Thursday Theological Thinking: The Depravity of Man

Lyn over at Bloggin' Outloud had a post that was a continuation of a discussion on the movie Fight Club. I didn't read all the background, nor have I seen the movie in entirety (in large part because I pretty much detest Brad Pitt - who determined that he could act?), though I did watch a little when Tim was watching it. Anyway, someone who reviewed the movie commented that "without a belief in God living "in this mad world would be hypocritical, and a waste of air." This, in turn, sparked comments along the lines that morality is inherent within man's nature. (That's a very brief summary, go read the full thing to get a larger picture if you're interested.)

I don't believe we can make a statement that man is inherently moral. We see in the Psalms (Psalm 14:1-3):

1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Paul quotes this and continues in Romans chapter 3 (vs. 9-18):
9 What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." 13 "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." 14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. That's everyone. Every man, woman, and child on this globe. We're all under sin and none of us do good on our own. However, what got Adam and Eve cast from the garden? Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). From this point, mankind has had the ability to know the difference between right and wrong and the ability to choose to do good or evil. Enter the Law given by God as a standard for morality - a basis for making decisions to do good. So now we know the difference between good and evil, we know what God's choice for us is, and still there is no one who does good. And this is what condemns us. This is what necessitated the death of Jesus as a mechanism for providing justice while still extending mercy, because full observance of the law is impossible - no one can live a perfect life. Paul explains this in the last part of Romans 3 (vs. 20-30)

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Does this mean that there aren't some people who are not believers who are good people? No. As Francis Schaeffer put it, there are some who are less scarred by the fall. Many people adhere to the majority of principles from God's law and do good things and are good people, but even still, that morality is not from themselves, it's from a (perhaps subconsious) acknowledgement of the laws of God. And at the end, they still face judgement and punishment for their sin. Because there is only one way to heaven and that is through faith in Christ. Good works - an overall good life - won't cut it, because it leaves you still covered in sin (1 John 1:8 "If was say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.") and only Christ's death on the cross can take that away.

Man is not inherently moral. The choices we make are not inherently for good - they are inherently self-serving. Sometimes this ends up being "good", or at least not "evil", but this is not a result of a "built-in moral compass". Perhaps it's the result of an upbringing that embraced and taught values based on God's law (with or without knowledge that that was what was being taught) or the result of societal pressures. However, if we look at young children we see man's sinful nature bubbling out in the terrible twos and it is the responsibility of the parent to instill morality.

I'll end on this thought - if morality is inherent, then how does this inherent nature get changed over the course of decades based on political and social movement? One would expect that inherent morality would be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and yet in today's culture we see a huge push to make moral things that just 50 years ago were considered incredibly immoral. If man is endowed with an inherent morality, then how would these changes even be possible? If, however, man's morality comes from an acknowledgement of God's laws - laws that are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow just as God Himself is unchanging - then it is the inherent depravity of man that seeks to normalize the immoral to provide a balm and push society to accept that which is immoral and repugnant to God.


  1. I think there are two ways of interpreting what "man is inherently moral" means. I take it as meaning that we have a sense that right and wrong exist--saying nothing about whether we do right or wrong.

    It reminds me of C. S. Lewis' starting point in Mere Christianity: that a) "[we] have this curious idea that [we] ought to behave in a certain way", and b) "[we] do not behave in that way". You're saying man can't be inherently moral because of b), and I'm saying the opposite because of a).

  2. I agree with Matt above and that was more my point in the summary and response at Bloggin' Outloud. I don't think moral equates with good necessarily, it's the sense of good (of right and wrong) that we are born with. Not that we don't learn it and are shaped by our parents/environment etc (witness the abortion movement that believes in the "morality" of abortion!). So, all that to say, good response - agree with your scriptures and position (how could I now, eh? lol) but will further explore this next week probably. lgp

  3. Posted your Shaeffer paragraph at the end of my entry as an update. Thanks for your comments, lgp