RELIGION: The ugly truth about the heart of man

"No one is good -- no one in all the world is innocent. No one has ever really followed God's paths or even truly wanted to. Every one has turned away; all have gone wrong. No one anywhere has kept on doing what is right; not one." -- Romans 3:10-12 (TLB)

One of the most dangerous ideas ever to have been hatched in the mind of man was that people are basically "good." I assume this is a common theme in the history of man since the Apostle Paul addressed it in his letter to the church at Rome in the first century, quoting a Psalm written by David a thousand years before.

The most recent revival of that worldview may have started through the influence of Genevan philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was partly responsible for the "Age of Enlightenment" that took place in Europe in the 18th Century. In his book, "On Philosophy, Morality, and Religion," Rousseau wrote, "Man is a naturally good being, loving justice and order; there is no natural perversity in the human heart ... All the vices imputed to the human heart are not natural to it."

It's interesting to note that in France, "enlightenment" led to the French Revolution, in which the "naturally good" and "justice- and order-loving" French killed each other by the thousands.

It's been that way since the dawn of mankind. While claiming to be marching toward a paradise of mutual respect and cooperation, man has instead found newer and more inventive ways to terrorize, torture, and kill others. And that process accelerated in the 20th century when more than 100 million people were killed, either through war or by the actions of their own governments. (We think Hitler was unspeakably evil, but Joseph Stalin [20-60 million] and Mao Zedong [40-80 million] made the genocidal German look like an amateur.)

And the terrorizing, torturing and killing still continue today, the latest iterations taking place in Israel.

There's a reason for that. Deep in his heart, in a place that he often chooses not to acknowledge, man is a savage. Whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not, we each have within us a depravity that can be triggered by the most trivial of reasons. And also within us exists the potential of letting that depravity have free rein, especially if we think we can get away with it.

Now, that might seem a reason for despair. But for those of us who acknowledge our inherent immorality, there is a means by which we can escape the control by and the penalty for that evil. It is in the redemption provided for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins and the working of the Holy Spirit of God within us. It is only through those things that we can be right before God and effectively deal with our perverse and sinful nature.

"So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will. That's why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit, if you have the Spirit of God living in you." -- Romans 8:6-9 (NLT)

Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and large-vehicle transportation specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (OK, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenance technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are those of the author.