Posts tagged ‘Depravity’

The Dioceses of Pennsylvania

In what is the biggest sex scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church yet, a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, released last Tuesday, found that over 300 priests from across six dioceses in that state abused sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over a period of 70 years.

As The New York Times explains, the report:

…catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

Even more tragically, the report also notes that there are likely many more victims who were and are too afraid to come forward.

How was this able to continue for so long among so many?  According to the grand jury, church officials seemed to have a method of intentionally and even maliciously obfuscating what was happening.  For instance, the grand jury reports that when a sexual assault came to light, church records would never clearly identify a horrific crime like rape.  Instead church officials would employ euphemisms such as “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” to describe the crime.  Many priests who sexually assaulted children, instead of being defrocked, would simply be moved to another parish where their sins were not known.

This is gut wrenching stuff.  But it is more than that.  It is downright wicked.  It is godless.  It is satanic.  But it is also, terrifyingly, human.

What humans are capable of is truly shocking.  History is littered with numberless testaments to the bottomlessness of human depravity.  The prophet Jeremiah aptly describes the horrifying proclivities of the human heart when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?  Jeremiah is not being hyperbolic here.  The human heart and all it entails – emotions, desires, and drives – really is deceitful above everything else.  There is nothing so dangerous as the human heart.

Jeremiah’s question of the heart – “Who can know it?”, or, as another translation puts it, “Who can understand it?” – takes on fresh meaning in light of this scandal.  It seems nearly impossible to fully understand how any heart can commit this kind of sin for so long against so many.  But even if we could understand the darkness in the hearts behind these crimes, it would, ultimately, do us no good.  Understanding cannot undo a crime, restore a violated little body, or comfort a crushed soul.  What we need is not understanding, but change.  We don’t need to analyze the human heart; we need to guard our own hearts.  In the words of Solomon, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Yes, indeed.  What we do flows from what’s in our hearts.  That is why our hearts must always be Christ’s home.

August 20, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Big Picture

Micro Macro 1I have often made the point, when teaching various Bible classes, that, in Christianity, theology and anthropology are inextricably intertwined.  You can’t really understand anthropology if you don’t understand theology and you can’t really understand theology if you don’t understand anthropology.

Here’s why.  Theology without anthropology undermines the gospel.  After all, the heart of the gospel is what God has done for us!  He sent Jesus to die and rise for us!  Without understanding the anthropological “for us” of the gospel, we are left with a system of theology that is more akin to Deism than it is to Christianity.  For without the gospel’s anthropological association, God is left distant and detached from the creation He formed.  Conversely, anthropology without theology also undermines the gospel.  It is theology, after all, that tells us who we are anthropologically and why we need Jesus.  And the verdict on who we are anthropologically is not good:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Apart from an understanding of God’s verdict on us as sinners, we are all too readily tempted to think of ourselves as better, nobler, and loftier than we really are.  Thus, in order to truly understand the peril of our sinful state, we must understand what the Bible says theologically about our brokenness anthropologically.

I bring all of this up because I have been doing some thinking lately about the anthropological side of Christianity.  And what I have come to realize is that while Christian authors, pastors, and leaders will spend a lot of time addressing the anthropological side of Christianity on a micro scale, sometimes, macro anthropological concerns can get marginalized.

Here’s what I mean.  The Christian arena is replete with resources on marriage, addiction, finances, relationships and other personal, or micro, concerns.  And these resources are needed and, I would add, popular!  What is less popular in our day, however, are resources that address macro anthropological issues of cultural trends, power structures, injustice, and societally systemic sins as well as their broad historical and philosophic foundations.  Part of the reason I would guess these resources are less popular is because addressing macro anthropological issues is an inevitably more complex, convoluted, and academic exercise than addressing micro anthropological issues due to the sheer size and the extended historical timelines of these macro anthropological issues.  Furthermore, because it is the micro anthropological concerns that most directly and immediately affect us, it is easy to look at what only directly affects us right now than consider the broader concerns of our world over time.

But Christianity calls us to consider both ourselves and our world.  For Christianity, among other things, is a worldview.  And without understanding Christianity’s anthropological entailments on a macro scale and their insights into how we, knowingly or unknowingly, are shaped by the history, philosophy, and culture to which we are heirs and of which we are a part, we will inevitably have trouble, and ultimately be unsuccessful, in addressing and resolving our own micro concerns.  This is why so much of the language of the Bible is cosmic.  For God’s final promise is not only that He will only fix our personal problems, but that He will redeem our world.  In the words of the apostle John:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Make no mistake about it:  God cares about the micro.  He cares about your tears and your pain and your worries and your regrets.  But He will fix your micro concerns in His macro way: He will make everything new.  So perhaps we should spend a little more time thinking about “everything” that God will make new and a little less time thinking only about our micro concerns.

April 15, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hope in the Midst of a Colorado Tragedy

The Century 16 Theatre at which James Holmes opened fire during the movie, “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.”

When 24 year-old neuroscience Ph.D. candidate dropout James Holmes burst into an Aurora, Colorado theatre at a midnight premier of “Batman:  The Dark Knight Rises” in full tactical gear with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol, packing as many as 6,000 rounds, the carnage was nearly instant.  Twelve are dead.  Over fifty are wounded.

Almost immediately, investigators sprung into action, trying to answer the same question they always try to answer after an act of senseless violence like this:  “Why?”  So far, Holmes hasn’t left us much to go on.

One of the things that strikes me about this mass shooting is how utterly elusive Holmes’ motive seems to be.  He has no Facebook page to scour for clues.  He has no Twitter account to review.  He didn’t host a blog.  He wasn’t connected to anyone on LinkedIn.  In an era of ubiquitous social media, investigators have not been able to turn to any of these standard-fare communal clearinghouses for insight into this man’s mind.  His police record has left investigators just as mystified.  One traffic violation in 2011.  That’s it.  No arrests.  No prior investigations.  Nothing that would lead officers to believe this man could or would explode in a rampage of mass murder.

The L.A. Times has been hard at work trying to understand Holmes’ motive, interviewing several people who knew him, albeit not very well.  Here is how they describe him:

  • “A generally pleasant guy…James was certainly not someone I would have ever imagined shooting somebody.” – James Goodwin, high school classmate
  • “He was very quiet…He was a nice guy when you did occasionally talk to him.  But he was definitely more introverted.” – Tori Burton, fellow with the National Institutes of Health
  • “A super-nice kid…kinda quiet…really smart…He didn’t seem like a troublemaker at all.  He just seemed like he wanted to get in and out, and go to college.” – Dan Kim, UC San Diego student[1]

The portrait of Holmes, even if not particularly profound, is incredibly consistent.  He was nice.  He was smart.  He was studious.  He was introverted.  And he did what?  He massacred how many?

Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day, “On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).  Jesus knew the goodness a person presents on the outside often conflicts with the darkness he harbors on the inside.  And as it was with the religious leaders, so it is with James Holmes.  On the outside, Holmes looked like a bright, promising Ph.D. student.  But on the inside, as we are now learning, he was full of dark aspiration.

The Bible has a word for this conflict between a person’s externally righteous appearance and his internally depraved heart:  hypocrisy.  This is why Jesus begins His diatribe against the religious leaders by saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13)!  In the ancient world, a “hypocrite” was an actor – someone who put on a mask to perform in a play.   Though the actor presented himself as one person on stage, he was, in reality, another person in his day-to-day life.

What is so sad about James Holmes is that, as he burst into that theatre filled with moviegoers, he was not necessarily being hypocritical, at least in a theological sense.  Instead, he was – as the doctrine of human depravity makes all too horrifyingly clear – just being himself.  He was carrying out in a shower of gunfire the sin that, exacerbated by what seems to be an apparent mental illness, had been smoldering in his heart for a long time.  And lest we pontificate on Holmes’ wickedness from a position of self-righteous arrogance, we must remember that the same depraved root of sinfulness that lives in Holmes’ heart lives in every human heart – even in our hearts.  As the prophet Jeremiah soberly says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

In a situation as devastating as this one, Christians are in a unique position both to minister to the hurting on the one hand and to speak honestly about the depth of human wickedness on the other.  To the hurting – especially to those who have lost loved ones – we can offer a shoulder to cry on and a message of hope:  “Christ conquers death!”  To those who ask “Why?” we can respond with one, simple word:  “sin.”  Sin led to this act.  Sin leads to all wicked acts.  Sin leads to our wicked acts.  But, like with death, Christ conquers sin.

As this story continues to unfold, we are sure to learn more about the gunman – his background, his possible motive, and, perhaps, his personal demons.  But no matter how much we may learn about his past, we cannot change the past.  Loved ones will still be lost.  Survivors will still bear physical and emotional scars from that dreadful night.  And the hearts of so many will still be broken.  The past will stand as it is right now:  tragic.  Only Christ can take this terrible moment from our past and redeem it in the future – when He calls those who trust in Him to rise from death to eternal life, unscarred and unmarred even by a gunman’s bullets.  And so in our distress, we hope and trust in Him.  What else can we do?


[1]Complex portrait emerges of suspected Colorado gunman James Holmes,” Los Angeles Times (7.20.12).

July 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Tackling Temptation

"The Temptation of Christ" by Ary Scheffer (1854)

Whether or not you or a loved one has struggled with alcoholism, the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have become nearly ubiquitously helpful to millions who struggle with an addiction, habit, or hurt.  What I find so interesting about the Twelve Steps is that Step One is essentially an explication of the Christian doctrine of human depravity: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Of course, one could insert a whole array of different sins in place of the word “alcohol.”  “We admitted we were powerless over lust – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  “We admitted we were powerless over greed – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  “We admitted we were powerless over self-righteousness – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about the trials of temptation.  Satan is a “tempter,” the Bible reminds us (Matthew 4:3), and wants nothing more than to drag us into sin.  And, just as with any other banal allurement or enticement, under our own power, we are helpless to resist Satan’s taunting temptations.  As AA would remind us, “We admitted we were powerless over temptation – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Sadly, human depravity in the face of sinful temptation is born out again and again in the Scriptures.  When Cain is tempted to murder his brother Abel, God warns Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).  But Cain does not master his sin.  He falls to temptation and kills his brother, Abel.  When Israel is led out of their slavery in Egypt and God ushers them into a place of prosperity, God warns the people:  “When your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:13-14).  God’s warning against forgetting Him proves to be eerily prophetic: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God” (Judges 3:7).  The allurements and enticements of this world are too overwhelming and overburdening for any human to face and defeat.

Augustine described powerlessness of humans against temptation and transgression using the Latin phrase, non posse non pecarre, meaning, we are “not able not to sin.”  Blessedly, however, Jesus has the remedy for the dourness of our depravity.  For He stands up under temptation on our behalf.  In our text for this past weekend from Matthew 4:1-11, we read how Jesus takes His stand against the devil’s temptations not once, not twice, but three times.  Jesus then takes this victory over temptation and gives it to us by means of His death on the cross.  The preacher of Hebrews explains: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  Because Jesus stood up under temptation, we have the mercy and grace that we need to help us in our time of temptation.  For without God’s mercy and grace, we are powerless to resist the allurements and enticements of this world.

So when you are tempted, look not to your own strength, will, or fortitude, but to the cross.  For on the cross Christ encounters a final temptation from a crowd of jeerers: “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40)!  Interestingly, this phrase – “If you are the Son of God – is the same phrase Satan uses to tempt Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4 (cf. Matthew 4:3, 6).  But as with Satan, Christ resists this temptation too.  He does not come down from the cross.  Instead, He dies to achieve victory over sin.  And so on that cross, our victory over temptation is secured.  Praise be to God!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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