We live in period of history in which nothing is wrong, well except to claim unequivocally that there is such a thing as wrong. We live in a society that that feels that nothing is off limits, well except the idea that there are things that are off limits. We happen to live in a world that dogmatically asserts that what we do is what we are wired to do. That is, in the words of Richard Dawkins, it is our DNA that dictates what we do, “and we just dance to its music.” We have moved a long way from Flip Wilson’s, “The devil made me do it.” Now, we are prisoners of our own material body. My DNA made me do it!
Before you you go believing this rubbish, let me just plant a word of doubt and skepticism in your mind (and yes you can be skeptical of the self styled freethinking skeptics). When someone says that you are pre-wired to behave a certain way based on your DNA or molecular makeup, what they are saying is: You are determined. Determinism is the view that there is no free will and that we are captive to time, matter, and chance. In a sense, it is the belief that Darwinian evolution is in business, and it will do what it likes–including controlling your behavior and thoughts. Here is the problem. If one holds to determinism, by definition, they did not come to hold this view based on weighing the pro’s and con’s for the argument. They weren’t persuaded rationally to believe that determinism is true. Instead, determinism would purport that they just hold the view because they were determined to do so. If we are determined to do the things we do and believe the things we believe, how can we rationally affirm anything? How can determinism be rationally affirmed if we are predetermined to believe it?
Don’t buy this stuff. Well, that is, if you are determined not to buy it, don’t buy it. If you are determined to buy it, you have no choice. (please sense the sarcasm)
Now, the more interesting question is,does sin exist? Is man by nature good, or is man evil? These are questions that must be answered. And trust me, regardless what worldview a person holds–whether they are a theist, atheist–whatever–they have a position on these issues.
Consider a story:
“Two brothers were notorious around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. That notwithstanding, they continued to progress from wealth to greater wealth until suddenly one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put the finishing touches to the funeral. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for him to refuse. “I will pay you a great sum, he said, “if you will just do me one favor. In eulogizing my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint,’ and if you do, I will give you a handsome reward.” The minister, a shrewd pragmatist, agreed to comply. Why not? The money could help put a new roof on the church.
When the funeral service began, the sanctuary was filled by all the important business associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the eulogy, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character.
At last the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”
Every group of students I tell this joke to laugh out loud. Why? What is it about this story that resonates with all who hear it, regardless of cultural background or place of birth? Why can a stadium of people hear this story through their respective linguistic interpreter, and all at once let out a seismic roar of laughter at the punch line? The answer is quite simple. We are all aware of what man can be at his worst. We know the evil that resides within all of us and what it can do if allowed to prevail. If this was not a common understanding, there would be no laughter. Am I wrong?
I am reminded of the great English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote in the first volume of his two-volume biography, a story that dealt with sin.
Working as a journalist in India, he left his residence one evening to go to a nearby river for a swim. As he entered the water, across the river he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come to have her bath. Muggeridge impulsively felt the allurement of the moment, and temptation stormed into his mind. He had lived with this kind of struggle for years but had somehow fought it off in honor of his commitment to his wife, Kitty. On this occasion, however, he wondered if he could cross the line of marital fidelity. He struggled just for a moment and then swam furiously toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. His mind fed him the fantasy that stolen waters would be sweet, and he swam the harder for it. Now he was just two or three feet away from her, and as he emerged from the water, any emotion that may have gripped him paled into insignificance when compared with the devastation that shattered him as he looked at her. Muggeridge writes:
“She came to the river and took off her clothes and stood naked, her brown body just caught by the sun. I suddenly went mad. There came to me that dryness in the back of my throat; that feeling of cruelty and strength and wild unreasonableness which is called passion. I darted with all the force of swimming I had to where she was, and then nearly fainted for she was old and hideous and her feet were deformed and turned inwards and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper. You have never seen a leper I suppose; until you have seen one you do not know the worst that human ugliness can be. This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask, and the next thing I knew was that I was swimming along in my old way in the middle of the stream—yet trembling…It was the kind of lesson I needed. When I think of lust now I think of this lecherous woman.”
The experience left Muggeridge trembling and muttering under his breath, “What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart. He was the lecher.
Muggeridge himself admitted the real shock that morning was not the leper, as mind-banding as that would be. Rather, it was the condition of his own heart, dark, with appetites overpowering his weak will. He writes,
“If only I could paint, I’d make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: ‘The lusts of the flesh.’”
Muggeridge, who was himself a latecomer to the faith, would go one to say,
“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”
Are instances like this reserved for the elite caste of the most lecherous and morally repugnant individuals in society? Hardly. Think back to the great figures we know from the Bible. David, a man after God’s own heart. He let sin overcome him and it let to lust, immorality, deceit, murder, prevarication, and dishonor. Why? All because of sin that was not dealt with properly. Think of King Saul. Perhaps Saul is a man who could have been the greatest King to ever live. What was his problem? Pride. He could not stand the fact that David had slain the giant, and as a result the songs were being sung about him, and not himself. This sin led to problems. Remember Jonah? His sin of disobedience didn’t only affect him, it affected all of the other men on board the ship! If you remember, it took the pagan captain of the ship to get Jonah to pray to God! You know things are messed up when sin takes control of your life to the point that unbelievers are willing to ask YOU to try God out.
I was once talking to a woman about the Christian view of the world, and she admitted,
“Being a woman about to give birth, I do wonder to myself how anyone could bring a baby into such an evil world.”
I responded to her,
“You are right about the evil out there, but what about the evil in us–in you?”
You know, the Bible refers to sin not only as being something that we do, but also as a power that controls and consumes us. It isn’t that we do sinful things, but rather, that we are sinful.
Sin is a problem!
Fast forward to our modern age. Sin has become a problem “no more.” Sin is now seen by the postmodernists, liberals, and relativists as merely a concoction and archaic holdover from fundamental Christian dogmas. Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, and their ilk will tell you there there is no absolute truth (though didn’t they just state an absolute in making their claim?). There is no absolute truth; so, how could there be something called sin? It was Foucault who noted,
‘To die for the love of boys: what could be more beautiful?’
‘all the rest of my life I’ve been trying to do intellectual things that would attract beautiful boys.’
Isnt it a shame that a man could admit these things, but his biographer only refer to them as the “passions of Foucault?” This isn’t passion, this is depravity.
This refusal of sin as a reality affects more than just sexual freedom, however.
C.E.M. Joad once noted that
“It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the [political] Left were always being disappointed”
Unfortunately for the Left, this is right (pun intended). Why is it that we can erect all-powerful legislation and control the lives of all citizens, yet still stand in complete shock when something tragic happens at the hands of human beings? I posit that it doesn’t matter how many laws are instituted. If man doesn’t realize that sin is real, and that evil is a reality, then I agree with Dr. Johnson who lamented:
“All the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from their crimes.”
I think G.K. Chesterton can teach us a few things when it comes to this issue of objective sin. First of all, objective morals do exist. Chesterton once noted that,
“Though we may differ over whether or not abortion is virtuous, we all agree that they should be performed with sterilized instruments.”
That quote may seem a bit harsh, but think about it. Two people may disagree over the virtue of abortion–that is to say, whether it is right or wrong. What they do not disagree over is the medical necessity of universal precautions. Why are precautions universal if there werent a moral mandate to take care of the patient because–well–life matters?
This is the essence of the medical mistake.
G.K. Chesterton taught us that in medicine we all agree on what a well person is, but disagree on what sick is. In social and political theory however, we agree on what a malady looks like, but tear our eyes out over what a well-functioning society looks like. The problem is, politicians and social critics continually use medical terminology to talk about social issues–“The health care situation in this country is sick. It needs to be reformed.” OR “The country is sick–vote for my policies, and we can return it to health.” This is a fallacy says Chesterton. How can they talk about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is the most disputed issue in all of academia? Only in medicine can this terminology be used. It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less. Never will that man walk into a hospital and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.
Absolutes do exit. Wrong exits. Good exists. We just refuse to say what it is.
I believe that Oliver Sacks, an M.D. who is no Christian said it best in his blockbuster book, Awakenings:
“For all of us have a basic, intuitive feeling that once we were whole and well; at ease, at peace, at home in the world; totally united with the grounds of our being; and that then we lost this primal, happy, innocent state, and fell into our present sickness and suffering. We had something of infinite beauty and preciousness-and we lost it; we spend our lives searching for what we have lost; and one day, perhaps, we will suddenly find it. And this will be the miracle, the millennium !”
Did you understand that? Isn’t that interesting? Billions of dollars have been spent on research–and here we are–stuck at Genesis 3.
Along those lines, here is an interesting quote from the renowned professor of psychology; and one time president of the American Psychological Association, Hobart Mowrer. This man was also an atheist who took his own life in his seventies:
“For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense, that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost… In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics, themselves, we find ourselves asking, “Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living mean?”
What is the solution? The modern man has a solution for what the archaic man calls sin. That solution is education. Notice that the boundaries of this debate are enforced by the self styled intellectual caste. Is this really the way things should be? Wasn’t Oliver Wendell Holmes correct when he stated, “The life of the law is logic not experience”?
Contrary to the beliefs of modern utopianists, education does not change the way people behave. This has been exemplified by various instances of white collar crime where ivy league university graduates are the ones committing the crimes. What then is the difference between the common street criminal and the thoroughly educated high class criminal? Method and magnitude! The common street criminal will employ crude weapons to steal a car from the other end of town. The educated criminal will employ his academic degrees to gain prominence and steal millions of dollars from the corporation that he runs. The uneducated criminal will break into a house and rape a woman. The educated criminal will use position and power to rape a nation.
As D.L. Moody put it,
“If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.”
It is a snobbish assumption that the ignorant are the dangerous criminals. The most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. All education does is to make the criminal more sophisticated.
The only solution to sin can be found in the person of Christ. Listen to what an the avowed skeptic, E.H. Lecky had to say on the matter:
“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not been only the highest pattern of virtue, but also the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortions of moralists.”
G.K. Chesterton said that original sin is as “practical as potatoes.” We may try to deny it, overlook it, or re-describe it, but the fact remains. We are capable of many kinds of evil. The diseases of the body are not nearly as hideous and grotesque as the diseases of the soul.
It is not merely external behaviors that vex our souls, but our internal intentions as well. Jesus explained this clearly when he said that if we lust after a woman we commit adultery with her in our hearts; that if we are unforgiving of our brother, it is like murdering him. Jesus brings ethics from the social sphere to the personal one by showing how intentions can be just as wicked as actions.
Have we taken stock of our soul recently? Have we sensed the nuances of evil in our own hearts? We need to stand guard today, and every day, with humility that we are capable of terrible evil. And at the same time, we need to avoid those things that draw us into it. Sin starts at the heart level and works its way outward.
Comparatively, leprosy on the body is not nearly as ugly as the pockmarks of sin on the soul. The good news is that Christ has broken the power of both and asks us to begin eternity now by building a soul in this world appropriate for our glorified body in the next.
How do we find the answers? What worldview gives us a hope? Ravi Zacharias gives us an interesting method:
First, there are 3 tests that a worldview must pass. It must be: 1)Logically consistent (its teachings cannot be self-contradictory), 2)Empirically Adequate (its teachings must match with what we see in reality, 3) experientially relevant (its teaching must speak directly to how we actually live our lives.
Second, each worldview must address the following four ultimate questions: 1)Origin (where do the universe and human beings come from?), 2)Meaning (What is the meaning or purpose of life?), 3) Morality (how do we know what is right and what is wrong?), 4) Destiny (What happens to us after we die?)
Third, there are five academic disciplines that must be employed to comprehensively study a worldview: 1) Theology (the study of God), 2)Metaphysics (the study of what is ultimately real), 3)Epistemology (the study of how we can know things), 4) Ethics (the study of moral right and wrong), 5) Anthropology (the study of what and who humans are).
You will find that only a worldview based upon God and through a relationship with the person of Christ will one view hold up to this test. But, don’t take my word for it. Do your own work. Try it.
Joseph Damien was a missionary in the 19th century who ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Those suffering grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived our before them. But even he did not know the price he would pay. One morning before he was to lead them in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more boiling water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever.
Damien immediately diagnosed the problem. As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with, “my fellow believers.” But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”
In a greater measure, Jesus came into the world knowing what it would cost Him. He bore in His pure being the marks of evil, that we might be made pure. “For this I came into the world,” he said (John 18:37).
The gospel points to the person of Christ who went to the cross, not just to transform the Jeffrey Dahmers and the money-grabbers behind the scenes, but to renew even those whose self-righteousness blinds them to their own need. It wasn’t just the prodigal who squandered the fathers love, it was also the older brother—for he was so close to the fathers love the whole time.