Am I Really That Bad?

Drew Dyck
header for Am I Really That Bad?

God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, in His image and appointed them stewards of His good creation. They enjoyed unbroken intimacy with their Creator and each other. They were given only one restriction: “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17). Call it the first self-control test of all time. And if you went to Sunday school, you know what happened.

They failed. Miserably. Eve bit the apple (or whatever the fruit was), Adam finished it off, and proceeded to blame his wife for the whole thing.

We’ve been biting and blaming ever since.

Whatever you think of the Genesis narrative, it’s hard to deny its explanatory power. It makes sense of an age-old paradox we encounter in human nature. How can we be so selfless and splendid one moment and so sinful and stupid the next? Genesis provides a rather elegant answer. Our capacity for selflessness and splendor comes from the fact that we were made in the image of God. Our sinfulness and stupidity? That traces back to the fall.

We have an inborn tendency to mess up.

Because of our ancient ancestors’ fateful decision, there’s a bentness to our nature. We have an inborn tendency to mess up, to choose sin and selfishness over holiness and intimacy with God and each other. It’s what makes the business of controlling our behavior so difficult. Even when we desire to do what’s right, we slam headlong into this internal barrier.

It’s important not to underplay this reality. We might be tempted to say we’re a tad mischievous, a bit naughty. But the reality Scripture describes is more sinister. The Bible states that our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately wicked.” Jesus described the heart as the birthplace of “evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). It seems our hearts are crowded with destructive impulses straining for expression. And these destructive urges routinely win out. As theologian Marguerite Shuster writes, “the reservoir of evil in all of us is deeper than we know, and . . . barriers against its eruption are shockingly fragile.”[1]

I’m sorry to go dark on you, especially this early in our journey together. But if we’re going to understand why we fail to control ourselves, I believe we have to begin with an honest appraisal of human nature. And the truth is, though we like to dismiss evil as an antiquated notion or an external reality, the truth is more uncomfortable. It’s alive and well. In you. And me.

I don’t like it either. I’ll gladly accept the made-in-God’s-image part. That’s elevating, dignifying. In fact, I can’t imagine more auspicious origins. But this idea of being fallen is unpleasant. Are you telling me I have an inbuilt propensity for sin and selfishness and there’s nothing I can do about it? That evil is somehow stitched into the fabric of my DNA? Actually, that’s more than unpleasant. It’s downright rude.

Of course I could always snap my Bible shut and turn on the TV or radio. There I’m likely to encounter a very different message about myself. I’ll probably hear that I have unlimited potential, and that my troubles would disappear if I just believed in myself a little more. I certainly won’t hear that I’m weak, flawed, or (gasp!) sinful. No, I’ll be assured that I’m beautiful, powerful, and capable of achieving virtually anything. Just love myself and unleash my multisplendored awesomeness!

That’s the message we hear emanating from the broader culture, the one you hear articulated ad nauseam through songs and sitcoms and repeated by athletes, actors, and reality TV stars. And it can be very appealing, especially when set next to the Bible’s rather grim assessment of human nature. I’d love to take refuge in this narrative and get down to the business of freeing the rainbowy goodness pent up in my heart. The only problem is I don’t buy it. I’ve been at this being-a-human thing for four decades now and the evidence is in. I’m a son of Adam. I’m an apple-biter. I’m a blamer. Heck, just this morning I lost my shoes, and falsely accused my wife of hiding them! I know myself too well to deny the biblical truth about my nature.

[1] Marguerite Shuster, What We Have Become as Sinners (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 164; quoted in Cindy Crosby, “An Unpopular Topic,” Christianity Today, June 1, 2004, 64, june/15.64.html.