CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Evil, and Humanity Without God

Jun 5, 2017

The latest Islamic terror attack – this time at London Bridge – has in one sense sort of dampened what I was going to say here. But I will say it anyway. In the face of such blatant evil, it may seem that this is not the time to speak about the evils of the West.

So let me first preface my remarks before going any further. I for one hate the stupid claims of moral equivalence which the leftists – and some clueless Christians – routinely make: “Yeah, Islam has a few bad eggs, but the West is no better”. I think Islam is an evil political ideology which needs to be firmly resisted.

And I also think that at least in principle, things like freedom, democracy, rule of law and genuine pluralism are good things which are well worth defending and preserving. I of course am also aware that all these social goods largely only work when they remain on the foundation they were built on. And in the West that foundation was the Judeo-Christian worldview.

But as the West becomes increasingly secular, rejecting its Christian roots, all these goods become much harder to sustain. The American Founding Fathers repeatedly insisted on this; they knew that without a deep-rooted faith, the great American experiment could not last long.

All these points I have argued at length elsewhere, so I will leave it at that. So let me now return to the topic I originally wanted to write about. And that topic is, as my title suggests, the ultimate futility and folly of life without God, and the stark Judeo-Christian truths about the reality of sin and evil.

What sparked all this was – as is often the case with my articles – a confluence of two things happening at around the same time. The first was a quote I read which really stuck out, even though it was written in a somewhat different context. The second was a short glimpse of a television documentary.

The quote comes from a book which may seem to have little to do with this big picture theme that I am discussing here. But it actually does. It comes from James Packer’s excellent 1992 volume, Rediscovering Holiness. The copy I have is the revised 2009 edition put out by Regal.

In the opening chapter Packer speaks about the importance of holiness, and how it is related to our very humanity: “All members of our fallen race who, because they do not know Jesus Christ, still live under the power of that self-deifying, anti-God syndrome in our spiritual system which the Bible calls sin, are living lives that are qualitatively subhuman. Sin in our minds says otherwise, but in this, as always, sin is lying.”

But what he said next is what caught my attention. Of course it has been said often by others, but it is a nice summary of the reality of man without God, or, rather, man in enmity against God:

The twentieth century will doubtless go down in history as the century of secular humanism. It began with the euphoric, sin-spawned confidence that human endeavor in science, education, the harnessing of nature, and the increase of wealth would generate human happiness to the point of achieving something like heaven on earth. It ends, however, with none of these hopes realized, but with sickening memories of many great evils committed, and with hearts everywhere full of restless and gloomy unease regarding humanity’s future prospects and life’s present worth.

hitler 4The documentary I briefly watched at the same time nicely confirmed all this. I happened upon a few documentaries on the National Geographic channel. I assume they are on regularly. But just watching a few minutes of them was gruesome enough.

We speak of man’s inhumanity toward man, and it was on full display during WWII. The docos focused on life in the German concentration camps – it was horrific indeed. Much can be said, but let me mention just one episode: the prisoners were picking the lice from their own bodies and eating them as a response to their starvation.

If these docos were almost too horrible to watch, imagine how horrible the reality was to have lived through. But one key point I wish to make here is that the demonic horrors of what the Germans and Japanese did in WWII were all very recent.

Historical perspective is crucial here. This happened a relatively short time ago – it did not happen in prehistoric times. This did not occur in the Dark Ages. It happened in civilised Europe, and elsewhere. Recall that the war ended just over 70 years ago. So all these despicable atrocities were happening only seven or eight short decades ago.

This is not part of our deep, dark past. This is recent history – very recent history. As Packer and others noted, last century was meant to be something utterly utopian as human progress made everything better and better. The secularists really believed that progress and perfection were right around the corner.

Well, a couple of world wars, the spectre of nuclear annihilation, the scourge of political Islam, to name but a few ominous developments, threw a real spanner into all that groundless optimism. This delusional belief in human progress and the perfectibility of man was blown out of the water last century.

And things are not looking any better this century. Human beings are capable of the most horrific evil. They always have been. We are not getting better and better. We remain the same: self-centred individuals who like to pretend we are not so bad.

There are two main points I want to emphasise here. The first is the biblical reality and realism about sin and evil. As Chesterton put it, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

Or as C. S. Lewis put it:

When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.

The second main point I want to stress is how very thin the veneer of civilisation is. We think we are such refined, clever and decent people. We really do think that we are good people. But we are not. Jeremiah had it right when he said “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).

And recall what German society was like when Hitler came to power. Germany in the 1930s was among the most cultured, polished, sophisticated and enlightened nations around. If any nation could claim to have progressed to a point of the ideal society, the Germans could have.

Yet for all their progress, refinement and culture, they handed us Hitler on a platter. They gave us the Nazis, the death camps, and the Holocaust. Of course I am not picking on Japan and Germany here. I am picking on fallen humanity. I am picking on every nation and every person without God.

Sinful man may have a veneer of civilisation but inside he is full of demonic evil. Alexander Solzhenitsyn also had to deal with one of the most evil, most cruel, and most demonic systems ever – godless communism. He too knew all about sin and evil as he lingered near death in the Soviet Gulag for eight years.

Yet even in the face of all this diabolical evil, he rightly understood, as a Christian, what the real story was. He knew where real evil comes from. It is not just in certain nations or in certain political ideologies or in certain worldviews. Said Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

And again:

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

Yep, ultimately evil lies in every single human heart, and the only way to deal with it is to get a new heart. A heart transplant is what is needed, and that is what the gospel message offers. God cleans us up on the inside, takes away our heart of stone, and gives us a heart of flesh.

Those who come to Christ in faith and repentance get to participate in this great exchange. But barring that, no amount of civilisation, no amount of progress, and no amount of self-effort will reduce evil in the world – or in ourselves – and make things better. We need to learn from history here.

The German and Japanese horrors took place not that long ago. And we in the West are fully capable of repeating all this evil. Our hope does not lie within. It comes from without. God offers the change we need. Whether we accept that or not is up to us.

[1691 words]

8 Responses to Evil, and Humanity Without God

  • It seems to me that the West and the world is heading for a mess worse than what happened in WW 2. Man is so proud of his ”progress” in this fast paced internet age with all the amazing technology there is, but it’s very clear that the world is at the edge of a precipice. The addiction to constant pleasure and self is masking the chaos that is starting to flood the West – especially regarding leftist anarchy, relativism and islam. I can foresee on a physical level that electricity and internet use could suddenly break down for weeks or more, simply by an act of terrorism at the ‘right’ spot or spots. It’s scary how much of the western world is allowing itself to be reliant on the internet, not realizing that the net is totally dependent on electricity, which can be brought to a stop quite easily. Whilst the West is lost in it’s self absorption the rust within is building so that the West will collapse and the civilised world quickly turn to chaos… The “progess” in the world is quite illusionary and is really more like a heshen tent covering a huge hole in the ground. I can foresee it blowing away quite soon…. This is the time to know that the only Rock is Christ himself who’ll hold us fast no matter what….

  • Thanks Bill,

    Our world definitely can use good preachers like you man! We have just, or rather I have just finished auditing NT301 Jesus And The Gospels and have inquired about studying NT302 The Early New Testament Church next semester www.rtc.edu.au. What has stood out to this student during reading works from men you have mentioned plus Mark Strauss, Craig Blomberg, George Eldon Ladd as well as others, is the need for churches today to focus on that which we celebrate twice a year which is “God with us”, “Emmanuel” Christmas and Jesus’ Resurrection (Life, death, ascension to new life) all year around, we may say on these occasions that we do, but do we?

    The churches mission is not really the churches mission, which is supposed to be:

    The Great Commission

    16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    We are so bad, we make excuses like “but every one is at a different stage” what ever that means, if we wait for the right conditions to disciple others in the faith, it will never happen and we see that this is so as nothing is done about building up our brothers and sisters inside the church, in their faith in Jesus, especially not encouraging or preaching to one another even when church leaders particularly have been ordained for this ministry. Some rather busy themselves reaching out to those in actual prison who know, because of legal convictions, that they are bad, now prison ministry in itself is commendable in itself but as you mention in your very good article Bill, we are all bad and in need of the same support, so while our churches shrink and prisons grow all our efforts are going into hardened criminals rather than the rest of us who can help prevent such travesty of justice by sharing the message of salvation through Christ to prevent any such crime against humanity to grow our churches instead.

    God help us, open our eyes to see ourselves the way you see us as we really are lost without you not as our selfies show or our empty sentiment and short replies telling others everything is all right because everything is not alright. With the Lord everything is alright but as we become more self absorbed, boarders and boundaries no longer protect us since they are broken down by us becoming less connected as a communities as we become more connected superficially by the media No. 1 as well as the destruction of church and the world as we know it at such a rapid rate because of our disconnectedness to our Sovereign Head, our Father in Heaven. Never before has there been such a vast supply of information some good and some bad, we need to be better informed, more discerning about what we allow to inform our minds and remember our first love, return to the basics while wisely using the Internet, media etc. and remember that Christ is our ruler not such instruments that will not last, Christ is our Saviour from everlasting to everlasting we need to be giving him our hearts and lives everyday after all we are his disciples are we not?

    We need to Follow Jesus Well thewaydiscipleship.com do you not believe Bill? Thanks for your great article, it addresses a very relevant matter in society today which we all need to consider and take very seriously!! Blessings

  • Brilliant article Bill. I attended AOG Bible College in Melbourne in the 1990’s and you were my excellent Apologetics lecturer. I thank you for implanting in me a desire to question human nature and the teaching from Christians who tend to regurgitate what they hear from American Evangelists without testing to see if it comes from Biblical truth. I learnt about the concept of good and evil in lectures and even though I have shared on this basic truth of Scripture, people do not seem to understand what is going on in the world today. I say to the Church to “wake up” to what is happening with the evils of Islam, even though there are many moderate Muslims who do not engage in terrorist acts. There is a world-wide struggle from Muslims who want to impart their teaching and beliefs on the world. However, if what you are taught is wrong, what you teach will be wrong”. The idea of killing the infidel in Islam is a very real threat to the security of the west. There is a major Diaspora going on in the world today where Muslims are being displaced from their own countries through the barbaric wars being inflicted on them by their own people i.e. Muslims. Muslims need to solve the problems themselves around the world and not hide behind the offence of being challenged in their faith and values. They are the ones doing the murdering, not the innocent people in the western cities i.e. London, Paris, Boston, Sydney and Melbourne, to name just a few cities affected.
    The left ideology is pushing Islam at the expense of Christianity that this nation was built on, which could see western civilization destroyed in our country. Western civilization with its Christian roots, moral values, ethics and rule of Law, took hundreds of years to develop and it could take hundreds of years to be restored if destroyed by secularists and Marxists. Come on world, wake up to what is happening and do not try to appease the apostate religion of Islam at the death of Christianity that has served this nation well. I also say that we need a Christian Revival in Australia and the world, because we will not solve the Islamic situation through one good sermon here and there or trying to reason with terrorists. That time has passed!
    The concept of “Original Sin” has seen many Christians declaring they were not born into “sin” when their whole lives and attitudes seem to counteract their belief by their actions and negative statements. People seem to be offended by this theology as they say they are a child of God and not a sinner or a slave to Christ without rights. They say they they are new creations, born-again which is all true, but the process of sanctification and changing their lives to be more like Christ, takes a lifetime of “dying to self to come alive in-Christ”.
    Bill, we need more good teaching that will use the Bible to interpret the Bible and not humanistic teachers who are more interested in building their own kingdoms and not the Kingdom of God!
    Thanks Bill for all your teaching and “prophetic” insight that does not tickle the ears of the hearers but challenges believers and non believers alike to get their lives right before our Holy God. Amen!

  • Many thanks David. Bless you.

  • Thanks for this article Bill. It gets to the true heart of the matter and the message can’t be broadcast often enough.

  • A thought provoking read Bill as this article goes straight to the heart of the problem.

    I recently went to the burial of a man only introduced to me six weeks or so earlier. He spent the next month handing out Christian fliers at our Christian outreach in the Melbourne CBD. He was a very quiet person and spoke little to anyone. In fact he looked unwell and I asked if he was up to witnessing to which he responded yes he’s OK. Then the next I heard he was in a coma and I went with friends to the hospital to anoint him with oil and pray for him. It was obvious he was dying and by this time he was out of the coma but he seemed at peace. It was as if he was a ‘prodigal son’ and had returned to his father. He was pleased to see us and gladly received prayer. With a couple of days he was dead.

    I was asked if I could speak at his funeral so not knowing much about him I did some digging. It was then that I discovered things about human nature and its tendencies towards doing evil even by those who wear the ‘Christian badge’. This man who had died had been used and mistreated by those who had sponsored him and left him to die without helping. I was shocked also to learn that these people would receive a lump sum from the estate.

    At his funeral there it was absent of any genuine love. In fact apart from a short thank you to those in attendance I was the only one to speak. When I gave the eulogy I spoke from Gen 6:5-6 and Jer. 17:9 (it was my first ever eulogy and I was going to make the most of it) reminding attendees about how God views us and how our hearts are far from Him. Yet despite this, God thought humanity was worth saving by sending His only begotten Son to us. I believe the Holy Spirit moved through His word and I could see heads bowed and on some, contrite hearts. I was thankful for the few days to allow me to simmer down and deliver a message that wasn’t just from the flesh because I really felt like giving them a lot of stick! Talk about deceitful hearts. We all experience our own hearts time to time and it keeps in check because it is so easy to err. The realization of the thin veneer of civilization is horrifying when one considers how close we are to losing it. Saving it surely starts on our knees because only God can deal with the heart of man.

  • “We remain the same: self-centred individuals who like to pretend we are not so bad.” I think with these words, Bill, you have summed it up in a nutshell what is at the heart of the present problems we face in today’s world.
    I would also like to comment on an late afternoon show on radio 3AW. I won’t mention any names, but the radio announcer on this show is openly atheist. It was therefore so awful to hear him this afternoon in conversation with one of his callers, who said words to the effect “That we’re better off without religion” and the announcer replied “No religion is good”. So in effect both these people view the world without a God and in themselves they must feel an emptiness and no purpose really in their lives. I wished I was able to challenge them on the remarks, but I was in my car at the time. Everywhere I see this, Bill. A world completely without any sense of God or Jesus Christ. And that is why we are going to fail against an ideology that in it’s own terrible way, has a greater belief than most people in the West. We would not have won the two great wars, if those who had fought it did not have a fundamental belief in a higher authority than man himself. Just imagine if Hitler was the enemy now. England would have long fallen and so too Europe. But as it stands they are now falling to Islam instead. As you say, 70 years is not such a great gap in time in the context of the two World Wars and yet here we are again, staggering towards the abyss, quite blind and without anything to hold us together except our humanist theories . It is very sad and tragic that the leftist have brought up to this point. I guess the greatest irony is, that when Islam takes over, the leftists won’t know what hit them.

  • Great article, Bill!

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