Saturday, August 17, 2013

Is human nature basically good or totally depraved?

It has been awhile since I posted on the "controversies" series. With this year's busy season at work beginning to wind down, I'm hoping that I might develop that series a little further this fall and winter. One question I did not include on my original list, but keeps coming up, is the question of human nature. In this post I don't mean to develop the whole argument, just to show the opposite ends of the spectrum of views and ask: Do any of you all have an opinion on the topic, and if so: what are the key things on which you build that view?

The "basically good" view

Here are some important questions posed by the "basically good" camp:

  • If God is creator, and God is good, how can he have created what is evil? 
  • If God proclaimed creation to be "very good in every way", how can we be evil? 
  • If God created us in his image, and he is good and holy, how can we (in his image) be evil? 

The "totally depraved" view

    Here are some important questions posed by the "totally depraved" camp at the opposite end of the spectrum: 

    • If we are basically good, then why do we need to be "born again" or take part in a new creation? 
    • If we are basically good, why have so many people done so many things that are not good? 
    • If we are basically good, then why does the Bible insist in a number of places that we have serious problems -- to say the least -- with sin, wickedness, and deceit?

    Finding the truth

    A wise man (my son Stephen) once said, "Truth does not equal the average of opinions." Just because there are opposite views, it does not necessarily follow that a reasonable person should hold a view that is the average of the two. Though it is typical to find that each side considers things important that the other side does not account for.

    So I find myself curious to hear more of the debate, and wondered: Do any of you all have an opinion on the topic? What are the key things on which you build that view? My current thoughts are based on the nature of good and evil (which would be a topic for some other post), but I'm keen to find out about other perspectives.


    Martin LaBar said...

    We are totally depraved. Christ had to die to fix that.

    Weekend Fisher said...

    Say, Martin, I know you don't normally do follow-up comments but I was hoping you'd make an exception here. Aren't you Wesleyan? And somewhat Arminian (or non-Calvinist at any rate)? If I'd had to guess your answer in advance I'd have guessed the other one for you. If you go with "totally depraved" -- then how does that work with an Arminian / Wesleyan theology?

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

    Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

    Hey Weekend, I'm still around. I think the obvious answer is we are not as God created us. God didn't create evil he created good and there is a void of good in some things. Like he didn't crate dark he created light that makes a natural contrast to dark.

    Howard said...

    When using the term. totally depraved, I presume from your response to Martin that you are using this in the general Reformed fashion (fallen and wicked, but not as wicked as we can be, because this is restrained),which raises another interesting point - if evil is restrained, is that why, perhaps, there are those who do not see us in such a condition?

    Metacrock - if we have a God who dwells in thick darkness, who gives His children the treasures of darkness, and who hovers over the 'deep' (the formless void) as He begins to create, why say that He does not 'create' darkness? Do you mean physical darkness of evil here?

    Martin LaBar said...

    Yes. I'm a Wesleyan. Quoting from our _Discipline_: "Thus individuals were made morally responsible for their choices. But since the fall of Adam, people are unable in their own strength to do the right. This is due to original sin, which is not simply the following of Adam's example, but rather the corruption of the nature of each mortal, and is reproduced naturally in Adam's descendants. Because of it, humans are very far gone from original righteousness, and by nature are continually inclined to evil." This is probably little changed from corresponding statements in the Methodist Discipline of years ago, but I am unable to check that.

    Martin LaBar said...

    P. S. I'm not sure whether this constitutes a belief in total depravity.

    Weekend Fisher said...

    That's interesting. Nobody took "basically good", & I'm not sure if the "totally depraved" we have here is what the Calvinists would mean by that term.

    There seems to be a general view that we're not what we're meant to be.

    Martin: Thank you for the follow up. I'm not sure either that this means the same thing the Calvinists would mean. I don't know that I have any regular Calvinist readers to check with, though ...

    Meta: Good to see you again. Thanks for stopping in & commenting.

    Howard: To follow up on what you said, I wonder sometimes why people look at the world and say they do not see evil. One possibility is that evil is restrained. Another possibility is that we're so accustomed to it that we don't think of it that way ...

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

    Anam Cara said...

    I vote for basically good.

    We are created in God's image. The "fall" of Adam and Eve marred that image in us. That disobedience brought death into the world. Physical death has affected each one of us. Now we "have serious problems" as you put it.

    We may know that there is eternal life waiting for us, but we do not keep that thought, or the thought of God in mind at all times. So, knowing there is death, we try to get what we can while we can - in effect denying that there is eternity awaiting us. So we lie, we steal, we do what we can to promote ourselves.

    Those who are "born again" embrace the fact that Jesus came to save us from death and sin. We still have that marred image and so continue to sin until the day we are totally conformed to the image of Christ.

    We all have the image of God - we can't change that. But it can become wounded, deformed as we live a life to and for ourselves. Those who chose to may look for healing. We have a Great Physician and we go to the Hospital of the Church where we receive the medicine of Grace and are slowly healed and the image of God restored.

    Weekend Fisher said...

    That's an interesting connection you make between fear of death and egotism. Whistling in the dark, if only it were so innocent. I'm going to have to give that one some more thought. I'm glad you commented.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

    Aron Wall said...

    There is no such thing as pure evil. God is pure good, and the things he creates are all good when properly related to him. Evil is always goodness twisted and perverted. It cannot exist on its own; it is a parasite on goodness.

    Thus, when we say that human beings are depraved or evil, this necessarily presupposes that human nature is good. If we had not been meant for something better, it would not be a sin to fall short.

    I am not sure I believe in "total" depravity, or even that I am sure what it would mean if it were true. I think it is clear that almost every person has, at some time in their lives, done something ethically good, out of love for other people, rather than hypocrisy or self-righteousness. Christ calls human fathers evil, but he also says that they know how to give good gifts to their children.

    What I affirm is that (a) every part of our nature, though created good, is corrupted to some extent, and (b) we are sufficiently enslaved to sin that we are incapable of saving ourselves, but need God's gracious act of redemption through Jesus.

    Also, I think people mistakenly think that because the doctrine of "original sin" applies to children, it is therefore especially about children. Children may be fallen, but adults are more so. Otherwise Jesus would not have said that you have to change and become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Weekend Fisher said...

    This has to be the most thought-provoking comment thread I've had in awhile. Your reasoning for why there is no such thing as pure evil is logically solid, given the premise about evil being a corruption of the good. And that's a thing on which probably 99% of Christians agree. So why isn't anyone taking that and running with it in their theology?

    I think the closest we can come to "pure evil" would probably be "pure malice" (going with love as the basis of good, therefore malice as a basic kind of evil). Which is why the political and religious debates -- and most news outlets for that matter -- bother me as much for their tone as their content, most times.

    And true enough that "original sin" is not _especially_ for children.

    Thanks for chiming in. Your thoughts are always appreciated.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF