Increasing And Decreasing


CBS logoHuman nature seems to push us toward selfishness as I noted in “The Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature.” If in doubt, watch CBS’s 60 Minutes video for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:

Lesley Stahl: Sounds to me like the experiment show[s] they [the babies who were the subjects of the experiment] are little bigots.

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: I think to some extent, a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. (emphasis added)

The Bible doesn’t equivocate when it comes to human nature. We are self-deceived and wicked at our core—primarily because of our bias to favor ourselves. We want to win, to be noticed, admired, loved and praised. We want our fifteen minutes of fame, and if we can stretch it out to a half hour, all the better.

The problem for the Christian is that when we push ourselves forward, we are actually stealing the limelight from God. He’s the star, after all, the One who deserves the accolades, who produces the show, who works behind the scenes to hold it all together, who assembles the cast, who writes the checks, and who takes center stage. So when the curtain comes up for the credits, for whom is the applause greatest? The actor playing the page who carried the king’s sword, or the king himself?

Clayton_Kershaw_(8664742364)We live in a celebrity culture. Consequently Christians often flock to “famous Christians,” like Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin or Russel Wilson or Clayton Kershaw. And isn’t it a good thing when people of all stripe, even people of other religions or people of no religion, recognize a “famous Christian” for their talent and intelligence and good deeds?

That’s what the Bible seems to say. We are to let our light shine so that people see our good works (Matt. 5:16). It’s the last part of the verse that I think 21st century Christians seem to have trouble with: “… that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis added). The goal isn’t that they might glorify the Christian, but that they might glorify the God whom we serve.

John the Baptist articulated the principle well. One of his disciples was troubled that the crowds were leaving John and flocking to Jesus. Here’s his answer:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:27-30)

In other words, John’s popularity was a gift from God. But he was not the Messiah. He was the second, the best man, the squire. Understanding his role, he rejoiced to see Jesus get all the attention. That’s what he lived for. To decrease, that Jesus might increase.

In some ways, it seems a person must first increase to get to the point that he can decrease. I mean, if John didn’t have a following, would he ever have been able to say, I must decrease?

But what about the widow who gave her last coin in the temple. She had no following, and she was still willing to decrease that God might increase.

I think our current Christian culture has it wrong. We should not be working to be known so we can make God known. That’s upside down. The widow gave to God because she knew God deserved her very last coin. As a result, God spread her fame down through the ages, to every tribe and tongue where the gospel is preached. She wasn’t after fame, but God gave it to her as a result of her willingness to decrease.

I think too of Boaz and the anonymous relative who could have married Ruth. In that day, a widow had no protection unless a relative of her deceased husband married her. She was also tied to the property her husband may have owned. So Boaz, wanting to take Ruth as his wife, first had to find out if the relative who was closer would step up and do the right thing.

Boaz started by asking the man if he wanted to buy the property which had belonged to the deceased. The relative said, sure. OK, Boaz said, but you know, of course, that means you’ll also have to marry Ruth. Oh, the man answered. Forgot about her. You know, on second thought, this marriage and property purchase isn’t going to work for me after all. It would jeopardize his own inheritance, he said—something about the child of their union would be known as belonging to the first husband, and his land reverting to that side of the family at the jubilee.

It’s a bit too legal and technical for me. But I bring it up because this man who wanted to guard his inheritance is no longer remembered by name. Boaz, however, and Ruth are both recorded in the ancestral record of the Messiah. The one who wanted to increase, didn’t. The one who cared for the widow, who served and protected a foreign woman in need, received recognition throughout the ages.

He must increase. And I must decrease.

My devious mind immediately goes to the idea that, yes, the way for me to get noticed, like the widow Jesus praised, like Boaz, is to put Jesus on display. But that misses the point. God can use even that wrong attitude, as Paul says in Philippians, but the right perspective is to see the way things really are: God, the high and exalted King; I, the servant holding the edge of His train.

Shockingly, this life is really not about me. It’s about God—serving Him, loving Him, listening to Him, abiding with Him, and above all glorifying Him. Seeing Him increase.

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Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature


Baby_meets_stuffed_animalLast Sunday on 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl did an investigative piece on a Yale baby lab which studies the human condition. The scientists who discovered how to determine a baby’s preferences when he is as young as three months old have been studying whether or not a baby has a sense of right and wrong—in other words, whether they have a sense of morality.

And the answer is, yes, resoundingly.

Wesley chose the good guy [puppet] and he wasn’t alone.

More than three fourths of the babies tested reached for the nice puppet. Wynn tried it out on even younger babies, 3 month olds, who can’t control their arms enough to reach. But they can vote with their eyes, since research has shown that even very young babies look longer at things they like. Daisy here looked at the mean puppet for 5 seconds; then switched to the nice one for 33.

Karen Wynn [Yale researcher]: Babies, even at three months, looked towards the nice character and looked hardly at all, much, much, much shorter times, towards the unhelpful character.

After a series of experiments and statical evidence that shows a trend, Lesley Stahl asked if babies actually had a sense of justice since they seemed to favor punishing puppets that did mean or selfish things. The researcher said yes, at an elemental level.

This, of course, is shocking to behaviorists. Stahl asked the question key question:

Lesley Stahl: So, remember B.F. Skinner, who said that we had to teach our children everything through conditioning. So, does this just wipe him off the map?

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: What we’re finding in the baby lab, is that there’s more to it than that — that there’s a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature.

Uh, not a blank slate then. Moral beings. But wait a minute. How, then, do we account for evil. Is that learned behavior?

That would appear to be no. Another series of tests showed things like bias toward those most like us and a desire to withhold good even to anonymous other children and even at personal expense. The researchers concluded then that we’re hardwired not only to know good and evil but to choose evil. (And no, they aren’t using those terms that have religious connotations.)

Karen Wynn: In our studies, babies seem as if they do want the other to be punished.

Lesley Stahl: We used to think that we’re taught to hate. I think there was a song like that. This is suggesting that we’re not taught to hate, we’re born to hate.

Karen Wynn: I think, we are built to, you know, at the drop of a hat, create us and them.

Paul Bloom: And that’s why we’re not that moral. We have an initial moral sense that is in some ways very impressive, and in some ways, really depressing — that we see some of the worst biases in adults reflected in the minds and in the behaviors of young babies.

The immoral behavior isn’t limited to bias against those who are different but extends to greed.

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid —

[Ainsley: I’ll pick green.]

— in some cases, a lot more.

Paul Bloom: The youngest children in the studies are obsessed with social comparison.

[Mark: So you get these seven. She doesn’t get any.

Kendall: Yay!]

Paul Bloom: They don’t care about fairness. What they want is they want relatively more.

Similar experiments with older children, however, showed a reversal of this trend. Now boys and girls were choosing what was fair and in some cases even sacrificing so the other unknown child would have more. Here’s the conclusion:

Paul Bloom: They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for — the selfishness, the bias — but he says the instinct is still there.

Paul Bloom: When we have these findings with the kids, the kids who choose this and not this, the kids in the baby studies who favor the one who is similar to them, the same taste and everything — none of this goes away. I think as adults we can always see these and kind of nod.

Lesley Stahl: Yeah. It’s still in us. We’re fighting it.

Paul Bloom: And the truth is, when we’re under pressure, when life is difficult, we regress to our younger selves and all of this elaborate stuff we have on top disappears.

But of course adversity can bring out the best in us too — heroism, selfless sacrifice for strangers — all of which may have its roots right here.

Paul Bloom: Great kindness, great altruism, a magnificent sense of impartial justice, have their seeds in the baby’s mind. Both aspects of us, the good and the bad are the product I think of biological evolution.

Well, sure. Biological evolution.

And yet, this study basically says what the Bible has said about Mankind all along. We are made in God’s image–therefore heroic, kind, altruistic, filled with a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. And we are fallen so that we have biases and selfishness that no one teaches us. They come from within, from our hearts that are deceitful and, yes, desperately wicked. How much more wicked does it get than to hate? And that’s what those babies in the tests showed.

These Yale studies, by the way, have been written up in professional journals since 2007, so this “discovery” has already been scrutinized by the scientific community.

Anyone who’d like to watch the video of the 60 Minute segment can find it here and anyone who would like to read the entire transcript can find it here.

Published in: on August 2, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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