What Does Christianity Say About the Nature of Humans?
by J Warner Wallace
After speaking at a church recently, I was approached by a woman who identified herself as a defense attorney and a Christian. She told me she struggled to understand how some of the suspects I’d arrested for cold-case murders had been able to live law-abiding, uneventful lives for thirty years (or more) following their crimes. She seemed to believe these men and women should not have been unable to live amongst the rest of us without giving themselves away. Her surprise is common amongst those who live and work with killers. When I eventually take a murderer to jail years after he or she committed the crime, their friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers typically express disbelief: “There’s no way Jack could have committed that murder, I’ve known him for twenty years. He’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known!” When a suspect is finally convicted of the crime (and eventually confesses to the murder), those who knew him or her are typically shocked. They shouldn’t be. My cold case murderers were not serial killers. They simply committed one horrific crime and then spent the rest of their life living just like you and me. Nothing in their demeanor ever gave away the fact they were capable of such a thing. They looked like the rest of us. Why? Because they are just like the rest of us; capable of greatness, but fallen to their core.
Even before I was a Christian, I recognized the innately fallen nature of humans. If you are a parent, you also have some empirical evidence from which to draw. You know you don’t have to teach your infant to be selfish, impatient, rude and self-serving. Infants must be taught to be just the opposite; goodness is not an innate quality of humans. We don’t come into the world with this type of disposition. We must be taught how to love, how to think beyond our own needs and desires, how to share and appreciate others. Do you remember the experiment you studied in high school in which monkeys were taken from their mothers and raised without any personal contact, comfort or love? How did they turn out? They were sociopaths; angry, evil and dangerous. This was, in fact, their base nature unless they were taught to be something different.
Both atheists and theists have to explain the innately fallen nature of humans, especially given the fact we are simultaneously capable of kindness and nobility. This is often described as “the enigma of man” and the Christian Scriptures capture and describe this reality with surprising clarity and foresight. While we have been created in the image of God (and, as a result, are capable of greatness) we were given the dangerous freedom to love genuinely. We sometimes abuse this freedom as rebellious creatures. The Bible describes human nature as innately fallen from birth, incapable of true goodness (without God’s assistance) and unwilling (on our own) to seek the face of God…
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