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.