THE world has been different since Sept 11, 2001. Terrorism has certainly succeeded in putting fear into the hearts of people and nations. The recent murder of three American missionary doctors shot in the head and killed in a hospital in Yemen is despicable. Such cowardly, baseless acts continue without any hope of a let-up. What has gone wrong with our humanity?
Is it any surprise since the depraved nature of humankind has always been so from the time of God’s creation? Something is indeed wrong. As the apostle Paul said, “Men love themselves; they love money; they are proud, abusive, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal; they don’t love good; they are treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:2-4, paraphrase).
We read the list and find ourselves there, somewhere. Paul suggested a misdirected love: “Men love themselves rather than God.” It is this crowning of self that leads to every other hurt. We cause pain in others and ourselves because we are depraved.
Theologians have two terms for our sinfulness. They talk about original sin and total depravity. Original sin does not mean that we sin in very original ways. Most of us sin like everyone else. Original sin means that we are sinful in our origins. We come into the world with a proclivity for doing wrong. Someone likens it to a “baseball with a spin on it; sooner or later we break and the break is down and out”. But total depravity means that sin touches the totality of our being. If sin were a colour, we would be some shade of that all over.
We are always reminded of such a painful reality, which we manifest in individual acts of our own making. Small wonder the prevalence of misery and fear. The miserable thing is that there is evil in our being that does not care for God, making us desire wrong, and, worst of all, we like it!
Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn learned about depravity as he pondered the meaning of his imprisonment in a Soviet gulag: “And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that … it was disclosed to me that the line of separating good from evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either – but right through every human heart, through all human hearts.”
We cannot do much about evil in others. But we can do something ourselves. George MacDonald said, “Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business – namely his own character and conduct.”
But when we see what we are and turn against evil, at that moment evil begins to die. We are then on the Lord’s side, as He has always been on ours, and He begins to deliver us from who we are. He came to free us from sin that dwells and works in us. He gives not only freedom from the evil things we have done, but also the possibility of not doing them any more. He does it by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We do not have to go on hurting the ones we love as we look within the circle of our own family and society. We can begin to heal others by helping ourselves. When one person repents and is made right, it is the beginning of the restraining influence of the Spirit, resulting in more good and acts of mercy rather than evil.
The Rev Ho Chee Sin is a former Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore. He is attached to the Local Conference of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.