The Nature of Man(kind) and a Helpful Distinction

People have been writing and speaking about worldviews for some time. Everyone has a worldview, and it can change over time. Part of that worldview is what the person believes about human beings.

People can have dramatic disagreements about the nature of man. This results in practical differences concerning what ought to be done. For example, one person considers all human life to be sacred under God. Another considers a person’s desire to engage in wanton sexual activity without responsibility to be more sacred than human life. As a result, they disagree about what to do with the human beings that are conceived by such activity. How valuable is human life? For some people it depends on whether you can hear their screams when they are murdered. Or whether you can hear them call out for their mothers and ask for help breathing. Or whether they have “intersectionality.”

That may have seemed harsh, but it’s not meant to come across that way. It illustrates how a person’s view of mankind makes a profound difference in the person’s actions and words. It also makes a difference in the way a person responds when his deficiencies are noted by another.

We quickly jump to motives when we see or hear something we don’t like in another person. I do it too. The accusation usually thrown around in these times is “hate.” It’s convenient, because it ends discussion, which can be difficult. Hurling the label makes it unnecessary to continue interacting with the “hater.” So what was once simply “being wrong” has now become a justification for ad hominem dismissal. Judge for yourself: is it more loving to patiently correct someone who has made a mistake, or to slap on a label like “hater,” possibly try to injure the person’s reputation and livelihood, and then congratulate oneself on removing one more oppressor from the ranks of society? Shouldn’t be a hard question.

This is the crux of what I want to explore here: making mistakes. This is also part of human nature. Our problem is that we forget this. Sometimes we fail to allow others the grace to grow after a mistake through correction, or even repentance. We unreasonably act as though the person should have been perfect, as though we don’t really believe that human nature is sinful. Or as the common excuse says it, “nobody’s perfect.” Maybe we’re willing to apply this to ourselves, but forget it when dealing with this “offender.”

The other part of our problem is when we make mistakes ourselves. How would you like to be treated by others? In the heat of the moment, we all would probably want our mistakes to be overlooked or ignored. But I think most of us can see that it’s better when we are given an opportunity to correct our mistakes. If the mistake is some wrongdoing, we would really want a chance to repent and receive forgiveness for it. But when we first learn about the wrongdoing, that’s not how we feel about it.

Some people believe that humanity is basically good at the core. The Bible says that mankind was created good through-and-through, but now the situation is completely reversed. The reversal happened in the events told in Genesis 3, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This really bothers some people. Why should we be held accountable for someone else’s mistake? It sounds unjust. But then we commit wrongs of our own and show the kind of nature we have inherited. Some people still reject that man is basically evil. That makes the distinction I’m about to describe very hard to accept.

There is an important difference between three kinds of wrongness. They are all wrong in relation to the same thing: God’s moral code. (Without that, there can be no objective morality.) But they are still different from one another in important ways. The three kinds of wrongness are perversion, corruption, and defect.

Perversion is defined by Websters as “the act of perverting; the condition of being perverted.” Definition 1-a of pervert as a verb says “to cause to turn aside or away from what is good or true or morally right.” There are related definitions, but they are derived from this meaning, where we see that there is an agency involved in perversion. That is, someone or something with the ability to will decided to take action and pervert something else.

Webster mentioned “what is good or true or morally right” in the second definition above. That can be easily understood as the original design of God in creation, before the Fall into sin. So things or people in a perverted condition have been intentionally twisted from their original good. Because of this, perversion is one kind of evil.

Corruption is a similar word, and in fact Websters refers to it in connection with perversion. But there is not necessarily any agency when something is corrupted. If you drive your car on the salted roads of New England or the upper Midwest, you will see in a few years how the car’s body becomes corrupted by rust. Bury a standard two-by-four in the wet ground, then check on it after a while, and it will have been corrupted with rot. Unlike perversion, not all forms of corruption necessarily have a moral implication. Websters’ first definition says, “to cause to turn aside or away from what is good or true or morally right.” This certainly has a moral implication, but in this case, definition 1-a given by Webster is really a derived from the more general definition 1-c: “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” It seems likely that they are placed in this order due to prevalence of usage.

Corruption can therefore be another kind of evil itself, as when a person in authority is corrupted by bribes or prejudice (much like perversion in this case), or when a child’s character is spoiled by immoral, evil influences. But corruption of human beings can also be simply a result of evil. One example is illness, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Without the corruption that entered Creation with the Fall into sin, our hearts could keep beating forever. Our minds would remain clear. The way we feel would always make sense in full agreement with our physiology, and would support our daily interactions and activities instead of making it hard to live in our vocations.

A defect is defined by Websters as “an imperfection or abnormality that impairs quality, function, or utility.” It seems insulting to say that a person has a defect, but it’s really no worse than saying the person has been perverted or corrupted. Here we commonly understand congenital birth defects, such as missing or duplicate appendages, conjoined twins, and ambiguous sexual organs. On a smaller scale, there are genetic defects, and there are also mental or emotional defects. Often a defect is imposed after birth, making it similar to corruption: a baby is tragically dropped or abused, a child is neglected, leading to mental or emotional problems that manifest in destructive choices or behaviors, etc.

Where the words perversion and corruption imply certain origins of the problem, the word defect focuses on the problem more than its cause. Any of these words can be used in an insulting, hurtful way, but they also all have beneficial uses when talking about the effects of sin on human beings. These words relate to the worldview that human beings are fallen creatures of God.

Secularists espouse an atheistic worldview that rejects the Fall and its resulting anthropology, or view of mankind. It’s difficult to convince anyone that humans are perfect in our actions, decisions, and words because these are plain for others to see and hear. But secularists have managed to convince many people that our emotions are just fine, and should always be trusted. Consider in The Return of the Jedi Luke’s certainty that there was still something good in his father, Anakin. Throughout the Star Wars saga, the story reflects the way our culture invests great trust in the purity and truth of our emotions. The same can be said for many recent stories.

The Biblical worldview has a different understanding of our emotions. Naturally-conceived humans are entirely subject to the effects of sin, whether corruption, perversion, or defect. Not only our bodies, minds, and emotions, but even the part that secularists completely deny: our souls and spirits. Every part of a human being has been affected. The corruption is thorough.

When another person points out our defects, corruptions, or perversions, we don’t like to hear it. This is a good thing. It shows that we still realize there’s a difference between right and wrong, and we’d rather be right. Yet the fact of sin remains. Any affect of sin is certainly possible for us, and it’s better to have a truthful self-perception or even to repent of any and all guilt than to continue deceiving ourselves about our own nature.

Hearing about our faults makes us feel bad about ourselves. It leads to a negative and more accurate self-image. But we don’t like to feel bad. We don’t like a negative self-image, especially when it’s accurate. We’ll like it much less to be eternally deprived of God’s presence and good gifts, to suffer where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The answer to all of this is found in the one human who has no sin, but suffered anyway to atone for our guilt before God. In Christ Jesus and nowhere else do we find healing for all of the pathologies we suffer: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He doesn’t cause limbs to regenerate each Sunday. He doesn’t deliver us from our inclination to disordered affections all at once. St. Paul prayed that He would take away the thorn in his flesh, but the Lord answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Our weaknesses then becomes strengths and blessings through Jesus Christ. We can repent of our guilt, resist sin, and live with a good conscience, while also having an accurate understanding of who and what we are as beloved creatures of God. Jesus calls it “bearing a cross.” The day is coming when we will lay these crosses down. All the effects of sin will be gone. We will be fully comfortable in our own skins, because they will be perfect and untainted. The same goes for our minds, emotions, souls, and spirits. We will be and remain in the glorious presence of God, and Jesus will wipe away every tear.

Dear Haley

Dear Haley,

I was so glad you received my last email, and very happy to hear from you. It’s also excellent to feel a solid connection to your pastor. Sometimes that happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. But let me tell you, even if your pastor’s personality ends up rubbing you the wrong way, it’s still a comfort to know that he’s the one God sent to bring you His word. You may not know why at those times, but it’s still a comfort.

There’s only enough space in one message to say something about the first problem you mentioned: when members don’t seem to care much about the mission of their church. It’s always hard to see that, but we have to remember that there’s a lot we may not see. Read Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 sometime to see the variety of spiritual gifts that may exist in a church. Not all of them will be visible all the time. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters will be shy, for example. But if they spend some time each day praying for the various branches of ministry in the congregation, they are contributing just as much as a person who brings a friend to church every other week.

Another thing that can happen is when church members lose their focus on the whole mission of the Church. They may think that only one or two aspects of Christ’s mission are important, and ignore the others. They may even take offense when someone speaks about another aspect of our mission as important and worthy of our attention. This is one way that the devil sows seeds of strife in our Lord’s Church.

A slightly skewed perspective in one or more people paired with an attitude lacking in love can magnify the sins of other Christians instead of covering them up (see 1 Peter 4:8). Bad news travels faster than good news, and gossip faster still. James chapter 3 warns us sternly about the damage that can be done with the tongue. Damage to ourselves, to others, and to the whole body of Christ. I suppose that some churches go through hard times because wagging tongues have unjustly damaged their reputation or the pastor’s reputation.

Haley, my advice is to be careful about how and where you express your frustrations concerning other members. If you speak directly to some of those members who seem less dedicated, someone is certain to learn something important! Either you will learn more about them or they may be re-energized in their appreciation for God’s gifts and their dedication to His mission. Be sure to let me know how it goes.

I’ll have to touch on your other comments in another message. Until then, may our Lord keep you in the palm of His almighty and gracious hand.

In Him,

Uncle Ed

Hi Uncle Ed,

Thanks so much for your advice about talking to other people in the church! I wasn’t sure how to approach one woman, so I told her that I wanted to help in the church, but wasn’t sure what I could do. She told me that she prays every night, including the pastor, his family, and even the sister church 25 miles away and their school. She also makes a point to pray for the synod and all our missions. I never would have known this if I hadn’t asked her. At her suggestion, I’ve made a list of people and things to pray about at church.

The strangest thing happened, too. I was praying for an opportunity to share my faith with someone at work. Would you believe that three days later, the opportunity just fell into my lap? I don’t know what will happen next with my coworker, but at least I can be sure he’s heard about Jesus. Maybe next time I see him I’ll invite him to my church.

Now more than ever, I think it’s important that our church members work together. Maybe it will be daily prayers for some of us, but I know that God can provide the opportunities we need to do things too. If only I could get everyone else as excited as I am about sharing the gospel!

It sounds like you’ll be writing about something else in my previous message, so I won’t add much to this one.

Blessings to you through Jesus!


Dear Haley

Dear Haley,

I’ve heard that kids born since 1995 are hard for someone like me to reach, so I hope you’re one of those who actually checks your email. As someone born four decades before you, I still think email is the best thing since sliced bread. (No, I wasn’t around when sliced bread was invented. That’s just an expression.) If you do read this in between checking your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter messages, please let me know! I’d love to hear back from you.

The reason for my message is my joy at hearing from your grandfather (my brother) about your conversion to the Christian faith about five years ago. I want to encourage you to keep at it, because even though it’s not easy (nor is it supposed to be easy), it’s very much worth the effort.

It sounds strange for me to say that there’s effort involved in being a Christian, but nothing could be more true. Of course I find great comfort in the fact that I had very little to do with becoming a Christian. I was the dead clay, the Holy Spirit was the potter, and His divine hands worked through the gospel and holy baptism to bring me to spiritual life. Yes, there’s a lot of comfort in that.

Later I learned how He not only “called me by the Gospel” and “enlightened me with His gifts,” but also “kept me in the true faith.” The calling and enlightening were all Him, but to me it has been a personal challenge to stay in the true faith. Maybe your grandfather told you about my youth. I was confirmed in the Lutheran church. Memorized the Small Catechism and everything. But by the time I graduated from high school, my priorities were askew. It took about ten years for me to realize that. But what a joy it was when I finally paid attention again to the things that are most important! That’s why I wanted to reach out to you with a word of encouragement. Keep at it! Don’t give up!

Receiving God’s forgiveness of my sins and the personal promise of eternal life is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m thrilled to say that it keeps happening every week when I go to church. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I pray that you have the same joy, and that the Holy Spirit will also keep you “with Jesus Christ in the one true Faith.”

Affectionately yours in Christ,

Uncle Ed

Hey Uncle Ed!

I got your message. It was a treat to hear from you, because it’s been such a long time. When did I see you last? Was it at Tom’s confirmation? I must have been 8 years old then. Or were you at his wedding, too? That would have been ten years ago. Your message brought back a lot of good memories.

Things have been okay here. My church was only started as a mission about five years ago, and we live in a place where everyone seems more concerned about having a good time than thinking about serious things. So it’s been a battle for the church, and it’s still pretty small. My pastor is great, though. He actually visited my house after the first couple times I went to church there! The mission work keeps him very busy, but I can tell he loves it and cares about his congregation. That must be the way Jesus was. I love to hear about Jesus.

But honestly, there are some things that bother me too. Some of the members at church are recent converts like me. (You remember I was never confirmed as a kid, right?) We’re doing our best to pitch in and help Pastor Haas when we can, though there’s not much time in the day for it. But some church members don’t seem to care much about helping the mission, and they tend to be life-long Christians! How can that be? I don’t want to think they’re hypocrites, but sometimes it looks that way. Sometimes their priorities look the same as the feel-good neighbors around us!

Another thing that bothers me is that when I bring my friends to church, they don’t understand what’s so great about it. It’s like they don’t really pay attention to what we’re hearing and singing. My friend Jordan even called it boring.

Then there’s all the “business” that happens at church. We’ve been talking about ways to advance the mission, but every time it comes up in a forum, we have an argument about money. Why are we talking about that in a church? Don’t we have better things to do? I just want to get on with things and tell others about Jesus.

Sorry to unload on you, but I guess you touched a nerve. I do have the joy you mentioned to know my Savior, but it sure comes with a lot of baggage. How can you stand it?