Measuring the True Condition of our Hearts
"No matter what Christianity has taught me throughout my life about my heart being desperately wicked... I know this is not true. My heart is really big and full of love. The same love we think Jesus had for those who he is said to have died for, selfless devotion, this is something that I think we all carry for people we love. The hate for this world and hate of this life is against everything I knew intuitively as a child, though Christian theology tried to tell me otherwise."
I would like to respond to this with a few important points:
It’s important to note that total depravity does not negate the presence of 'common goodness' in humanity. While the Bible asserts that sin affects every part of our being (like a tincture), it also acknowledges that humans, created in God's image, are capable of acts of kindness, justice, and love. This perspective reflects a realistic view of human nature that recognizes both the impact of sin and the remnants of God’s image in us.
Christians actually hold a high view of creation, seeing it as inherently good since it comes from God. The fall of humanity does not imply that creation itself has no goodness, but rather that the goodness of creation is now tainted with sin. Every part is tinctured with corruption affecting even the good we do. Redemption in Christ is seen as a restoration of creation, including humanity, to its intended glory and harmony with God.
That God extends His common mercies to humanity is pivotal in understanding the presence of goodness in the world. God shows kindness to all people, not just believers, enabling them to perform acts of goodness and contribute positively to society. [If God did not give men a conscience and restrain men's hearts, our world would have fallen apart long ago]. This grace explains why non-Christians can often lead morally upright lives and perform acts of significant altruism and love.
The Bible acknowledges the role of conscience and reason, gifts from God, which enable moral and ethical discernment even in those who have not experienced regeneration. These faculties, though impaired by sin, allow for the possibility of moral decisions and actions in all people.
The Bible offers a comprehensive view of human nature that acknowledges the profound impact of sin while also affirming the inherent dignity, worth, and the Imago Dei stamped in every person, as recipients of His common mercies. This leads to a deeper appreciation of the need for Christ's redemptive work and the transformative power of grace in our lives.
That being said, in Christian theology, love is more than a feeling of general benevolence towards humanity. It is intrinsically connected to obedience to God's commands, as Jesus states in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” This perspective shifts the focus from subjective feelings to concrete actions aligned with God's will.
The role of the Law in revealing our sinfulness is central to understanding human nature from a biblical perspective. The Law, as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount, sets a standard that goes beyond external actions to the attitudes of the heart. It shows that even the best of men fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). When we honestly look into this 'mirror', we recognize our flaws and the pervasive impact of sin in every aspect of our being.
In the first chapter of his Institutes, "The Knowledge of God," Calvin articulates a profound analogy to illustrate this concept. He suggests that in the absence of a proper reference point – in this case, the absolute holiness of God – humans tend to overestimate their own righteousness and wisdom. He compares this to an eye accustomed to darkness, which perceives even a gray object as brilliantly white. Similarly, in the moral and spiritual realm, when we only consider human standards, what seems to us as righteous or wise may actually be far from it.
When we direct our gaze towards God, however, the overwhelming brightness of His holiness and perfection exposes the true nature of our condition. Just as our eyes, accustomed to earthly light, become overwhelmed and unable to see in the face of the sun's brilliance, so too our perceived wisdom and strength are revealed as folly and fragility when measured against God's flawless righteousness, wisdom, and omnipotence.
Calvin's analogy underscores a vital truth: our understanding of goodness, righteousness, and wisdom is significantly flawed when it is based solely on human standards or intuition. Without the 'yardstick' of God's character, our perception is skewed, leading us to overestimate our moral and spiritual state. This realization is essential for a proper understanding of our need for God’s grace and redemption. It is not about diminishing the worth of human beings but rather about recognizing the vast gulf that exists between our nature and God's perfect holiness. It is in this recognition that we find the true impetus for seeking God’s grace and transformation through Christ.
And so in response to another comment above, the idea that children, or even adults, can intuitively know that they are inherently good at all times, is indeed challenged by the reality of the world and scriptural teaching. If this were the case, there would be no need for moral instruction, guidance, or correction. The presence of injustice, conflict, coveting, hatred, and other forms of sin in the world is evidence of the flawed nature of human intuition and the need for a standard outside of ourselves.
This is where the doctrine of Total Depravity becomes relevant. It teaches that every part of human nature is affected by sin, which includes our will, emotions, and even our intellect and intuition. This doctrine does not negate the presence of goodness or the capacity for love in men, but it acknowledges that these are woefully insufficient to reach the holiness required by God.
Recognizing our inability to fulfill God's Law on our own leads to an understanding of the necessity of grace. It's only through God's grace in Jesus Christ and applied by the Holy Spirit, that we are able to truly love God and others in a way that aligns with His commands. This grace not only pardons our sins but also directs and empowers us for righteous living, albeit imperfect until He comes.