Saturday, January 03, 2015

God's View of Humanity (Part 1)

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 01:28-32, NKJV).

In the news recently there was an enhanced view of Earth from a spacecraft 4 billion miles away, which on the scale of the solar system is just “down the block”. Our planet appeared as a pale, blue, barely visible dot in a vast sea of emptiness. The “Big Blue Marble” was rendered as a mote of dust from that perspective.

That our barely visible “third rock from the sun” is the center of the spiritual universe seems to be an absurd proposition when looked at from the merely physical side of things, but what does size have to do with essential importance? The smallest microorganism can wipe out whole populations.

Despite that blue dot's surrounding emptiness, God views us as so significant that He sent His Son to save us; to enable us to be transformed from unrepentant sinners into sons and daughters of God. Remember that when someone tries to argue that we are accidents of time and chance, residing on a tiny sphere on the edge of a nondescript galaxy in the backwaters of the Universe. When viewed without God, we appear as nothing, but from His perspective we are the second most important things in existence. The first is His Son.

And while the physical space around us may appear empty, what God sees from Heaven's viewpoint is a planet whose resident human population is full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and evil-mindedness that expands and rises to the heavens. Understanding that perspective requires us to acknowledge first that God is holy and righteous, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1John 1:5). We need to realize that everything about us that we might consider good and right is skewed by sin. We can't see straight, but God does and His view is that ...we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6, NKJV).

The good news is that while God is perfectly righteous and holy, and cannot abide sin, He is also a God of mercy and grace and love and has provided us a means to escape the inevitable and eternal consequences of our sin through His Son's substitutionary death on the Cross. As Paul writes later in Romans:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV).

It is instructive to understand a bit more of what while we were still sinners means, for it shows us how unlovable we are in ourselves, and broadens our appreciation of that love God demonstrates toward us.

Before looking more deeply into Paul's continuing list of human evil, it is necessary to keep in mind that not everyone is guilty of doing all these things outwardly, but that each one of us, if left to our own devices, is naturally capable of every item in the list. That we may go to our graves not having actually committed some of these is only through God's grace and our own lack of opportunity. Also we must remember Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, wherein we are taught that, from God's perspective, thought and intent make us just as guilty as the done deed. Without Christ, therefore, we are utterly helpless in our depravity.

By full of envy, the Apostle is describing that state of our being which makes us crave what we do not have, and despise those who do.

Being full of murder means that while we may not physically take someone's life, if our thoughts or feeling could kill, corpses would be strewn across the path of our life. I believe that it is only after we are saved that we can begin to understand how truly murderous our impulses are, but there our hints even in our speech, amply sprinkled with casual references to “murder” and “kill” those people or things that get in our way.

Full of strife paints the picture of our inherent, reflexive impulse to be contentious, argumentative, and divisive because we are incapable of living in peace. It is not that this strife is intended to accomplish anything on our behalf, though it may incidentally get us what we desire, it is that, like maliciousness, it is something that bubbles up from the cauldron of our natural badness. And while the unrepentant may succeed in controlling this impulse somewhat, it takes nothing away from the fact that being contentious is who we are and what we do.

When Paul includes full of deceit in his list of evil attributes he is emphasizing something about us that we all know to be true: the impulse to lie. Even very young children never have to be taught how to lie since they are born with that knowledge. It is a natural as breathing. And unless instructed otherwise, that impulse will pervade all their interactions with others.

You can also see the collective effect of deceit in this fallen world. Lies permeate our modern culture, from preaching Evolution as fact and Abortion as good, to Christianity as intolerant and regressive. When you think about it, the concept of lying, of communicating something not supported by reality, is a form of mental illness, and yet from the human perspective, we believe it to be perfectly normal. That is because we are all perpetrators of deceit. It is reflexive as breathing.

Does this mean we are all afflicted with mental illness? Yes. Sin is a sickness that afflicts first the mind, and then metastasizes into other more obvious areas of our lives. Of all the warnings in Scripture against evil, guarding against deceiving and being deceived is the most prevalent. And from where does this evil originate? Jesus Himself provides the answer:

You [the Pharisees, and by implication, all mankind] are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44, NKJV).

Finally, Paul writes that unredeemed humans are full of evil-mindedness. This is from a Greek word that means all-pervasive malignity. Think of a lesion or tumor in the physical body. When it is diagnosed as malignant, it means it is life-threatening, and usually in a slow and agonizing way. Evil-mindedness is evil for evil's sake, meaning there is no other purpose from which it derives its energy. It is like that mindless tumor, sucking the life out of someone by destroying the healthy tissue cell by cell. It is the natural state of being of an intelligent life form without God. It is far more than lack of empathy. It is overt malevolence.

The ultimate expression of this in modern society is the serial murderer, someone who seeks out victims for the pleasure of inflicting upon them agony and death. Our culture attempts to explain such behavior with a raft of high-sounding psychological terms, but this is mostly to deflect the simple truth that it is the result of sin and evil, and that attempt at deflection itself is an act of deceit that perpetuates and facilitates the very evil it attempts to explain. It does so by postulating that it is a neurological condition amenable to some, as yet, undiscovered treatment, rather than a spiritually terminal affliction only treated by being born again.

Given Paul's divinely inspired list thus far, we should not be surprised at the very bad things we see going on in the world around us. What should surprise us more, is that in this life, things are far from being as bad as they could be, and that is God's grace and mercy, for which we should be increasingly grateful.