As we read the news, we are once again confronted with an atrocity of wanton murder. The world scrambles to point fingers and find blame targets that fit an ever-changing narrative. Their souls’ pain dizzies the mind to find answers and an easy target, which is easier than wrestling with reality. Today American news will highlight a single clear case of chaos and death but will ignore the terrifying fact that such events are happening all the time around the world. If we knew all the horrendous acts violently committed against people each day, we would be slain with soul-crushing despair. Therefore, we need an explanation bigger than 2021 American society.
Should Christians be shocked that the world is in such shock and awe without proper answers? Or, more pointed, can Christians better understand the darkness in this world today? I believe that we highlighted the answer briefly in last Sunday School Class. Sin is the darkness that has brought despair again. Sin is the target of our problems, and the Bible has an explanation and offers a solution.
On Sunday, we briefly discussed the topic of total depravity. While the term is primed for misunderstanding, it is a constructive and robust doctrine for comfort. Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian, writing at the beginning of the 20th century, explains total depravity quite well.
Bavinck acknowledges the term can seem problematic, and it grates against our modern (very American) sensibilities. Bavinck explains that “besides the natural aversion that spontaneously arises in the human heart against the doctrine of the total moral depravity of humans, there is undoubtedly also much incomprehension on the part of its opponents. Certainly, if this doctrine is elucidated, it is daily confirmed by everyone’s experience and vindicated by the witness of its opponents themselves.”. However, rightly understanding, Bavinck explains that total depravity means that sin “holds sway over the whole person, over mind and will, heart and conscience, soul and body, over all one’s capacities and powers. A person’s heart is evil from his or her youth and a source of all sorts of evils (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 51:5; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Mark 7:21).”
The scriptural portrayal of total depravity is NOT that every human is evil to the utmost at all times. It is NOT that humans are as bad as they possibly could be. Nor does it contend that humans are incapable of any good, like a mother loving an infant, a husband caring for a sick spouse, or children sharing toys on a playground, or a stranger being compassionate to a person in need. In the fall of humanity, which resulted in total depravity, we have retained the imprint of God’s image on our souls, mind, reason, conscience, and even our wills. This spark of divine life is continually working to burst through in what can be called common good. However, the reality of the human heart is Romans 3:12-18. It is only by the work of God in the world, continuing to impress upon his image-bearers, that these terrible propensities are suppressed, and we sometimes turn to do common good. Sometimes humans don’t, and we get what we see in the world today.
As a pastor, I want to offer two points. First, you need and will flourish at a church that will discipleship you in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We will flounder and be hurt by churches with loosey-goosey standards for leadership and education. We don’t turn to brain surgeons who failed out or thought they were too good to go to school. Likewise, don’t entrust your soul to a church that is only sweet when we are to be salt and light. (I do not have a specific target church in mind.)
Second, when the world and seasons cause pain and hurt, turn to the Bible through prayer to find answers. Bring all your emotions to the throne of God and demand an explanation. The extraordinary comfort to the Christian is when we see or hear of heinous sins globally, we do not have to scramble to perform mental and emotional gymnastics to find a target. We do not need ever-changing scapegoats: guns, lousy childhood, alcohol, drugs, music, video games, Freudian thinking, or any other faddish explanation that only seemingly works in the myopic thinking of the moment. Finger-pointing is something Adam and Eve did, but it too was a lie (Gen 3:10-13).
We are not left struggling to explain the darkness. It is Sin. It is Sin bursting from a sinner’s heart. As Christ explained, it is ‘out of hearts, that come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, theft, murder” and the darkness (Mark 7:21).
The Bible also offers the solution. It is Christ and him Crucified. It is Christ offered to his people to be their Savior. It is the grace of God that changes us and brings our image-bearing to a beautiful life. In summary, Paul says it well in Titus 2:11-14: ‘For the grace of God appears to all people, training us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so that we may live prudent, righteous, and God-ward lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Who gave himself for us so that he could redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people of belonging, zealous for good” (trans. my own). Pray for God's grace for you, your neighbor, your community.
Pastor Dr. Chris S. Stevens
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.120.
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.119.