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our human condition pt 1



Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  (John 3:3-4 ESV)

Nicodemus was a seeker.  He was sincere.  He believed that Jesus was from God.  He was by all accounts learned, wise, and morally upright.  And yet, he did not understand the need for the new birth, or the nature of it, and was not yet able to see or enter the kingdom of God.

[The painting above is by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859--1937), one of the many studies he did of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night.]   

Today's posts regard our human condition as viewed by God, specifically, our sinful nature.  The corruption of our nature, what many theologians call "total depravity", begins with the fall in Genesis 3.  

The man and woman are beings created in God's image (Gen. 1-2), having a mind and a will, and the ability to make righteous decisions, to communicate, to have relationships, to multiply, and to have dominion over nature.  They were good, ...but not unchangeably good.  This was a probationary time, and there's a test: choose to trust God as their wise Creator, and avoid eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

In faithfulness they could have taken God at his word, learned all goodness from him, and rejected being autonomous (autos/self + nomos/law) creatures.  To eat from the forbidden tree was to choose to know, experience, and judge good and evil for themselves.  It was to aspire to be God rather than a creature dependent upon God.  

So the couple believes the lie of another creature, one whom the man as protector should have driven out of the Garden.  They partake of the fruit.  The rest is history, or misery, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).

Q. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. Three things:
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

Herman Bavinck comments on the seriousness of the Fall: 

"Although the first humans were tempted, they were not brought down as innocent children who did not know better.  They deliberately and freely broke God's commandment; they knew what they were doing and wanted to do it.  There is no room here for excuses.  The circumstances under which the first sin was committed by angels and humans, rather than extenuated the guilt, tend rather to aggravate it.  It was done against God's express and clear command, by a person created in God's image, in a matter of little consequence that hardly required any self-denial, and very likely soon after the command had been received.  It has become the source of all the iniquities and horrors, all the calamities and misfortunes, all the sickness and death suffered and committed in the world since.  From this source have sprung all those tears (Hinc illae lacrimonae [hence those tears])!  The sin of Adam cannot be a minor thing.  It must have been a fundamental reversal of all relationships, a revolution by which the creature detached himself from and positioned himself against God, an uprising, a fall in the true sense, which was decisive for the whole world and took it in a direction and on a road away from God, toward wickedness and corruption--an unspeakably great sin.  This is how seriously the first sin has been regarded in the Christian church and Christian theology.  It was a fall in the true sense, not a half-conscious, virtually innocent aberration, much less an instance of development and progress."   (Reformed Dogmatics, III:128-29)

And so proceeds not only guilt upon the human race but also a corrupted nature is transmitted to all the descendants. 

The proper understanding of the source of our misery, and how God himself provides our deliverance, is the first step to discovering the confident hope stated in the first Q & A in the Heidelberg...




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