How Deserving Are We?

picture by Penny Mathews

From time to time I write about a pandemic we’re coping with here in the US — that of deserve-itis. (See “Our Just Deserts” for example). Over and over we’re told we deserve better. The latest arguments I’ve heard have to do with deserving loan modification and a government that adheres to the Constitution.

Are these actually things we deserve as opposed to things we want?

Another term for what we deserve is “entitlements,” for some reason a more negative word. We have to reduce entitlements like Social Security, we’re told. After all, these old people are just going to sit around bleeding the working young dry. Except, Social Security has been around so long now that the aging Baby Boomers who are now beginning to take Social Security have paid into the system their entire working lives. They are now receiving money they are entitled to, aren’t they?

And what about the “tax break” for the middle class that received a two month extension last December — doesn’t the average Joe and Joanna deserve that? After all, it’s their money.

Of course unemployment benefits were extended too. Do the unemployed deserve these benefits?

My real question is this, Do we still recognize the line between what we deserve and what we’re given as a free gift? I think this is a critical issue, with spiritual ramifications. When our minds are fixed on what we believe we deserve, we can easily become presumptuous: I don’t have a job, so I deserve a handout from the government. The banks are too big to fail, so they deserve to be bailed out by the government. The mentality behind both those statements is the same.

The occupy movements proved this. Much of their early complaint focused on government helping Wall Street, yet they expected government to help them too by changing the city ordinances — or ignoring them — so they could camp in places where camping was not allowed. Apparently they believed they deserved special considerations but rich corporations about to take a financial bath did not.

Whatever side of this issue you fall on, the point is, deserve-itis has infected us. One of the most obvious symptoms is the death of gratitude. After all, if you deserve a free lunch, why should you be thankful for it?

Perhaps the greatest loss deserve-itis causes, however, is the understanding of grace — God’s free and undeserved favor. To receive grace we must believe that there is something we don’t deserve. But our society tells us we deserve all good things — health, long life, skinny bodies, white teeth, happiness. Why not salvation, too? Surely, surely, a good God would not do less, would He? We’re such a nice lot, after all. We merit His favor.

Uh, actually, we don’t. What we deserve, Scripture says, is death. From the beginning, God told the truth to Adam — if you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die. Men and women have been dying — deservedly so — ever since Adam threw God’s warning back in His face. Here are the consequences, God said, so don’t eat. Adam ate. He deserved the consequences he received. And so do we, now infected with sin natures prone to go our own way. Funny how society commonly believes Man is good, just not perfect. Good has become, good enough. But not to God.

Paul said in Colossians 3:25, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

In contrast, deserve-itis tells us we deserve good things in spite of the wrong we have done. False teaching such as universalism convinces us we deserve heaven regardless of what we believe about Jesus. Humanism convinces us we are good enough, at least most of us, to avoid any kind of eternal judgment (and the only one who would punish Man so unjustly must be a monster).

The fact is, the deadly notion that we deserve good because we are good flips the Truth on its head, and it makes God’s offer of grace irrelevant.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize the pandemic that is upon us.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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More About the S Word

What does it matter that today’s western culture believes Man’s nature is good? A great deal, as it turns out. This tenet is the linchpin of humanism. It is the belief that releases Man from a need to believe in God.

If there is no original sin, then Man’s problems aren’t really his. They are society’s or a lack of education or a bad home life or (this is a favorite of atheists such as poor Christopher Hitchens) religion’s fault. Of course proponents of this position never offer an explanation for how society, the home, or even religion became tainted, since clearly, if Man was good from the beginning, then what he produced should have been good too.

If you could pin down someone who holds this “Man is good” view, I suspect he’d backpedal pretty fast to a “Man is neutral” position. Babies are blank slates, waiting to be written upon. This view fits nicely with postmodern philosophy (not a new belief at all, but co-oped from 19th century thinkers) that says truth depends on your “situatedness.”

So a baby born in South Africa is imprinted with the culture and values of his home and community. What he believes about God is true for him. Whereas a person born in the US to a Christian is imprinted with his family and church values. What he believes about God, though it may be radically different from the South African (or Ecuadorian or Chinese or Libyan), is just as true for him.

Of course this “Man is neutral” view also means that harmful ideas can be written upon the innocent—harmful, such as the concept that Man is born sinful. This belief, so the thinking goes, tears down a person’s self-esteem and causes him to expect the worst, not the best. It loads him up with guilt, and guilt is the great evil of our generation. We are all, haven’t you hear, not guilty. Just ask the judges across the nation.

But I’ve strayed from the point. Without the belief in original sin, Man has no need for God because we are not the problem. Consequently, we don’t need God to save us because we have nothing to be saved from.

If we don’t need him to save us, them we might retain him as a crutch or as an opiate for the masses, but we’d be better off unshackling from the constraints of religion (and its nasty guilt).

Ultimately the “Man is good” position becomes a refrain: “Anything god can do, Man can do better.” Until, one day someone saying he is a Christian wonders whether or not he is perhaps nicer than god.

Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God?
– Mike Morrell, Comment #64, page 1, “Attacks on God from Within”

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Comments (18)  
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Is Sin Original? A look at history

Announcement: August 31 is the LAST DAY to vote for the Clive Staples Award – Readers’ Choice.

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Well, that post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history. Tomorrow, perhaps some discussion of the implications.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Man was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed his condition permanently.

No longer does Man bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Mankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God makes the concept of original sin clear starting in the book of Genesis. In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Man was no longer the way God created him when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Today, as I was rereading an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Man, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on men’s heart?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Man was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

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