In last week’s post, we discussed how modern secular people do not use the words “sin” or “evil”. This week, I’d like to continue our investigation of this phenomenon. In his wonderful book, Renovation of the Heart, philosopher Dallas Willard makes this observation,
“Societies the world around are currently in desperate straits trying to produce people who are merely capable of coping in a nondestructive manner with their lives on earth.”
It is quite obvious that Willard’s assertion is correct. The nearly daily evidence supports his claim. One only has to look at the violence and destruction breaking out in cities around the nation and the world. This has led to a great deal of blame and finger-pointing. It is racism, poverty, and poor living conditions. It is a lack of jobs and a need for better schools. The problem is this is the same rhetoric that we have been hearing for the last fifty years. The more time passes, the more things stay the same.
Intellect and genetics had some effect on behavior
Almost thirty years ago, two Harvard Scholars, criminologist James Wilson and psychologist Richard Hernstein, undertook a ten-year study to determine the cause of crime. In 1985 they published what became a landmark book, Crime and Human Nature, in which they challenged 50 years of conventional wisdom that said crime was the result of race, poverty and social oppression. They traced genetic strains between parent and child, environment, race, education and poverty – the whole range of influences. Although they determined that intellect and genetics had some effect on behavior, the primary cause of crime was simply individual choice. Those choices, Wilson and Hernstein argued, were determined by one’s moral conscience which is shaped early in life and most crucially by the family.
Many people are waking up to the fact that there is a character problem in the lives of modern people. However, I would go even deeper. I think that it is a spiritual issue. It is an issue of the heart.
We have systems that explain everything, except how to live
Few people today seem to believe that the violence and destructiveness we are seeing from people is a visible manifestation of a selfish, sinful heart. Modern people do not believe in the prophet, Jeremiah, and his description of the human heart, that it is
“…more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adultery, theft…” (Matthew 15:19)
This is not a popular message in today’s culture. Still, I believe that it offers the only plausible explanation for what is happening in our world.
Dr. Robert Coles is a very unusual man. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, having written more than eighty books. He is also a prominent child psychiatrist and a literature professor at Harvard University.
He teaches literature to business majors instead of psychiatry to medical students, and the reason he gives is simple: “We have systems here to explain everything, except how to live.”
Coles has spent his lifetime interviewing and listening to people.
What has he learned about the human condition?
Nothing I have discovered about the makeup of human beings contradicts in any way what I learn from the Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos, and from the book of Ecclesiastes, and from Jesus and the lives of those he touched. Anything I can say as a result of my research into human behavior is a mere footnote to those lives in the Old and New Testaments.
I have known human beings who, in the face of unbearable daily stress, respond with resilience, even nobility. And I have known others who live in a comfortable, even luxurious environment and seem utterly lost. We have both sides in each all of us, and that’s what the Bible says, isn’t it?
Coles says that he receives a great deal of criticism from those in his profession because he speaks of human nature in terms of good and evil, light and darkness, self-destruction and redemption. He says,
“They want some new theory, I suppose. But my research merely verifies what the Bible has said all along about human beings.”