Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Are the Depraved

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In my previous blog entry I described the sensus divinitatis and the conviction of sin. The big moral principles are (1) love God with all your heart, soul and mind; (2) love thy neighbor as thyself. We don’t follow these principles as well as we should; hence sin. Part of the Christian faith is that we are sinners in need of a savior, but are we really that bad?

I think we human beings are a lot more depraved than we tend to think, and that we don’t always value what we claim to value. We may say we value our fellow human being as much as ourselves, but how often do we buy things we don’t need when that money could go to clothe the naked or feed the hungry? For definiteness, consider a hypothetical man named Smith who buys an expensive big screen television. I being the occasionally unpleasant fellow ask Smith, “Do you value having a big screen television over starving children being fed?” Smith answers, “Of course not.” I reply, “Then why are you spending a sizable sum on the big screen television instead of donating that money to feed starving children?” Smith might say that such an act would be supererogatory rather than morally obligatory. Perhaps it would be supererogatory, but that doesn’t change the unpleasant fact that Smith is valuing having a large television over feeding starving children. Smith has a choice between having children desperately in need of food being fed and having a big screen television, and Smith chooses the television. For this reason Smith is more depraved than he thinks, and Smith is not alone. Most if not all of us are depraved in having a similarly selfish and lopsided value system (e.g. valuing a large television over a fellow human being) and this is largely why the human race has failed to conquer world hunger.

On a similar note, to what degree would forgoing the television purchase and feeding the hungry really be supererogatory? When Smith’s flawed value system is considered, how well is Smith fulfilling his moral obligation to love others as himself? Would Smith let himself starve so that another could have a large television? Probably not. Smith is not, I think, being entirely successful in following the Jesus’ command here.

I do not consider myself more righteous than Smith; if anything I am worse because I am more acutely aware of the problem on a more consistent basis, and while I donate to charity to some degree, it is far below the threshold of what a perfectly moral being would do. I do not value in a way that I ought to value. I, like Smith, am a depraved sinner.

God values us more than we value our fellow human beings. God was willing not merely to give up a large television but suffer to the extreme for our benefit—to die and bleed on a cross. He did this not merely for those who loved him but even for those who hated him. Would we do this for strangers or our enemies? We’d like to say we’d die for others, but we are often unwilling to make even little sacrifices (televisions etc.) for those who desperately need it.

When the call to give is given, the knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice for us makes it more painful for me to refuse, but does it make it easier to accept? Not as much as I’d like. In my my previous blog entry I noted that if I were not a Christian I would still believe that there is a moral standard beyond me and that I have fallen short of it. But it goes further. Even if I were not a Christian I would recognize that if there is heaven where people eternally commune with God, I am very much unworthy of it. I would need God’s grace to enter into something like that.

We value televisions over people. We value our own personal comfort over the desperate needs of the starving orphan. We are the depraved.

God help us.