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The Bondage of the Will

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Michelangelo's painting of the sin of Adam and...

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It’s obvious from looking at the current state of the world that the human condition is broken. Wars, invasions, suicide bombers using women and children. The mayor of one the largest cities in the country is facing charges ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice–all while his city is crumbling economically around him. What is going on in the world today? Is this all we have to look forward to? More of the same?

Left to our own devices, we humans sin. The effects of sin are all around us, and can be seen daily simply by picking up a newspaper, watching the news on TV, or reading the RSS newsfeeds. Why the propensity to sin?

Mankind simply has it in his heart to sin. God has a perfect plan for our lives, and we can only have it by perfect obedience to his Law. Not the Mosaic Law, mind you, but the Law of God that is written in the hearts of all mankind, that which we instinctively know is right and wrong morally. The Mosaic Law is often points to the standard, but it is far from the standard. We know the standard.

For example, if you are in line for a ride at an amusement park, and someone jumps into line ahead of you, do you not know instinctively that this person did something wrong? You don’t need a Bible or a lawyer to know that you just got wronged. That isn’t fair, is it?

The question becomes, “How do we know that that was unfair?” There is nothing on the law books that prevents someone from cutting in line. There is nothing in the Bible that prevents us from cutting into line. No philosophical discourses have been written to my knowledge about the dynamics of an amusement park line which set down codified rules for proper behavior in the line. The point is that no written rule covers this, yet we would label that as “unfair.”

As an aside, I am very aware that most amusement parks forbid cutting into line in a written rule format. I realize that the penalty for cutting is generally removal from the park without a refund. But we still have no need of this to know that someone cutting into line like that is unfair. Why? What is this standard of behavior that seems to be within us that speaks to us and tells us that someone cutting into line is unfair?

The atheists have half a dozen answers. Memes, parental teaching, and social evolution are just three examples. The Christian says that God wrote that Law on men’s hearts. I’m not here to debate any of these points. It is enough to establish that this moral law exists to move on, and I believe that I have provided enough of an example that it does exist.

Whatever the circumstance, we humans seldom have need of a codified set of laws to know right from wrong. We instinctively know, for example, that a young man should give up his seat for an elderly woman on a bus or train. We also know that it is wrong to lie. For the most part, men are happy to surrender their seats to the elderly or infirm, and most people are pretty forthcoming with the truth. There is no need to write behaviors like these into laws because most people follow them without incident.

But no one follows these things 100%. Given an opportunity, all people will transcend one or two of these rules of etiquette. Whether it is something simple, like being incredibly rude to a stranger, or pretending to be asleep so that you don’t have to give up your seat to the old woman; or something more complex like modifying a story so that you look like the hero to your friends, most people will violate one of these little rules at one time or another. Everyone does it at some point. It is inescapable.

So far, we’ve established the existence of a moral code outside of the person. We’ve established that no one follows it 100% of the time. Mind that I’m not saying that people transcend this law all of the time, or even most of the time. I’m saying that, from time to time, people can and do violate this moral law. People cut in lines, refuse to surrender a seat to sick person, and tell tall tales about the size and number of fish that they caught. It isn’t all the time, but it does happen. Some people violate the law more often than others, but everyone is guilty of violating it at some point.

Violating this law is what leads the world to what it is today: corrupt politicians, wars, suicide bombers, and economic strife. These are bigger violations of the moral law then just exaggerating the number and size of a fish; this is being selfish to the core when you should be thinking about the greater good of those you serve. This is standing by and watching your city lose populace and sink further into a recession while doing absolutely nothing to stimulate its economy. These are greater transgressions of this law than you or I are likely guilty of.

Transgressing this law is the definition of sin. The first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden by Adam when he ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He thought that he could be like God, that he could be lord and master of his own life. That’s what sin really is, at its core. It is humanity thinking that it can do better than what God tells us is right. Sin is inward.

Consider the old woman who comes on the bus. The young man pretends to sleep. Why? Selfishness–he wants a comfortable seat so he makes the elderly woman stand while he sits. This is pure selfishness–it is looking inward when he should be looking outward and considering the old woman’s situation before he considers his own.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” are the words that Jesus quoted when asked about the greatest commandment. First, he told the Pharisees to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and strength.” Then he said the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Is not budging from your seat for an elderly or infirm woman loving her as yourself?

Jesus taught us to practice selflessness, but more often than not we practice selfishness. And it’s no wonder; the human will is enslaved to sin. The Bible is very clear on this point. Most humans today think that people are generally good. This isn’t the case; all people at the core are evil. Starting with the basic assumption that people are good is a modern error of many evangelical churches. They teach that mankind is sick in sin; but really mankind is dead in sin.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on August 15, 2008, in Morality, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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