Everyone likes to see an evil person get the punishment everyone believes he deserves. When John Wayne Gacy was executed in 1994, few tears were shed on his behalf, and many comments mourned the fact that Continue reading Nobody Wants to Repent
In a recent article in the Guardian, Ijeoma Oluo wrote on behalf of her fellow atheists that, “our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original. Perhaps this is not religion, but human nature.” Later in the article, she referred to the “atrocities we commit as human beings,” and pointed out that atheists and people of faith are alike in the need to “free ourselves from the racist, sexist, classist, homophobic tendencies of society.”
Ms. Oluo has discovered sinful human nature. It is the most fundamental truth about human beings. She looks around, examines the behavior and attitudes of atheists, people not corrupted by believing that some god actually exists and cares about them, and she observes, “Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia.” Her conclusion that belief in a god (theism) necessarily produces hateful, venomous rhetoric may be questionable, but there is no question that human beings, both theists and atheists, are born with sinful human nature.
The word sin is anathema in contemporary cultural conversations, or in any other context, for that matter. There is widespread cultural scorn for the Christian teaching that everyone is a sinner. Film critics love a film that makes fun of Christian abhorrence of sin. Hardened atheists tell stories of how the hypocrisy of church members drove them out of the church their parents forced them to attend as children Social workers accuse parents of child abuse for telling their children that they are born sinful. Yet Ijeoma Oluo has discovered the fact that being an atheist does not keep that person from a congenital propensity for greed, selfishness and hatred.
Ms. Oluo is fully convinced that her discovery is a truth hidden from others. Whenever we human beings discover truth, it feels so good and seems so unlike the world around us that we are sure we have found something others have missed. I applaud her intellectual honesty, but Ms. Oluo needs to recognize that this truth about human beings has been known for thousands of years. Jeremiah, who lived about 2500 years ago, said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
Atheists often reject the Bible as a source of truth, because they reject the whole notion of any spirit realm. Some atheists do recognize biblical truth in an abstract way and set the Bible on a level equal with the Tao Te Ching or a Hindu Veda. Perhaps Ijeoma Oluo could accept Jeremiah’s statement as truth if she could see it presented in parallel with her own observation. Yet Ms. Oluo still needs to see this truth in the revelation of God’s whole truth. Unfortunately, the isolated observation that human beings are inherently evil could drive anyone, including Ms. Oluo, to utter despair. If everyone is bad and nobody is good, where do we find any hope for the human race?
Christians answer that concern by first accepting the truth about human beings and then pointing to the answer: the risen Christ. The truth about humans is well documented in an ancient letter to Roman Christians written by the apostle Paul. He said, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Fortunately, Paul’s statement does not really end that way, mired in the fall. It continues seamless to the solution–“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Christians know the solution; people are sinful, and they need to be redeemed. Paul wrote the coherent explanation, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
Ijeoma Oluo believes that human beings need to do something to fix the broken elements of human nature that result in evil behavior. In her view, if people start thinking more about themselves, they can evolve into better human beings by willful choice, and she suggests some choices for people—things like service to others and kindness to all. While Ms. Oluo recognizes the universality of sinful human nature, she does not recognize the futility of any attempt to improve on human beings by an act of will. That particular fallacy was revealed as an utter failure during the same era in which the apostle Paul lived. In fact, the apostle Paul subscribed to that theory himself before he became a Christian. He writes about his own experience at length in the book of Romans, saying,
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin [or sinful human nature] that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? –Romans 7:16-24
Paul could see the good things he ought to do, and he could want to do the good things he ought to do, but he was fundamentally incapable of doing every one of those things every time he needed to do it.
The hypothesis that human beings can improve themselves by simply practicing good moral behavior was the entire underlying thesis of Pharisaism. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism in the first century AD, and they believed that a person could become perfect if he could obey a set of more than 600 individual laws. The fact that Pharisees took their laws from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures does not invalidate a comparison between Pharisaism and Ijeoma Oluo’s suggestion. God himself was actually no more real to them than he is to Ijeoma Oluo, and Jesus pointed out that fact more than once. One day during a teaching moment on the subject of prayer, Jesus compared the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-13)
Jesus praised the tax collector, because the tax collector prayed to God, but Jesus said that God would not even hear the Pharisee’s prayer, because he was praying to himself. Read the Pharisee’s prayer closely, and you will see that he believes he is perfect. He believes he has done every possible good deed, and he believes that he never does anything bad. He is not praying to God; he is telling God that he does not need God. The Pharisee may not have chosen the good deeds Ms. Oluo proposes, but the Pharisee and Ms. Oluo both believe that human beings can perfect themselves.
The whole Bible is evidence that human beings cannot perfect themselves. They are born with sinful human nature, just as Ijeoma Oluo says, but the message of the Bible is that no human being can perfect himself and overcome sinful human nature by simply deciding to do so. Every human who tries it will quickly discover that it is impossible. Promise yourself that, like the Pharisee, you will fast twice a week, and then see how quickly your mind excuses a bite of someone else’s donut—just one bite!
Ijeoma Oluo is a brilliant writer, much to be admired for her skill. She is a deep thinker, willing to face hard truth. Ms. Oluo is admirable in every way, and God loves her very much. He is pleased that she uses his gift of intelligence with such power. There is just one thing she needs to do. Ijeoma Oluo needs to do the same thing Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do: she needs to stop being her own God. Ms. Oluo needs to understand that Jesus Christ died precisely because of her sinful human nature, and she needs to accept his forgiveness. She must recognize that the power that raised Christ from the dead is powerful enough to save her from the evil that is sinful human nature. Then she will discover exactly what she is looking for—the redemption of human beings.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the winter of 2016.
The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to people who were struggling to understand what it meant for them as Jews to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah promised when God said to Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). Toward the end of chapter 12, the author says, “You have not come to a mountain that cannot be touched,” referring to Sinai, the place where the nation of Israel was born.
At Sinai, God established his absolute righteousness in the minds and hearts of the descendants of Abraham. He enforced their respect for his righteousness by requiring them to keep their distance. He showed them the difference between himself and sinful humanity. He threatened them with death if they came near enough to touch the mountain on which he met Moses and wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets with his own finger. According to the man who penned the book of Hebrews, even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21 NIV).
This same writer, however, comforts the Hebrew readers who are trying to understand how Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah by saying to them that instead of a mountain that nobody dares to touch, they may approach Mount Zion, because Jesus has mediated a new covenant in his own blood. Jesus, perfectly sinless, satisfied the righteousness of God in his own blood. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like Abel, the first murder victim, the blood of Jesus cries out to God, just as Abel’s blood did. However, even though Abel was innocent when he was murdered, Abel was a sinful human being. His blood cried out his innocence, but his blood could not cleanse humans of sin, because Abel was as sinful as anyone else. Jesus, however, was not only innocent, but also sinless. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant,” and the sprinkled blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Our world is, sad to say, filled with the sprinkled blood of innocent human beings. Every day, more babies are killed by abortion than were killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the US alone, more than 3,000 babies die every day by abortion. That is a lot of innocent blood. While nobody says that babies are sinless like Jesus, it is obvious that they are innocent–as innocent as Abel. Their blood cries out for God’s judgment as surely as Abel’s blood did.
The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than Abel’s blood, and it certainly speaks a better word than the blood of innocent babies. Christ’s blood speaks of righteous cleansing and purification from sin and guilt. If 3,000 babies die every day by abortion, then 3,000 mothers are suffering from the guilt of those murders. Each person who performs even one of those abortions suffers the guilt of knowing that an innocent human being died at his or her hands during each abortion. Nurses, aides, and even receptionists know the mayhem in which they are participating, and if they ever stop to listen, the blood of those innocents will call out to them for God’s judgment.
The blood of Jesus, on the other hand, calls out for God’s forgiveness. The righteousness of God is poured out over every human being who chooses to receive forgiveness though Christ. The righteous blood of Christ can cleanse all mothers who have given up their babies to abortion, as well as abortionists, nurses, technicians and office staff who have participated in the murderous processes of abortion. The blood of Abel cried out, “I am innocent!” The blood of aborted babies cries out, “I am innocent!” The blood of Christ cries out, “God loves you. Come be cleansed of your guilt. Be purified. Be forgiven for the sin of shedding innocent blood.” At Sinai, the righteousness of God pushed the people away, lest they be destroyed by his righteousness. At Calvary, the righteousness of Christ pulls people toward him, in order to cleanse them of their unrighteousness. Sinful, guilt-ridden people, covered in the blood of innocent babies, can be cleansed of their guilt if they turn away from murder and choose life in Christ.
This is the better message spoken by the blood of Christ.
A recent article described a phenomenon called “microaggressions” which is the latest threat to good order in US culture. Microaggressions are bad acts by unthinking people against people sensitized to aggression by their marginalized positions in the culture. In other words, in plainer language, microaggessions are things people do and say that hurt other people without knowing that they have offended anyone.
Everybody is guilty. Anybody can commit aggression on a micro scale simply by using the pronoun he generically, or by saying something simple like, “I believe there are more Asian students in the chemistry department this year.” Microaggression can be microassault, microinsult, microinvalidation, or even microrape. There are lots of ways to hurt lots of people, and anybody can do it.
Secular thinkers appear to have discovered that human beings are born flawed and must live with eternal guilt, because there is no way they can ever be sure of doing the right thing. (Actually, it only feels like eternity, because secular thinkers are limited to time and space.) Human beings inherently hurt other people in a thousand different ways, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
This concept sounds just like sinful human nature. The apostle Paul wrote about it when he said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) In response to that problem, Christians teach that sinful human beings “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 ESV). This same Christ Jesus lives to save people from the enslavement to Satan that was their fate due to sinful human nature, as manifested by microaggressions and other sins.
Secular thinking does not offer any help for the problem of microaggression, or sinful human nature. The offender is simply doomed. The offender has no defense against the person who alleges that offense was given, because by definition, the offender did not know about the offense. Yet the offender in secular thinking must always pay for the offense. There must be a fine or a jail sentence or re-education, or all these things. This is exactly what goes on in starkly secular countries such as VietNam or Kazakhstan or North Korea. Those governments deal with people who disobey the secular government’s moral guidelines with heavy judgments administered by courts. This sort of outcome is the natural result of progressively more assertive secular government.
Christian teaching offers what people really need if they want to recover from the blight of sinful human nature, or microaggressions. Christ himself. Even though people can sin with or without giving it a lot of prior thought and planning, they can be forgiven because Christ died for everyone. Even those who are guilty of microaggressions. Secularists pretend that punishments can be tailored to fit the crimes, but the truth is that the punishment of an offender provides no healing for the offended The beautiful truth is that Christ died for the person who was offended by microaggression also. Christ himself forgives the sins and heals the wounds. Christ leads people to forgive each other. Instead of the offender on one side of thick walls and the offended on the other, both suffering, Christ breaks down those walls and leads both parties to forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
Secularists have discovered sinful human nature, but they don’t know what to do with it. Christians must demonstrate what Christ has done to cleanse, forgive and heal human beings trapped by their sinful human nature and doomed both to offend and to be offended at the drop of a microaggression. It is very hard to be a Christian in a secular world, but Christians have good news to share with secular thinkers, now that they understand what sinful human nature can do to people.
Jesus taught us how to deal with the problems caused by microaggressions and all sorts of other manifestations of sinful human nature. When he taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, Jesus knew all about aggressions, macro and micro, and he taught the right way to handle them. He also sent the Holy Spirit to live within humans and empower people to do what was hardest of all–to forgive.
Christians must live the gospel so brightly that the Light of the World shines on offenders and offended alike. Christians must carry the good news on their sleeves and in their hearts to all the people suffering from the fear and the destruction of aggressions both macro and micro. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to bring healing and reconciliation to all who suffer because of microaggresssion—sinful human nature. Even though all people are born that way, God’s good news is that all can be cleansed of the motivations for microaggression and all can be healed of the wounds inflicted by microaggressions.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. —Romans 5:8-10 ESV
by Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com
image source: http://eph.tuckdb.org/ licensed under cc by-sa
- Secular thinkers bemoan the fact that Christians allege that human beings are sinners. Recently a university executive was chastised and forced to apologize for suggesting that “human nature” was at fault in the continuing danger of campus rape. If you had been privileged to speak with that executive before she felt compelled to apologize for her statement, what would you have said?
- Forgiveness is so important to the human experience that it is one of the teachings embodied in the Lord’s Prayer. Further, Jesus re-emphasized that teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes the point that our forgiveness of others is intricately linked with our experience of forgiveness from God. Why is forgiving so crucial to being forgiven?
- People who choose to engage in homosexual behavior take extreme umbrage when any Christian calls it sinful. They interpret it as judgment purporting to come from a superior moral position. How do you interpret the observation that the Bible declares homosexuality to be sin?
- The psalmist said that someone who is forgiven is blessed and his sins are all covered up. Who can be forgiven? If God forgives you and covers up your sin so you don’t have to feel shame about it any more, what happens to the natural consequences of your sinful behavior? What does God want you to do about the natural consequences of your sinful behavior?