Recently, a friend shared a highly cynical Facebook post with us from someone we do not know and asked us to respond to it.
At the heart of this protest is the notion that Christianity views human beings as "scum." The Apostle Paul did say that the followers of Christ are "the scum of the earth." (1 Corinthians 4:13). Of course, context is vital. Paul did not argue humans are the scum of the earth but that Christians get abuse as the scum of the earth. Nevertheless, as the statement from Andrew indicates, the message that some people have received from various quarters of the church is that humans bring to the table absolutely no value or goodness. In theological terms, we are "totally depraved." But maybe you have never heard this argument?
Depending on your denominational background, Andrew's objections to Christianity may or may not make sense. To those who have grown up in staunch Calvinist or Reformed circles, Andrew's complaints make a lot of sense. Andrew's whole protest depends upon the accuracy of the notion that human beings, outside of Christ, are "scum." So let's see if that proposition holds water.
First of all, what do we mean when we talk about humans "outside of Christ"? As Christians, we believe that a fundamental change comes over human beings who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus over everything and who identify with Jesus through baptism. When someone receives baptism into Christ, they are symbolically dead and raised to life again with a new identity; they are now members of Jesus' family. As the scriptures say:
"if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away and behold, everything has become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Christian doctrine teaches that whatever crimes have been committed by a human get canceled at baptism. The baptized individual is now a new, innocent, i.e., valuable person. The person who has not yet acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus, nor has received baptism, is "outside" of Christ. Therefore, if the person in question is outside of Christ, their crimes are still counted against them, making them an enemy of God or quite possibly "scum."
It is difficult to tell from Andrew's statement whether or not he distinguishes humans inside of Christ and humans who are outside of Christ. Andrew says, "in Christianity, humans are 'scum'." But if Andrew is coming from a former Calvinist's perspective, that lack of distinction is understandable. In Calvinism, humans don't choose to give their lives to Jesus (hold onto your hats here, folks). God decides to provide you with a heart that chooses Jesus. In other words, you may think you are choosing Jesus, but you made your choice only because God chose to make you choose Jesus. Confusing and convoluted, I know. But at the end of the day, the reason Calvinists believe that God works this way is that they also think, just as Andrew articulated, humans are constitutionally incapable of doing any good on our own, including choosing Jesus. Therefore, if we accept the notion that humans, outside of Christ, are "scum" and without value, it is hard to distinguish those "in Christ" if the humans in question played no part in his or her conversion, they are simply the lucky ones whom God chose to give faith. Therefore, the value of "scum" remains because only the technical status has changed. It is true that Biblically speaking, You were "lost" before, and now you are "found." But you were "lost scum" before, and now you are only "found scum." This shift in technical status accomplishes very little to assure a human being of their value before God. This alteration is merely an alteration of future consequences and does not necessarily prove that we are loved or have value. Nothing about this exchange would make a person conclude, as the Apostle Paul does, that "the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20).
Materialism has always been a failing antidote for depression. Divine materialism, such as inheriting an eternal mansion in the sky, adds nothing more to human beings' self-worth than earthly materialism. An immigrant might receive citizenship in a new country. Still, if the vast majority of the natives never see value in the newcomer, the technical status will not do enough to make the new citizen feel at home. In the Calvinist worldview, God does not desire us so much as He wants to glorify Himself through our helplessness. Therefore, Calvinism has very little power to lift someone out of depression or to make a person feel loved, appreciated, or capable of offering anything of value to God or man. If Calvinism is correct, Andrew and his objections are also right.
Andrew faces a choice. As he seems to have done, Andrew can conclude that the deity as he has understood it is "not real" and that Christianity is worthless. He can then move on freely into secularism, where justification is given for every personal indulgence to numb the experience of depression on the basis that everything is meaningless. Or Andrew can dig deeper into questions about God, creation, the person of Jesus, and the human race to determine if what he has understood is truth. The second option requires a lot more effort and courage. The first option gives you license rant against the God whom you condemn on hear-say. Most people in our day and culture choose this first, effortless and irresponsible option, which also brings praise and accolades from the world around us, further numbing our sense of depression. Oddly, the first option leads us to believe that we have found truth in truth's absence and meaning in life's meaninglessness. There has never been a lie that has not believed itself to be the truth.
I am reminded of the old classic story of Pilgrim's Progress: a story of a human being seeking the true God and often facing the struggle of two choices. One narrow path has many hazards on each side, and one easy path offers all the pleasure and ease you could want. Jesus warned his early followers about this scenario:
13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. 14 How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Our incredible loss is that stories like "Pilgrim's Progress" are no longer part of our mental or moral formation. If it was, people like Andrew might be slower to choose the easy path and more equipped to choose the way that will challenge and, in reality, save him.
Andrew's depression is rooted in the fact that he has only left two options about God, Himself, and the world on the table.
God doesn't exist. Therefore, exploit the world and use what you find for coping.
Neither option provides a cure for depression.
The third option is this: God is not who you think he is, Andrew. This third option requires much of you, which is good news because it means your effort has tremendous value in the world, I.e., you have immense value in the world. When a parent does everything for a child and never lets that child grow up and do things for himself, the child eventually resents his parents for making him dependent and unable to contribute to society. The parent who looks to at their child with expectation and who requires personal responsibility eventually finds a friend in a free-thinking, capable individual who brings a unique set of gifts and personality to the world. God is more like the second parent. He requires that you inquire and commit to practicing, applying, and surrendering to the truth you will discover. The doctrines that often plague us are the handiwork of men who often fall short of the fullness of truth despite their best efforts. Doctrines of men are not the same thing as the Word of God revealed in human flesh. It is Jesus who saves us, not doctrines. Doctrines are important but not infallible. Jesus is not a doctrine but a person, alive from the dead and able to communicate with you. Jesus is not under the control of anyone's doctrine or thought, including your own. Jesus never claimed to know the truth; Jesus claimed to be the truth. If you want to know who God is, look at the person of Jesus. Study Him and talk to Him. You must come to know Him on His own terms. He is not words on a page. Jesus is flesh, blood, spirit, and life. Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him." John 14:23. Jesus doesn't love scum, nor does He make His home in scum. Jesus sees value in you, enough value to sacrifice Himself to redeem you.
One tried, and true way of getting to know the real Jesus and the real God is by reading the Bible for yourself. Nothing can replace the reading of the Bible for yourself. You can do it, and you should do it. There are millions of people around the world who would give anything to have a Bible. Some people don't have them because they are poor, illiterate, or live in a country that does not allow them to have Bibles. Or they speak a language that has yet to receive a Bible translation. But we in the West are without excuse. We can rant all we want against the teachings we have heard, but if we haven't bothered to examine the Bible and Jesus' life on our own, we have no moral grounds for criticism.
We can also talk to Christian people whose lives we respect and who bear the fruit of peace and joy that we claim to desire. If someone possesses real peace and joy, they have discovered the true doctrine of God.
The Bible does not teach that humans are scum. Calvinism itself is a little incomprehensible on this subject, but the Bible is not. The Apostle Paul said that "even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." And "the Son Of God loved me and gave Himself for me." God cannot love something that is not lovable. Even as a sinner, you have a redemptive value that Jesus paid a high price to reclaim. Let us not forget that in the beginning, God created mankind and said that it was "very good." We may have sinned, but God hasn't thrown His creation into the trash. Instead, God spent His very self to redeem it. This is the Gospel for planet earth.
Jesus once asked a stupid question of a crippled man who was sitting by a healing pool, "Do you wish to get well?" What a dumb question! Yet, instead of answering the question, the man said, "I have nobody to help me get into the pool when the waters get stirred up." There is a price to pay for healing, and that price is a personal responsibility. If the Jesus heals the disabled, he is no longer a victim. If a crippled person becomes well, he no longer lives off charity and must learn to become industrious and charitable. This transformation is demanding and requires effort. So, the question is, do we want to get well? As Jesus told the cripple, "Rise, take up your sick bed and go home." What is your reply?