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Friday, February 10, 2012

Are we inherently good?

If we are to have hope for recovery, then we must first accept that humanity is ‘repairable.’  After all, if humanity was bad, then repairing it would be useless: it would require complete replacement.

Orthodox Christianity teaches that mankind’s nature is inherently good.  The fall created a rift within our persons, separating us from God and leaving us susceptible to imprisonment to the passions.  We suffer without God.
This is both the hope and the affliction of the addict: he is made to be with God, and he suffers because he is apart from Him.

Human nature is not inherently neutral, nor is it naturally inclined towards evil.  Infants, for example, are not known for their wickedness.  Most children, unless they are abused, have little interest in real evil.  That comes later, from the examples of others. 

In Genesis 8:21, God proclaims:

And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

This is not man’s nature, but the thoughts that the broken mind produce.
At our most primitive level, we do not know ‘good and evil,’ but rather ‘desirable and repulsed.’  There are things we want as good, and there are things we reject as bad.  This has little to do with higher definitions of morality and virtue.  Even when we do bad things, it is quite often because we want something ‘good.’  We want tasty food, entertaining and appreciative companionship, physical comfort, etc.  These things aren’t bad in and of themselves.  What is bad is when we desire goodness, then reach for something that isn’t good.  This is the core of man’s fallenness.

This means that we are not ‘utterly depraved,’ but held ‘captive’ to our brokenness until we can be healed.  Sin is not the be all and end all.  It is a small problem compared to the glory of God and the beauty of human nature when it is repaired.  If you can see the blessedness of man, see the beauty amidst the wounds and suffering, it becomes much easier to forgive and accept forgiveness.

There is much goodness in the world, despite the darkness of evil.  Each day more good happens than evil: plants grow, animals thrive, men work… there is much more order than disorder.  We are not living in an utterly depraved world.
Some use the Scriptures to argue this desperate vision:

But look closely: it talks about man’s thoughts from his ‘heart’ (read ‘mind’ in the modern vernacular).  Yes. Men struggle with their thoughts, but it is not an ontological problem encompassing the whole man.  Otherwise, how could Christ become a human?

Western Christianity eventually developed a strange notion that the Virgin Mary’s conception had to be different in order to make the Incarnation possible, but that’s a new teaching.  The Church has always understood her humanity to be exactly like ours.

Yes, the sinfulness of man is a problem, but it is not the definition of who we are and who we are supposed to be.  If we think we are meant to sin, then there is no escape.  Recovery means becoming something other than human, and this is not the case.  Recovery is about becoming human, and the General Resurrection is when all mankind is renewed to be fully human.

Our thoughts are not inherently good, but we are.  Fr. Meletios often says that we musts remember that we are not our thoughts.  If we identify with our thoughts, then we have a big problem.
We are inherently good, and we are loved by our Creator.  This is the hope of recovery.

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