Thursday, June 27, 2013

Born that way?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about God's response to our inborn desire for sin:

Q:  If a person is born with the inclination to desire certain things or act in certain ways, then how could God judge them for acting on it when He created them that way?    

This is an interesting observation that has resurfaced only recently—that people possess certain inclinations even from birth, as a sort of default programming.  This time, contrary to the usual way of things, the new observation turns out to be quite correct.  For decades, if not centuries, it was assumed that humans began as a neutral “blank slate,” and that from morality to aesthetic tastes to various sorts of desires, they were shaped by authorities and experiences toward certain outcomes. 

It turns out, however, that the idea that humans are born already possessing a variety of inclinations is quite Biblical.  King David lamented the fact in the Psalms that he was sinful “from birth, even from the time my mother conceived me.”  Likewise the Apostle Paul observed how his highest desire to please God and do good was at war within him against an entrenched inclination to do what is evil and disobey God. 

The difficulty with this newly rediscovered truth is the next step that is often taken in argumentation: that such inborn desires are part of God’s creation and therefore not contrary to God’s will or subject to his judgment.  The Bible describes humanity as created in perfect harmony with God’s will and only later plunged into the desire to do evil after Adam and Eve first disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world. 

Although different Christian traditions handle the details in diverse ways, they do hold in common, first, that the desire for sin is not part of God’s original creation; and second, that humans are fully responsible for the way in which they behave in response to their desires.  Therefore, even though the particular sort of desire might vary from individual to individual and across the seasons of life, all desires are subject to the scrutiny of God’s law, as revealed in Scripture.

Consider the partial and biased way in which society often reacts to certain offenses:  if a person is greedy or lustful, it is typically brushed off as a mere weakness or a character flaw, but pedophiles and drunks are judged harshly and made outcasts.  Certainly some actions bring more far-reaching harm to others, but according to this assumption if these individuals were born that way, they should be exempt from any judgment—whether by God or by man. 

The approach Jesus takes in the Gospels is not to debate which sins to excuse and which to condemn.  Instead, He preaches that all of God’s law be taken seriously, so that not only murder, sexual immorality, and theft are to be avoided, but even hatred, lustful thoughts, and covetousness.  And just as all sin, whether in thought, word, or deed, whether by commission or neglect, whether against God or against man, is judged equally seriously; all sin is also forgiven equally freely through trust in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t excuse any sin or declare anyone merely close enough to make it.  Instead, He dies for sin, in the place of sinners, even though not guilty of it Himself.  Then He invites all people to agree with God’s law by acknowledging their failure to keep it and to trust in Him as the substitute who did so in their place. 

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