Throughout history, one of the intellectual debates that seems to come and go is this question, “Is mankind intrinsically good or is he intrinsically evil or depraved?” In fact, I think it would be interesting to hear the diversity of opinions then we might get from this room.
Back in 1978, in fact, I was thinking about it this morning, it would be more than 33 years ago; it was in February, and I was entering the insurance industry. I was in Hartford, Connecticut for five weeks and I was put into this little apartment and I had two roommates. One of them was from Peoria, Illinois. We had a number of interesting conversations during those five weeks and we got into this question, “Is man basically good or is he depraved?” This guy told me, he said, you know, for all my life, I believed that man was basically good, until recently, I changed my mind. And then he proceeded to tell me what changed his mind. He said, just this past Christmas, my three-year-old son, on Christmas morning received from Santa Claus a brand-new tricycle. He said, unbeknownst to us, his grandparents show up that morning with the exact same tricycle. So here’s my son on Christmas morning has two tricycles, and instead of taking one back, we figured we would just keep both of them. There are all these children in the neighborhood most of them don’t have their own trike, and we explained to him the importance of sharing and being unselfish and letting the neighbors’ children use the trike. And then he said the next morning to my disbelief, I look out in my backyard and there’s my son playing and he’s got his two trikes and these other little toys, and I can see the neighbor’s little boy walking across the yard and he’s got his eyes on one of those trikes. And he says, my son sees him coming, he pulls those trikes together, he puts one leg over one trike, and he puts another leg over the other trike, and he makes it clear to the neighbor’s son that these are his trikes, he can’t ride them, and he might as well go home. And he said I realized at that moment that my son was flawed. There was something in him that I did not understand because that’s not something we taught him. And then I realized that not only is my son flawed – we’re all flawed.
Think about it, you know, most of us have raised children, but if you think about our children have to be taught to be good. It doesn’t just come natural to them, which should tell us something about the human condition. And I don’t know about you, but it just seems to me that if humanity was intrinsically good, that is, when we have become more educated and better informed as our standard of living has gone up, as we have gotten better healthcare, we have gotten better technology, that you would think that our sense of well-being and ability to get along with each other would increase as time goes by. That human beings would become more virtuous, become more compassionate, and that marriages would flourish, and family life would improve, and poverty would be eradicated, but I think we all recognize none of that has happened.
I remember reading about 20 years ago, about probably one of the most prolific authors in our country in the last century, H.G. Wells, you probably remember him for all the science fiction he wrote, but he wrote a number of serious books, and he was very utopian. He was always seeking better ways to organize society and he wrote several novels, several additional, utopian novels. He had all this optimism about the future because he believed in the goodness of man. In 1920 he wrote this very ambitious work, three volumes, called, The Outline of History, and you see his unshakable faith in mankind, in his ability, and his goodness, but then interestingly, you fast forward 13 years and he wrote another book called The Shape of Things to Come, and you don’t see that same optimism. In fact, you see his perspective shifted as he complained of the stubbornness and the selfishness of people and governments, and then 12 years later, in 1945, just before he died, he publishes his last book, The Mind at the End of Its Tether, and this is what he concluded. He says, “There is no way out or around or through the impasse. There is no hope for mankind.” I had a man remark to me just yesterday, “You know, we live in such a broken world.” You know, for me it’s hard not to agree with him. When you consider that in our country alone, in the United States, with all its wealth and prosperity, we lead the world in all categories of social pathology, including depression and suicide. Most people would think this couldn’t be true. We should have the lowest rates with all that we have, with all of our education.
You know, as I was preparing this, I began to think about my dad’s generation. My father passed away two years ago but it’s the generation that Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation. They lived during the Great Depression and during World War II. He said, “They were the greatest generation because they lived and they fought not for fame and recognition but because it was the right thing to do. They understood the words sacrifice and self-denial.” But then the generation that followed that greatest generation is my generation and many of your generation, the baby boom generation and we’re different, we’re clearly different from the greatest generation. You know, the huge government debt is being run up on our watch, but if you were here last March when I spoke here, I made mention of an article out of Psychology Today that was written by Dr. Martin Seligman, you’ll remember if you were here. He teaches psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He’d done extensive study of the Baby Boomer generation, our generation, and he wrote this article in Psychology Today called “Boomer Blues”, and he said, “The rate of depression of boomers compared to our parents’ generation is ten times higher.” And then he made this incredible statement, and I don’t know how he made it, but he said “We’re the most depressed generation in the history of the world.” Isn’t that interesting, to go from the greatest generation to the most depressed generation? And then after the boomer generation which goes from 1946 to 1964, you’ve got the X generation, which I’m sure we have some men in the audience today, and then those born in the new millennium, which they call the Y generation, I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time keeping up with all the generations. But you know, as I survey the landscape, one thing I do recognize, and I don’t think I’m naïve when I say this, but there is something very troubling going on in our younger generations, and maybe that we’re passing on to them, but it’s a trend I find to be quite disturbing.
I could give you 50 examples of this but I’m going to give you just a couple, just to kinda get a feel for it. Back in 1948 there was a short story written, I bet a number of you have read it, it became quite famous and is called The Lottery, and in this story, the townspeople meet once a year to participate in a shocking ritual. They need to select and kill one person from the community. That person serves as a human sacrifice to the gods, so they will ensure they’ll have a profitable crop. The person to be sacrificed is selected through a lottery. The story graphically describes a woman who selects a piece of paper with a black dot on it, and even though she is a wife and mother, she is to be sacrificed. It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, she pleads, but her cries fall on deaf ears. The townspeople, including her husband and children, pick up stones. She’s crushed in a hail of rocks and then the townspeople leave her crumpled body to go back to tend to their crops. Now there’s a teacher in Southern California, a high school literature teacher named Kay Haugaard, and back in the 1970s, she began to have her students read this story and they would discuss it. And she said when she first gave the story out to the students back in the 70s, she said they were appalled by it. They were appalled about the sacrifice of human life. You know, she said, but that’s not the case anymore. Fast-forward to today. She said in one of her recent classes they found the ending was quite exciting. It was a cool story. One of the kids said, “We shouldn’t judge another culture.” Haugaard was stunned and she wrote an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, she said, and I quote, “No one in the whole class of more than 20 ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice. Not a one of them,” she says, “was fazed by the story.”
Now let me give you a second example of this. This is incredible. Some of you may have seen this. Two weeks ago in Business Week magazine, I don’t know if any of you take Business Week, it’s like Forbes and Fortune magazine, is now owned by Bloomberg, the lead article on the front, you see this pair of women’s legs, and the title of the lead article was The Infidelity Economy. And he talks about this booming new business that has a website called AshleyMadison.com and the purpose of it is you go to hook up with other married people who are seeking an adulterous relationship. It costs you $49 a year and they are making millions. It says, the owner in the last two years is making a seven-figure income. And this is what so incredible. They attempted to spend millions of dollars advertising during the Super Bowl but Fox, that carried the Super Bowl, turned them down.
The final example, I don’t know how many of you have met B.J. Weber, he comes to Birmingham often, he was the chaplain of the New York Yankees for 10 years or so. I had the opportunity to hear him speak the other night, and he has a, he speaks all over the country, but he has a ministry in Manhattan with the Columbia University’s rugby team. About 40 young men, and he said, “I love these young men, I really love them. I’m really trying to help them, but to be around them and listen to them talk about their lives and talk about their girlfriends,” he says, “it’s like sitting in an X-rated movie.” Now he wasn’t being condemning or judgmental, he was saying, this is the way they live. And then he said this, and this is what really got my attention, I didn’t get a chance to ask him about it, but he said that, “unless something happens, I’m afraid we’re going to lose this generation of kids.” And the question I thought is, “I wonder if he’s right, I wonder if he’s right?”
So what’s happened here? How have we gotten to this point? And where will Western civilization be, just say, in just 25 years? Yesterday as I was preparing this message, I spent a couple hours working on it, and I took a break. I went to Joe Muggs over in English Village, got a cup of coffee, opened up the Wall Street Journal, the front cover, then read through just a couple of pages, talking about the problems in Ireland, in Greece, in Libya, talking about how all the states are going broke, about what’s going on in Wisconsin, about all the cities that are in financial trouble, the deficit, I mean, these are all the articles that I’m looking at. I thought to myself, and if you know me, I’m a very optimistic person, but my thought, it was kind of this thought that I had, it was, we’re slowly sliding into the abyss. I couldn’t help but think of what Edward Gibbon, who said in his classic work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this was six volumes, it took him 12 years to write from 1776 to 1788, the most comprehensive work ever on the fall of the Roman Empire, and listen to this he said, “The following five attributes mark Rome at its end: first, a mounting love of show in luxury; second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor; third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts; fifth, an increased desire to live off the state.” He says, “Even though Rome was attacked from outside it really collapsed from within.”
And then, and I want to tell you this is not a political talk, this is not a talk about our government, this is just a basically something that I’ve observed, and it sounds just so familiar, and it brings us back to this core issue involved, is man basically good or is he intrinsically sinful and depraved? Now I know that some people don’t share my concern or my assessment. In fact, there are many people, particularly in Birmingham, who consider themselves to be very modern, to be very enlightened, and they really don’t believe that we have major problems in our land. Many would say we’re just a progressive culture that’s pursuing a life of freedom. And they would furthermore contend that because of the advance of science, particular the social sciences, God has become irrelevant. We don’t need him like we used to. Science has answered the problems that we struggle with. And I do believe that’s what’s happened. We are a very secular culture. In other words, we believe in God, but He becomes irrelevant to our lives, and the way we live our lives, but He’s out there somewhere. And therefore, what happens is goodness and badness are explained by the social sciences.
You know, they tell you human beings are not sinful, they’re not morally responsible, they’re sick. We don’t have sinful hearts, we have behavior problems, we need behavior modification. You know, if you’re a violent person and you beat your wife, you need to go to anger management classes. You need more information so you can modify your behavior. And this is what is so, I told this to my wife the other day and she did not believe me, I said, the modern enlightened person does not believe that evil exists. I’m serious. We were talking about this the other night, and she said, there is no way. I said I want to tell you that most of the intellectual elite in our land doesn’t believe in evil, because evil points to the reality that there is a moral standard of measurement, there’s a moral framework in the universe, and therefore, there is a moral order and there is a moral law, but if there is a moral law, there has to be a moral lawgiver and that is God. And that doesn’t work for a lot of people. And so there is no evil.
In The New York Times there was an article titled Staring Into the Heart of Darkness, and I kid you not, a psychoanalyst who studied the life of Hitler comes forward and says Hitler was not evil. He was a “prisoner of his pathological unconscious drives.” After the shootings in Littleton Colorado where two boys with shotguns at short range killed 17 people heartlessly, the next day in the newspaper at one local Colorado papers, it said, “Littleton shootings are symptomatic of a male identity crisis in our land.”
But the one that that I think was probably most prominent in all of this, and listen, I have enough material to keep us here for four hours, but I promise you, I’m not, but think about, remember when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow had that big falling out? It was in all the tabloids this is the one that really kind of gets me. They had lived together for 12 years. She had two adopted children. One was a daughter, and the two of them adopted a couple kids, and they lived together, what they call the postmodern family. They never got married, but then it was discovered that Allen had been taking these nude photographs of the young daughter that Mia Farrow had adopted Then it was discovered he had had sexual relations with her, and then it just exploded. And they had this big child custody battle and Woody Allen brings in all these experts to try to defend his actions. The first expert said well, Mr. Allen may have made an error in judgment, but he didn’t really do anything wrong. Second one said it was just a mistake given the circumstances. Listen to this third one. You should expect this type of behavior in the new postmodern family. And you know what, the judge just finally erupted, he said, “I’m sick of this psychobabble. Could not anyone come forth and say this is deplorable behavior?”
Now I realize, I haven’t painted a very good picture. I guess you could say I painted somewhat of a bleak picture of the society we live in, but I think it’s important to understand guys, why our world is so broken. So, I want to move in a different direction and consider this. What is the true condition of man, and is there any hope, particularly for our kids’ generations as we look out into the future? I know I’ve given you a lot but I do want to share with you from an individual who I think really nailed this, and is going to bring, everything I’ve said, he’s going to bring this together. This was not a religious man. This was not a Christian man who wrote this. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Hobart Mowrer but he was a very well known psychologist. He received his PhD from Johns Hopkins and taught for years at Harvard and Yale, and one year he served as president of the American Psychological Association, so this guy has credentials. I mention him because he wrote an article in The American Psychologist that was quite controversial, but very important. I want you to listen, just a couple words from it, he said, “For several decades, we psychologists have looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and claimed our liberation from it as epic making. But, at late we have discovered that to be free from sin is to also have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful. It is to court the danger,” he says, “of becoming lost. The danger, as I believe is betokened by the widespread interest in existentialism, which we are presently witnessing. In becoming amoral and ethically neutral and free we have cut the very roots of our being and have lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity.” He says, “What’s ironic is our patients that come to see us eventually realize that we, their psychologists, are asking the very same questions that they are. Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living really mean?” As you can imagine, he got a lot of criticism, because he was exposing his profession, now don’t get me wrong, I think psychology and psychiatry can be very beneficial to us, but not when it displaces God, and gives us all the answers to life. And what was really tragic is that Mowrer never came to any kind of religious faith and eventually took his own life at the age of 75 but hear what he said. When we reject the Biblical doctrine of sin, you will eventually find yourself lost and in the darkness. In fact this is why Jesus came into the world, as Peter says, to draw us out of the darkness into his marvelous light so that our lives will be in harmony with reality.
You see, the biblical doctrine or the biblical view of good and evil is quite clear and is quite simple. We have a heart problem. We have a depraved heart. Like my friend in Peoria Illinois; what he said about his son, what he recognized about his heart; it was flawed. Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years of his life in a Russian prison then when he got out, he was harassed by the Communists until he was sent into exile. Everyone was waiting for him to come out and blame the evil of the world on Communism. You know what he said? “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” What he was saying is that depravity is at the heart of every human being in every culture in the world. This is what the prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 17 he says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, it is desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Now some of you may say, now what is it, what is the heart? Is it that that muscle that pumps blood? What do you mean when you speak of the heart? I think Steve Farrar has given us a great definition of it. He says, “The heart is the seat of reason and the will. The heart is the source or spring of motives, the seat of passions, the seat of thought processes, the spring of conscience, in other words, the heart is you. It’s your personality, and your will, your emotions, your mind, and your conscience. Your heart is that unseen engine beneath the hood that takes you down the road of life. It’s that seat of your soul that is influenced by affections and wounds, tendencies and habits, the unique wiring of your personality, and your family of upbringing. It is that inner sanctuary where every decision is pondered and made. And then listen to this. It is profoundly affected by what flows into it and is allowed to take root there.”
You know, I’m not sure how this might come across, what I’m getting ready to say. I don’t mean to say it arrogantly. I really don’t, but really just based on what I’ve shared with you this morning, I really believe that any person who has any degree of integrity will recognize that the biblical view of good and evil has some real validity to it, because it makes sense of what we see in the world and what we see in the human condition. You see, this is why C.S. Lewis abandoned atheism for theism and then Christianity. As an atheist he said this, “My life was full of contradictions.” Like we talked about this morning, there is no evil, and then you see all these atrocities going on out in the world. And this is why he said, “Christianity is true because it can account not only for itself but also for the rest of what we call reality.”
Which really leads to my final point. And that is the hope of the gospel. The hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the hope He offers to a broken world. It’s what He offers to you and me. Now when you say the word gospel, what you think of? What is it? It’s real simple. It starts with the fact that we are sinful people and because of our sin, we are separated from God and we need forgiveness so that we can re-enter that relationship with Him, and the only way we are able to be forgiven is the fact that Christ paid a penalty for our sins on the cross. This is the way the Scripture put it, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by HSis scourge we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray.” That’s the problem. All of us like sheep have gone astray. We’re sinful. Each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. You see, He offers forgiveness of our sin, but you know what, He offers something else, because we need something else other than forgiveness. We’re damaged. He said, I’ll give you a new heart, and I’ll put my spirit in you, and I’ll transform your life, and I will heal your life, and I will restore your life. But how does this happen? How does this come into a person’s life? Well it comes into our lives only as we humble ourselves before God and surrender to Him. And the humility that I speak of, you know, we don’t think in those terms, we think, good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. That’s not what the gospel message is. It’s about humility. It’s pictured, in one of my favorite; it’s a little short parable in Luke 18. Where He told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and then viewed others with contempt. Two men went in the temple to pray. One a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself, God I thank you I’m not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterous, even like that tax collector over there. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes of all that I get, but the tax collector standing some distance away was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast saying God be merciful to me the sinner. I tell you, this man went to his home justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. You know, there’s so much that I can say about this parable, but this is really what I want to share. Here you have two men. Both of them are sinners, because the Bible says, all have sinned, there’s none who is righteous, but in this parable, only one man sees his true condition, the tax collector, You see, the Pharisee doesn’t see himself as a sinner, I’m a good man, I do good things, I’m religious. But the tax collector sees his true condition, what does he say, God have mercy on me, the sinner. It says this man, this tax collector went home justified and forgiven. The Pharisee did not.
So we have to humble ourselves before God, and we have to surrender. That’s the hardest thing I find for men. We like to be in control. The idea of surrendering our lives to Christ is frightening to so many men and yet guys, it has to happen if we’re going to allow the seed of the gospel to enter in and transform us. Now what I want to share with you as we close, I’ve learned a lot about this from Dr. Tim Keller. But you know, in Mark chapter 4, the gospel is referred to as a little tiny seed. But you know what is true about a seed? It has power. Now when a seed is planted, it releases its power. The gospel message, the gospel seed that Jesus speaks of, has spiritual life, the very life of God, in it, and it has the power to come into our hearts and release the very life of God in us. Now please note I’m not talking about religion. I am not talking about being religious. You see, religion focuses on external behavior. In one sense, I guess is, like up with a form of behavior modification. But see, trying to be religious doesn’t impact the heart. Historic Christianity focuses on the heart. It’s about the life of God working in the heart and soul of man. And that’s why this is such a paradox, this idea of a little seed. It has a paradoxical strength to it. Take, for instance, an acorn. You know, an acorn is a seed. And it seems to be kind of powerless.
You know, an acorn is so small, if you’ve got an oak tree around your house, you know they’re very annoying those little acorns. But you know, you take one acorn and it has everything in it to grow into a huge powerful oak tree. And what’s interesting, out of that single oak tree comes hundreds and thousands of other acorns, so that one single acorn, over time, has the power in it to cover the entire face of the earth with wood. Think about that. You see the gospel is kind of like an acorn. It comes into our hearts, and it’s organic power is released, and if it grows and is nurtured, we will become what the prophet Isaiah called “oaks of righteousness“. We will become the men that God meant us to be; men of strength and character who are compassionate, who know how to love, who are kind, who have self-control, who know how to sacrifice to be the men we were meant to be.
I want to close with a story. It’s a story from G. Campbell Morgan and it really pulls all this together. He shares the story of being in Italy and going into an old graveyard. He said there was a very old grave that was centuries old. He said it was apparently the grave of some prominent wealthy man. He said there was an enormous thick slab of marble over this guy’s grave and yet, what had happened is somehow a little acorn had somehow, years before, slipped under, just under that piece of marble, and somehow, over the centuries, had grown out under the side of the piece of marble and become a huge tree, and it had cracked that slab of marble and rolled it off into two pieces. He says this was so amazing to people that a little tiny acorn could do this over time and yet when a little acorn, he says, is given a chance to release its power, it can do something a team of horses could not do. And he says this scene represents Jesus, and it releases its power in us when we surrender our hearts to Him. And he said this is the question we all need to ask as we sit here this morning, just before we leave, is what kind of marble slab do we have over our hearts? It could be some kind of addiction in your life. It could be pornography, it could be alcohol, it could be anything. It could be fear. It could be problems in your marriage. It could be anger or bitterness or guilt or shame. You know guys, I mean this with all my heart, I don’t care how messed up or how broken we are on the inside, you’re how messed up or how broken we are the inside, if you bring the power of Christ into your life, it has the power to crack and roll that stone out of your life. This is the hope the Christ offers to a broken world, and this is the hope, the same hope that He offers to you and to me.
Let’s close in prayer. You know, I normally don’t do this, but I think I’m going to pray, if this is the prayer of your heart, the sinner’s prayer that we mentioned. If this is the desire of your heart…Lord I pray that you would have mercy on me, a sinner. I acknowledge my need for forgiveness, and I surrender my heart, Lord. I asked that you might come in, that you might change me, that you might transform me, that you might make me the man you want me to be; thank you for dying on a cross for me. Thank you for the life you’ve given me. Thank you for my family, for good friends, for this time together. We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.