Saturday, July 17, 2010

We Are Villains, All (TULIP)

The worst part of summer has been confronting all of the evil things that I'm finding within myself: my anger; my hypocrisy; the lust of my eyes; the disgusting and prevalent pride that underlies all the rest of my sin. To be constantly confronted by my sinfulness in everything I do, and to realize that when I think critically and bitterly about another person that that criticism is driven by my own pride, and to think about what pride is -the implicit belief that my glory is more important than God's- is humbling and frankly humiliating. It makes me see God's grace for what it is. It is with this admission that I'm finding myself writing about the first point of common Reformed/Calvinist doctrine: total depravity.

The Heart of Man Is Evil
Total depravity is the teaching that humankind, all of us, including our own selves, are full of sin and wickedness which affects every area of our being. Before God flooded the earth in Noah's time, Genesis says He saw that "every intention" of man's heart was only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5). Then, thousands of years later, Solomon observed the same thing in Ecclesiastes 9:3: "The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." In the time of the New Testament, St. Paul once observed that God is knowable to all men, but that mankind "suppresses the truth by their unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18-19). And this problem isn't limited to those who never come to Christ, either, because "we all like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6) and "no one is righteous... no one seeks after God" (Romans 3:10-12). This is something that affects all of us.

Of Righteous Deeds and Filthy Rags

Total depravity doesn't mean that we are all axe murderers, adulterers, and tobacco lobbyists, though: "We have all become like one who is unclean," mourns the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 64:4), "and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." Look at this verse and read it carefully. What is like a polluted garment? Our righteous deeds are polluted--but depraved people like us can still perform righteous deeds! Though the image of God inside of us is broken, it is still there (Genesis 9:6), and with it we have been supplied with a conscience, creativity, and other things with which we can still reflect the nature of God. But that image is still broken, and our sin affects everything, and no part of our life or actions is untouched by it: even in philanthropy, and the study of God's Word, and in the leading of God's people, our own depravity pollutes those things by the common traps of self-satisfaction, pride of knowledge, and the tendency towards stealing God's glory. When someone says to you, "total depravity," they are saying that sin has polluted every part of our lives and has left no part of ourselves untouched, and that our nature renders us completely (totally) unacceptable to God apart from His grace.

How the T in TULIP Helps
Since it isn't always encouraging to hear that we suck, I thought I should share a couple ways that this doctrine has helped me out: The first is that I've come to recognize how bad news prepares the way for good news: in this case, if we were not seriously messed up people (and we are), then God's kindness towards us would not mean so much. When I am reminded of the bad news of my own depravity, it makes me appreciate the good news of God's grace. Second, it keeps me from getting full of myself: when I see myself in light of Total Depravity, it makes it a lot harder to look down on other people or to become arrogant. Or at least, it's starting to.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Start or join a conversation! Please do not use the 'Anonymous'; option; use the Name/URL form and leave a first and last name (or last initial). Thank you.