Good News and the Problem in Man

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In marshaling ideas and plans for social reforms, many believed that man is inherently good. Such view was championed by the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1772-1778). The problem, according to him, is the society – it corrupts man in his own being. In result of that philosophy, Rousseau popularized his own maxim: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

The problem, however, in that view is the fact that society itself is a composition of men. That is, societies don’t exist without people because people make societies. Great people produce great society. On the other hand, terrible people produce a terrible society. And to adopt the view of Rossueau makes us reason in a circle.

On the contrary, experience tells us that man has the problem (if not is the problem). That is, man is inherently bad. Every war exists solely because the people of different societies don’t agree. And they are willing to subjugate to prove their point. The preceding centuries is a witness to that. Carl Gustav Jung, who founded analytical psychology made a remarkable comment that validates our observation: “It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not starvation, not microbes, not cancer, but man himself who is mankind’s greatest danger” [1]. And in seeing the problem in himself, D. L. Moody made a humble but honest statement: “I have more trouble with D. L. Moody than with any other man I’ve ever met” [2]. This reality, of course, is not surprising. The Bible already diagnosed the problem of man as sin. 

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6, ESV).

Sin primarily is an act of rebellion against a holy and a just God. It not only severs our relation with Him (vertically), but it also compromises our relationships with one another (horizontally). And more often than not, it leaves us with a meaningless life, for ultimate meaning comes only by having a right relationship to Him who is the ultimate. To give some examples, consider the observations made by some of our past thinkers. The Nobel-Prize winner in literature, Albert Camus (1913-1960), made a staggering statement that expresses the hollowness of life. In the beginning of an essay, he said: “There is only one really serious philosophical question [that I must answer], and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy” [3]. Earlier, Voltaire (1694-1778) also made a similar observation through his literature:

Man is a stranger to his own research; He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes. Tormented atoms in a bed of mud, Devoured by death, a mockery of fate. [4]

Such observations are alarming, if not sobering, about the reality of living a hollow life. This is a result of the Fall. “All things are wearisome, more than one can say,” as what the writer of Ecclesiastes lamented (Eccl. 1:8). This also is what Paul meant when he proclaimed that “the creation was subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20). No one is exempted from the problem. And that is not an overstatement!

But sin is a politically incorrect word. It is the last word you want to consider when you want to be heard. Mention anything offensive, but not sin. However, if we will not recognize the reality of sin, we will in turn make our condition even worse. Because denying reality doesn’t solve the problem, rather it makes it even worse. This is affirmed by late famed psychologist Hobart Mauer, who got his doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins, who taught at Yale and Harvard, and who also became the president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Mauer was an atheist. Though a very educated man, he ended his life by committing suicide. But let us consider what he said:

For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense, that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost… In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics, themselves, we find ourselves asking: Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living mean? [5]

Mauer was right. Denying sin “is to court the danger of also becoming lost.” Here’s my point – unless sin is recognized, no amount of treatment will satisfy. Penicillin will never ever remove a brain tumor. Not in this actual world. For example, Karl Marx (1818-1883), who was highly influenced by Rousseau’s thinking, tried to cure the problem of society by his Communist agenda. However, far from solving the problem, he made it even worse. It had cost a death of millions. From Germany, to Russia, and to North Korea. And the list can go on.

But only the gospel…

But far from living in despair, there is a way out. The apostle Paul, who had an encounter with the risen Christ, talked about this way out. It is the way that none of this world can give. He even risked his life in proclaiming it. That way out is the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The same gospel enabled him to rejoice in the midst of suffering; when he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again” (2 Cor. 11:13, NIV). That is, the same gospel gave him hope when he even despaired life itself (1:8), knowing the reward that awaits him. That is, when he is finally going to meet his Master who will say unto him, “Well done, good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).

This gospel is the good news that the God of the universe, took on human flesh, and “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). That we may be forgiven and redeemed. That we may live this life in the full (Jn. 10:10). And that we may enter into the joy of our Lord that none of this world can plunder.

[1] Kenneth D. Boa & Robert M. Bowman Jr., 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists, 119.

[2] Ibid., 120.

[3] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York: Vintage, 1991), 3.

[4] Voltaire, “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” in A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays, trans. Joseph McCabe (New York: Prometheus, 1994), 1-7.

[5]  Hobart Mauer, “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils,” American Psychologist, 15 (1960): 301-304.