is a short-sided account; it is a poor farce, a mockery of God, leading down the path of death.
This great end of true religion is fulfilled, not by a class, but by a cross. Using the metaphors of the sacrificial system, the scriptures tell us that Christ took the sins of the world within himself and paid all penalties for them, making it possible for us to be received into a life where forgiveness and grace rules. Using images of the slave markets, the scriptures tell us that Christ Jesus redeems us (or buys us our freedom), with his own blood, and sets us free to become all that we are created to be. Through these images, we see that the cross is an act of God’s great love. The cross reveals what God does for us. God comes into our lives, all the way to the point of death, and brings the love and the power of God. In this sense, the cross is a “crossing-over.” It is the defeat of death and the opening to life- abundant and eternal. This great “end” could never be accomplished by our own wills. It is a gift of God. The transformation is given to us through pure and perfect love.
So, let us keep to ancient faith. Know your disease. Know your cure. By nature, you are wholly corrupted. By grace, you shall be wholly renewed. As our scripture says, “In Adam all die; in the second Adam, in Christ, all are made alive.” In Christ, our healing comes. The price is great, yes, but to God, we are worth it. How could we not fall to our knees in praise?