Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Scary Monsters



Note: this will be my last post until May.

This last week I was in Toronto with Mark where we had a great conversation about the "total depravity of man." Many would assert that, though man was created in the image and likeness of God, through Adam's sin the human race fell and became intuitively sinful in nature which resulted in an alienation and separationn from God. This man, our race, is totally depraved and utterly unable to remedy this lost/alienated condition; we are in much need of God's grace.

But depraved of what? Could it be that there is some good in man? Could it be that we are more aware of God then we realize? Could it be that "total depravity" has been a clever little trick to make Christians feel superior and exclusive to other obviously depraved people?

Think through it in the following context of John Stienbeck's classic novel East of Eden.

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or lesser degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential for conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he can not miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine what it would be like to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feelings that birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare to others. To a man born without conscious, a sole-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolishness. You must remember that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.


Maybe the very idea that there is this constant tension between good and evil suggests that there is some intrinsic good in people? Hmmm. Maybe your not as bad as you've been led to believe? Maybe there is some optimism that we could attatch to humanity? Hmmm.

16 comments:

Paul & Wanda Moores said...

My understanding of total depravity has always been relative, as in relative to the greatness and holiness of God. We ARE indeed more aware of God than we realize but by no fault of our own. Only through God grace does that happen.

Thoughts??

The Drew said...

I would say that total depravity equals total/absolute separation from God. I would say that there is good inherent in every human (where do all the good deeds of the world come from), put there by their creator. However their is also sin, or evil which God cannot abide. So yes we have good in us but the evil that resides in all of us separates us from God and only through Jesus will this evil be eradicated.

The Drew said...

I also agree with Paul that total depravity is relative to God's holiness; not to any standard the world might have for good and evil.

Mark said...

There are common misconceptions on the 'Depravity of Man.' This is a Reformed theology term. One of the common misconceptions is that people think Total Depravity is Absolute Depravity. Total depravity means that man is depraved in every part of his being. But while he is depraved in every part of his being, at the same time there remain in every part of his being remnants of good. Absolute depravity means that every part of his being is wholly bad. This distinction is intended precisely to leave room for some good which man is able to perform. This good can be defined as having an awareness of ' the Divine' although not able to know who that is. It is also to the good of knowing right from wrong [this is in essense an awareness of the divine as well]. And this good is also particularly the good of accepting with his will the grace and mercy of God.
Man can have 'glimmerings of light' [Calvins terminiology] but can in no way save himself from his depravity.

***another way to look at it***

What would life be like if you were depraved of sleep? In a more accurate thought process for this theology is what would life be like if you were depraved of consciousness [state of being awake]? Total depravity is like being asleep but at moments having awareness of the world around you but not really awake to it. Becoming aware of God is an awakening [this happens for many people athiest/agnostic/and all others. Becoming a Xian is an awakening but still not a complete conscious state. We are still depraved and still are on a journey to consciousness but may have an understanding what it may mean to become awake.
So the question is ...who around us is is aware of 'the Divine' and we are not seeing that they are on a journey of awakening???

PS good Movie to see - The awakening - Robin Williams + Robert Deniro

Mark said...

To Clarify more precisely - awakenings are not necessarily defined by our paradigm of Christianity. Can awakenings occur outside of Christendom?

Boomer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul & Wanda Moores said...

Mark, yes they can and yes they have. I think awakenings are at the directive of God and not us. He is the life, we are the "earthen vessels".

Mark said...

Is the awakening something that we were created with [an awareness of 'the Divine']....so in a sense they are a directive of man because God created him that way?

Chad said...

Mark - can you clarify "Becoming a Xian is an awakening but still not a complete conscious state."

How does someone wake up without being conscious? What is the distinction here?

Chad said...

I do believe that what I hear you saying about "waking up" to God, or becoming aware of him happens outside of Christendom. If God is just, shouldn't there be opportunity for every person to acknowledge Him despite there being the presence of an evangelical church around to influence them towards awakening?

Just a question - which, as a side note, I don't believe puts our definition of missions on the spot because there is still a responsibility to "awaken" or help that process as much as possible. ie Great Commission.

Mark said...

Chad
Good question and glad you caught that. I think its interesting to note that often times we wake up but certainly not completely to the fact that God is communicating to us all the time and has somethign to say to us about our life and journey. It is in those areas that many times Xians are still asleep... it is not a one time revelation...but an on going collision with the breath of GOd coming to us...it is a life long one.
Our life and mission refocuses on helping normal people understand when and how God is speaking to us. Our role is to be interpreters or highlighters of God's message as he speaks to individuals all the time.

Z said...

I have a question that I've been wondering for sometime that kind of goes along with this. Why is it that when Christians think about Christ's death they usually tend to associate themselves with the ones who mocked him and nailed him to the cross? Shouldn't we equally be able to associate with Mary who mourned his death and the people who were angry at the injustice? I mean, I know we're all sinners but maybe that also comes down to not believing that people really have good in them. I feel like I could have easily been on either side of that spectrum; I could have been someone who mocked him or someone who mourned him.

Boomer said...

It would seem that we are all born without "spiritual arms", but have some sort of interna; idea of what it means to be a whole person. From the Christian perspective, how monsterous do we seem to those not? They also seem monsters to us...and likely we call them that. Yet I think as Christians I think we are the exact same monster and have some sort of false perception. It's almost inevitable to carry a piety with our "salvation" at whatever part in the process that is. Perhaps this is a valuble thought in the process of dialoging (how do you spell that) with our fellow man. We are the same monster, and how equally monsterous we must appear to the God so much holier. Yet at Easter I find myself thinking about the monster Jesus became to show us the way. Should we not embrace the monster we are to share from eyelevel, the spiritual awakening that is consuming the depraved monster?

Boomer said...

Hey I started posting some thoughts too...mikeboomer.blogspot.com See ya there.

Adamus Maximus said...

does depravity make a person a monster? or broken? or just human?either way there is an internal conflict that requires attention on a day to day basis. sometimes i fear the "monster" within me cuz i know what that part of me wants and i also know it won't benefit anyone regardless of how it might feel. it makes me, personally, more aware of my need for redemption and at the same time it helps me understand some of the non-christian people around me, whether at work or elsewhere. i'm so glad that Jesus loves me unconditionally because sometimes i really wonder if i sincerely love him. it's frustrating at times that a renewing of your mind is a process instead of instant. i hate when "uncle ben's minute rice syndrome" hits me.

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