In recent days we have heard and seen a lot of words that were hardly used, if ever, in journals, newspapers, live TV or in general conversations. Sometimes they are uttered with such vehemency that you feel that there must be a whole “narrative” or “agenda” behind the words. Words such as white supremacist, colonialist, misogynist, toxic masculinity are used by some speakers and writers to seemingly refer to the male species as a whole. But females are not spared either, with terms such as hormonal, neurotic, bitchy, cow and baggage and many other terms used in a derogatory fashion. There is also a tendency to discredit others, both male and female as being “racist” or homophobic if they do not agree with the opinions of those who are classifying them.
What is happening it seems to me, is that we are reverting to a form of “tribalism” where we see others as being different from ourselves, and put them into various races, tribes, groups or categories of our making that we look down upon. Instead of seeing people as individuals, we immediately put them into a category we despise and ascribe the worst features of that supposed category to them. We can then go on to discriminate against them because they belong to a despised “category.” However I was a little alarmed recently when reading the Greek New Testament to discover that there is a word [katēgoréō; κατηγορέω which means to speak openly against, to condemn or accuse mainly in a legal sense.] It is the root behind our English word “category.” It was used particularly of the hateful accusations being directed towards Jesus and His followers. In fact Satan is called “the accuser” [A noun. katēgoros; κατήγορος] who “accuses” [A verb. katēgoréō; κατηγορέω] the people of God. Rev 12:10 “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
How sad it would be, if we were seen to be, in God’s eyes, doing the work of Satan in putting people into our despised categories by the way we think about them, address them or or even write about them.
We would do well to take seriously the words of Jesus when He warned against putting others down or assigning them to some despised category or other, Mat 5:22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Strong language from The One who knows the future! Of every individual! Jesus was warning that present inappropriate attitudes can have eternal consequences.
What Is The Problem With The Human Race? Why Are We Sometimes So Nasty To Each Other?
Someone once said to me, “I don’t think the description of the Fall of humankind in Genesis 3 is relevant for today. Humans are basically good.” I felt like saying, “Brother, what planet have you come from? It’s certainly not planet Earth!” When you have had to deal (as I have done in full-time ministry for almost 45 years) with all the messes humans get into, there can be no other explanation than the truths in Genesis 3. Because of the Fall, humans have an inward bias towards evil. It needs the power of God to stop them going more deeply into even more evil. So the question is, “Are humans basically good or are they prone to evil?” It’s not just a theoretical question for philosophers to discuss ad nauseam. It hits us in the face every day as we drive our cars. I saw some time ago someone driving irresponsibly and if I had not braked hard to let his speeding car into a narrow space in front of me there may have been a serious head-on collision on a narrow two direction two lane road at a combined speed of close on 200km/h. How selfish can you get to want to be seen as a “skilful driver” (or having a FAST vehicle) passing car after car, but at the same time endangering the lives of many people? [Admittedly I was not purely altruistically driven. There was a huge mass of self-preservation involved as well, as the resulting smash would have wiped out a number of vehicles including mine!]
The dilemma we face. Should I trust people or not? Are they basically good or could they do evil? The dilemma for one person might be, “Can I leave my child with that man or woman? They seem to be nice. But can I really trust them?” The decision is made to do so. Another child is sexually abused. Or “Should I go into business with that person? They seem trustworthy enough.” Another business is liquidated as the new partner skips off with the money and/or the clients. Or as one woman sorrowfully told me, “I married this lovely fellow and we went on our honeymoon. He said he would just go downstairs for a drink before we retired. He took some time. Later I discovered that he had met a young woman in the bar and had gone back to her room and had sex with her.” She almost screamed at me as she painfully said, “ON OUR WEDDING NIGHT!” But that was the first of many similar occurrences during her marriage. Apparently a “nice” man in the view of most people who knew him but with a fatal flaw that brought so much hurt and pain to his wife.
Are we humans basically good or basically evil? We need to know in terms of whether we can implicitly trust people. Jesus didn’t always trust people. We read in The Message version of John 2:23-25, … many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. (24) But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. (25) He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them. We may not have the same depth of perception He had. But we do need to have the same caution about relationships, knowing what people are capable of doing.
Jesus Has The Answer For Our Dilemma. Mark 7:20-23. In this passage Jesus said that it was not what went into a person that made them unclean. It was what came out of them. He continued, Mar 7:20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.(21) For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, (a word meaning inner dialogues or reasonings or deliberations, planning what to do. ) He then spoke about the form those evil thoughts took in human behaviour, in the verses that follow.
- Sexual immorality. Sexual sins or immoral acts both within and outside of the marriage.
- Theft. Taking or using unlawfully something that belongs to someone else.
- Murder. Begin with thoughts in the mind. The actions stem from the thoughts. Jesus went deeper and said that to have hatred in one’s heart towards someone was to be guilty of murder.
- Adultery. Where a spouse is unfaithful to his or her partner. I tried once to get a man to face up to the fact that he was committing adultery with a friend’s wife. I said to him, “You didn’t just wake up and suddenly find yourselves in bed together, did you? You thought about it (which was wrong) and made a decision to go further in the relationship. You are accountable for what you have done. It wasn’t accidental.” Again as Jesus said, for a man to look lustfully at another man’s wife is to make him guilty of adultery even though the action hasn’t happened. This leads on to the next wrong way of thinking that leads to actions. Coveting.
- Coveting. This is mentioned in the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:21 “‘And you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbour’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.’” Coveting often leads to further action to take hold, for oneself, of the thing or person coveted.
- Wickedness. All sorts of evil. A similar word is used of the devil as the wicked one. These are the sorts of bad things the devil would deceive us into doing to other people.
Then Jesus added a number of evil attitudes in the same verses
- Deceit. It is the outward expression in speaking or acting out what is false.
- Sensuality. Lacking self-control in sexual matters.
- Envy. Wanting what is not ours. Not grateful to God for what we have.
- Slander. The word is blasphemy. Evil speaking = speaking evil of others.
- Pride. Self-focussed attitudes looking down on others. Thinking and acting as though others were inferior to oneself. Eg., the scribes and the Pharisees.
- Foolishness. Sums up all the previous evil attitudes.
Jesus concluded, (23) All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The import of what Jesus was teaching was that every person ever born [except for Jesus] is born with that inward disposition or bias towards evil. That’s why He told Nicodemus an outwardly very righteous respected person, [whom most people of the day would have considered an automatic entry to heaven], “You must be born again!” John 3:7. A far deeper degree of righteousness [which only God could provide], was needed for entry into God’s kingdom.
It means from what Jesus said, that it is not a case of some categories of people who are evil who will miss out on heaven, and other categories of people who are good who will be able to enter. ALL will miss out if entry is based on goodness. The people living in most desolated places on earth, all have a bias to evil. The people living in primitive cultures all have that bias towards evil. The wealthy living on harbourfront mansions all have an inner disposition to sin. The greatly admired scholars living in theological colleges or in the Vatican all have an inner bias towards evil. No one is exempt. Every time we point the finger at other people in condemnation, we condemn ourselves because we do the same things to a greater or less degree. As St Paul wrote, Rom 2:1 “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
King David loved and obeyed God and was described “as a man after God’s heart.” Acts 13:22, “After removing him [Saul], God raised up David their king. He testified about him: ʻI have found David the son of Jesse to be a man after my heart, who will accomplish everything I want him to do.ʼ” No wonder David cried out to God after he had sinned against God in his sin with Bathsheba, Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” He saw that his heart needed to be recreated lest he do the same again. He had discovered how capable he was of deliberately doing evil and of trying to conceal it.
What do Anglicans believe? Anglican belief is found in the 39 Articles of Religion to be found in the back of most Prayer Books. Article 9 is titled, “Of original or Birth sin”. It has these words. Man … is of his own nature inclined to evil. … This infection of nature doth remain in those who are regenerate (born again). In other words this proneness to do evil is characteristic of all people. All born-again people still possess this old nature with its bias towards evil and can give way to it unless they are careful. That’s why they are to sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh (the old nature). Gal 6:8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.“
A question to consider regarding this. Have you ever wondered why many men and women who have been in active service in wartime hardly ever speak of their experiences? There is one obvious reason. Because they saw man’s inhumanity to their fellow humans in war. They saw and heard despicable things. It had a terrible effect on them. They don’t want to recall the memories. But there may be another far deeper reason for some of them. I discovered this when counselling many men over the years. Many of them have opened up enough to say that during active service they thought about and did some terrible things themselves. Now they find it almost impossible to talk about them. They were horrified at their thoughts at that time. They were even more horrified at some of the things they did. They detested the evil they saw in others. They detested even more the evil they saw in themselves. They felt there was no place for them back among the “good people”. I’m sure that there is a whole lot of healing that needs to happen for such men and women. But they need to find people who won’t be shocked at what they hear about the experiences of those veterans.
William Golding. The challenge of the book and the film “The Lord of the Flies”. The story is of “innocent” schoolboys alone on an island without any adult supervision or presence. Golding shows that the increasing violence in the boys came from within them. It was not due to some external factor. He portrays the characters in the film to show that there is innate evil in humans. He is correct in what he portrayed. Human experience confirms it. The Bible has always taught it. Philosophers and theologians ignore it at their peril. There is no other satisfactory answer to why the world is as it is. God knew what He was doing in giving such a simple explanation in Genesis 3 for why humans function (or malfunction) as they do. As has been said before, We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because by nature we are sinners.
A deeper type of praying for people
It means then for Christians that they need to change their prayers from praying that nice people become even nicer, to something much deeper than that. They need to pray for people that they get soundly converted; be born again, that they get switched on to the Lord; that they are turned around by repenting of all evil and turning to God for forgiveness and His wisdom and strength. They need to be born again of the Spirit of God so that they become new creatures in Christ and can have victories over that old or flesh nature that still resides within them that is attracted to sin. People need it. The world needs it. Every individual needs it.
A New Beginning. A New Creation. A New Humanity. A New Way Of Thinking. A New Way Of Living. St Paul had known a radical change in his life. He saw himself as a new creature in Christ. He saw that other people could know the radical change he had experienced. He expressed that in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” New creatures could become new in character due to the indwelling Spirit who came upon those who believed in Jesus. They would be given a new nature through the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In fact he described this new nature in Galatians 5 as the spirit nature being opposed to the old nature (flesh) which they had from birth.
That contrast is spelt out in the difference between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians chapter 5. The “works of the flesh” are those characteristics that are common to all people because they are like that in a fallen world. It affects every area of life. It is in the area of sex, (19) Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. It is in the area of religion, (20) idolatry, sorcery. It is in the area of social sins such as enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,(21) envy. It is in the area of drinking, drunkenness, orgies. It is in everything associated with these things, and things like these. That pretty well covers most of life’s experiences. The problem with this life-style is that it is self-defeating. It misses out on life with God in heaven, as St Paul wrote, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The New Life In Christ. It is full of opposite characteristics. It is not “works” (frenzied activity) but “fruit” (the quiet outward expression of the life within), the expression of the life of the Holy Spirit within each believer. It is seen to be operative in the area of one’s attitude to God who shares His love, joy and peace with us. (Jesus spoke of His followers are having His love, His joy, His peace.) It is in the area of relationships with others in society, possessing “patience, kindness, goodness.” They are nice thoughtful people to have around! It is in the area of one’s relation to oneself, “faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control.” They are honourable and trustworthy people. While they are living according to the Spirit that is! Paul wrote in Gal 5:25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” If the Spirit had brought people new life then they had an obligation to continue to live life being continually guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
If it is true that all humans have a bias towards evil (in St Paul’s terms, a flesh nature) then that explains why there is so much evil in the world. People who are out of touch with God are doing what comes “naturally” to them. In various degrees. How can that change? They need to know and to experience God’s power in their lives.
The Danger Of Putting People Into Boxes!
There are many dedicated folk who are seeking to serve their fellow humans in various health and mental services, who need to avoid the temptation of putting people into categories such as white supremacists, misogynists etc and getting people they have never met to admit to having “white privilege”, [whom they see as being captives of the cultures they were brought up in.] Rather it is a much more serious situation than that simplistic approach. Some folk may attempt to change the outward structures or cultures as much as they like and may produce great changes. But human nature itself does not change. The change that God wants and that humans long for in a world where love, not hate, abounds and where peace, not anxiety or chaos, reigns can only come when individuals discover the transforming power of God in their lives as they are inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit of God and grow into His likeness. As St Paul wrote, when people know God they can know the power of the Holy Spirit to give them victory over their fallen nature, Gal 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Victory is possible for those who are strong enough to know they need the power of God in their lives!
This is how I sometimes pray for everyone I know, those who are my friends and the same prayer for those who aren’t interested in being my friend.
“Lord, I ask that you might work in (so and so’s) life to bring them to yourself. Open their eyes to see that they need You and may turn to You to receive forgiveness for all their sins and to receive a new life in Jesus. Set them free from the power of the evil one who had blinded their eyes and who holds them captive to do his will. I pray that they may be born again of Your Spirit and be released to be the people of God You want them to be. Fill them with Your Spirit so that they might know and experience Your wisdom and Your power to live in Your way. May they show forth the fruit of the Spirit in their lives day by day. Please protect them and bless them that they might be a blessing in the lives of other people. AMEN
Your prayer for people doesn’t have to be the same. But it does have to take into account that what is required for people is that they become new creatures in Christ and not become just slightly nicer people in the world.
Blog No.368 posted on http://www.jimholbeck.blog on Thursday 08th October 2020