Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Will of God. Part 1, Total Depravity = Total Confusion

I am convinced that believing in Calvin’s total depravity is the first step into the nebulous wondering state of “God… what is your Will???”

We have been taught since birth, if you have grown up in a non-Eastern Orthodox or Evangelical Church, that we are born totally evil. This is just not true. We are born sinful, but we are not born demons from hell, completely abandoned by God. That total abandonment only happened once to one man and he suffered that eternal moment it so we would not have to.

No, first we must come to terms with the Doctrine of Original Sin and get a better grasp of who we are, how we are made, and what exactly we did inherit and pass on.

The reason the idea of Total Depravity (a doctrine developed by Luther and further by Calvin) is harmful for knowing God’s will is because it sets us up with the premise that every desire we have or thing that we do is totally evil. We attempt to rectify the problem by saying “Well I must always do what contradicts my spontaneous desires or personal interest and then I can’t miss the mark of God’s will.”

Thomas Merton, probably the best Theologian to come out of America wrote in his wonderful book “Life and Holiness” these beautiful words.

“Human nature is not evil. All pleasure is not wrong. All spontaneous desires are not selfish. The doctrine of original sin does not mean that human nature has been completely corrupted and that man’s freedom is always inclined to sin. Man is neither devil nor an angel. He is not a pure spirit, but a being of flesh and spirit, subject to error and malice, but basically inclined to seek truth and goodness. He is, indeed a sinner: but his heart responds to love and grace. It also responds to the goodness and to the need of his fellow man.”

That is why you are very likely to find a non-Christian at times, the first person to help someone in a dire situation. One of the kindest people I know is an Atheist. How can this be? The doctrine of original sin states that all of their goodness comes from God because even though they do not know Christ, they are not totally deprived of the goodness of God. It is a shame that innate goodness so graciously given to them will not fully bloom without the Light of Christ inside of them, but they can still surely do good things and still surely die while doing good things. This is man's punishment for sin. Death, not total depravity. We are faced with death, each one. It isn't whether we do good things that get us to Heaven, it is whether we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Christ died for those sins that determines our destination.

That is why we can find goodness even in the worst of human beings. That is why we are called to love our enemies. There is some remnant of God in there. God did not totally abandon us. For us to know God we must have God in us to recognize Him. For without Him working in us, we could not know Him.


Seth Ward said...

Many of you will silently or vocally disagree with me. I am okay with that. Hopefully through our disagreements we can better understand each other.

euphrony said...

I'll agree with you. The premise that we are born steeped in sin is a fallacy. We do not "inherit" sin, and the sin of one man (Adam) cannot condemn all men. Because the bearing of that sin by one perfect man/God on the cross brings us salvation does not mean that its converse is true.

We are told in Jeremiah 31:29 and Ezekiel 18:2-3:

"In those days they will not say again,
'The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children's teeth are set on edge.'"

But even today, some two and a half millennia later, we still buy this false proverb that God directly denounced twice. Or, at least, we buy it in a way that is not true; the children do suffer the sins of the father (consequences have a way of being unavoidable) but they are not sinful because of the father.

Good thoughts.

Seth Ward said...

Hey Euphrony, I think you might have misunderstood me and that would be entirely my fault. But maybe you didn't. I actually DO believe in the doctrine of original Sin, which is different in Total Depravity. I believe that we were born sinful and need redemption. I believe that "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." Then verse 22 amplifies: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (Cor.)

Original Sin states that even though we are born hard-wired to sin we are not born totally evil and totally bent towards evil. We do sin and are sinful but we also seek to know God and want to do good. Total Depravity states that every thing we do out of our own will is evil at its core. The biggest problem with this assessment is that at ITS core lies the absence of free will and that God made something for the purpose of doing Evil.

Then again I may be misunderstanding your statement. These are pretty deep theological waters so misunderstanding each other is pretty common. In any case it is a great topic I think and I appreciate your thoughts.

euphrony said...

You were a little confusing in your post, but I think I understood you. We are, perhaps, a little closer on this than what can be easily communicated in a hastily typed comment.

Original Sin, I think, is more often equated in peoples minds to Total Depravity. It is a great shame that there are those who walk around in constant fear of their salvation because they think that if they die suddenly, without repentance for that last minor sin, they will be found in the deprived nature of man and not the grace of God. (Am I changing the subject? My brain is a little tired this week, so it really is rambling.)

We are man, and not God, and so we are not perfect. The sin of Adam and Eve brought us the knowledge of good and evil, and with that knowledge is culpability. Because of the innocence of children, I would argue that they are not culpable in that they do not know their sin; thus I argue against infant baptism and one of the reasons it was initiated (during the Black Death?) to try to make sure that the children were saved before the disease took them. (Rambling again?)

shaun groves said...

Yes, all men, regardless of their stance on or relationship with God, can help another person or strive for an ideal they call "good." But what is the motivation?

"Good" is not just what we do but why we do it and by what power it is done.


Seth Ward said...

I think that we would agree that God is the only SOURCE of Goodness but I think that he leaves you with the choice to do it or not. What the doctrine of Original Sin states is that we are still left with some of His resemblance of his character or image even after the fall whereas total depravity, correct me if I am wrong, that every decision man makes is out of a selfish and that they originate out of human passions and desires which are at their core innately evil, thus annihilating any real free choice to do good without God's divine intervention, or pulling the puppet strings and in the end bearing no resemblance to our maker.

Original Sin: Man is still free to do good and even wants to do good, even though he is prone to sin and sinful. "I do what I do NOT want to do" which implies that Paul initially wants to do good. One sin would and does mean death and we are born into that condition.

Total Depravity: Man is not capable of any good because he is prone to sin and sinful.

If total Depravity is true then the very act of deciding to have faith is evil. Why do you want faith? Well, because I don't want to go to hell- a selfish reason. This put Calvin in the position of saying “well then, it really has zero to do with anything that we ‘do’ because all we can do is evil. So God creates you for the heavens or for the fire, whether you like it or not.”

If you go by Original Sin you would believe that choosing to have faith is a good work, though it may not save you, it is still good and you did it. To say that you only did it with God's help is really an obvious point, I think, considering you wouldn't even breath or exist if it weren't for the spontaneous and continuous act of His will sustaining you. He created a free will within that system and you can do good or evil with it. You can choose God or good or you can refuse him and do evil. You send yourself to Hell, God doesn't make that choice for you.

Sorry, I may have rambled on without understanding your question, so I'll stop there.

shaun groves said...

Here's my understanding of the topic.

At the Fall man's intellect, emotions, desires, body and will were warped. An intellect given by God to recognize and understand God became "darkened", to use Paul's word. The emotions that once drew us toward God then drew us toward "passions and lusts" that did not please God. Our desires, originally loving what God loved and hating what He hated, after the Fall flip-flopped. Our bodies once perpetually perfect, now buckle under the passage of time and the ravages of disease. Our will, once to please God alone, now naturally turns toward self-interest.

We are still, after the Fall, in God's image. But that image is now warped. We have a sinful nature, meaning - I think - partly, that sin comes naturally. Our default settings have been changed from holiness to selfishness. We are objects of God's disdain because of this.

I don't know to what extent we are "depraved". I do believe, because of the many verses I've found to support the idea, that we can choose Christ. That ability is given to all and given by God - so even our faith has to be given to us. That's one measure of how warped or "poor in spirit" we are.

God also chooses us. And that is the mystery.

God draws all people to Himself. Not all people respond. Yet our response is a gift from God. Why isn't it given to all. I just don't know. And I think Calvinism is one man's answer - pretty late in history - to reconciling these conflicting ideas.

One last thing and then I'll shut up.

The Fall's effects on us are countered by the new identity (we are children of God), new purity (we are clothed in his righteousness), new disposition (we want what God wants at our core), and new power (the Spirit) given to every Christian. I am essentially a new creation with my default's reset by God, but sin (the old fallen settings) is still at work in me. My core though, my spirit, is rich and new and alive. I am no longer, in this sense, fallen and depraved - though I am dependent upon God still to overcome the power of sin in me so that my life reflects my newness.

Make sense?

That's my understanding. Anything you want to correct or question. This is a good exercise for me, to be able to write out my core beliefs on this subject without it being my blog! Freedom!

shaun groves said...

btw. I'm writing a chapter on poverty of spirit right now. I'd love to send it to you when I'm "done" just to see if what you think and make sure I'm being as clear as I think I'm being.

Seth Ward said...

I think that was very well put. Very Clear.

I would agree that God gives us the freedom to choose him. I would also agree that God gives us the grace to choose him. I would disagree with the notion that God gives some enough grace and others not enough. I agree that there is a
hardwired opposition, because of original sin, which by God's grace, we must overcome. But I don't think God has stacked grace on some due to a specific intent to save some and not others.

I agree with your assessment of our nature: "Our default settings have been changed from holiness to selfishness." However I don't think that we are so badly depraved that we must be "forced" to accept God's grace.

It is also a Manichaean assumption that inclined to evil at ALL times. Calvin did not realize it but he was lining up with the Manichean principles of inclinations at all times to evil. So in that way, what Calvin was saying wasn't that new.

The line that you seem to draw is still clear. You still choose. A Calvinist believes that God has specifically arranged things to "force" people he wants to be saved. Forced is a strong word but I hardly see how else you could put it. It would be like saying I am going to starve the lion to near-death and then slap a big juicy zebra-chop in his jaws, move the mouth to chew, tilt his head back to swallow, message the throat and leave it up to him to gulp. But then for others I am going to starve them, then tell them about the zebra chop from a distance and then tranquilize them so they can't move to get it or move into a place to even smell it or know that it is really there.

I think, if I understand you, where you stand is:

Rather, God knows that they are starving and put the zebra-chop in front of each of them and let them both choose whether they want to eat it, however, he knew who would and wouldn't from the beginning but chose to put them there anyways.

And yes, I need watching Disney movies before I talk theology.

I particularly like this paragraph of yours:

"The Fall's effects on us are countered by the new identity (we are children of God), new purity (we are clothed in his righteousness), new disposition (we want what God wants at our core), and new power (the Spirit) given to every Christian. I am essentially a new creation with my default's reset by God, but sin (the old fallen settings) is still at work in me. My core though, my spirit, is rich and new and alive. I am no longer, in this sense, fallen and depraved - though I am dependent upon God still to overcome the power of sin in me so that my life reflects my newness."

Oh and heck yes I'll read those chapters. Send em' up. Love to.