Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His novel tells the story of a good doctor who was transformed into the mysterious and evil Mr. Hyde by ingesting a strange potion. Little did Stevenson know that his novel would spawn a name descriptive of the human condition, the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. It’s who we are: good and evil in one person. At any given moment one or the other dominates, but our struggle has always been to tame the war between good and evil within us.
Are We Evil?
I think it may have been G. K. Chesterton who said it, and I think it’s true, “You can prove the ‘depravity of man’ doctrine just by reading the newspapers,” or in today’s climate, by reading social media. In 2 Peter 2, the apostle presents an ugly “newspaper account” of humanity, even suggesting that we see these traits in some Christians, or as he prefers to call them, false prophets.
When we consider biblical statements that “all have sinned,” and “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin,” the Bible is answering the question we often ask, “What’s wrong with the world?” Peter’s description raises this question. It isn’t far from our minds today as we’ve seen the brutality of the Hamas invasion of Israel: cruel treatments of civilians, the aged, and children. People with their eyes open ask this question whenever human depravity rears its ugly head. Most of us can at least agree that the people Peter describes who prey on the weak, innocent, and vulnerable fall under the condemnation of most just societies.
Aren’t We Good?
In moments of natural calamity, we witness the best of humanity. We share our goods, our money, and our time to help those in need. Out tendency therefore is to assume that people are good by nature. Yet not all cultures respond with generosity. Some see bad events as the consequences of bad behavior, curses fated on the unrighteous. When a plague hit Rome in the third century, many of the pagan doctors fled for their own safety rather than stay to comfort and heal the afflicted. The goodness of humanity is not a universal truth.
Jesus told his audience that though parents could give good gifts to their children, they were still evil (Matthew 7:11). This indictment strikes close to those who think of themselves as good persons. The Bible speaks of sin, rebellion, and disobedience, and even if you don’t agree with what it considers a sin, all of us can find a sin we are guilty of in any of the lists given in the New Testament. Matthew 15:19-20 is a good place to begin. The Apostle Paul (Colossians 1:21) even describes us a hostile toward God.
A Reason to Believe?
Does this description of humanity as sinful provide a definitive reason to believe? I offer this brief discussion merely as food for thought. Should we prefer answers without involving God or the Bible, we must consider how others address the issue of humanity’s tendency to war (as opposed to peace), hatred (as opposed to love), along with its tendency toward deceit, adultery, and jealousy. A deep dive into those who reject any notion of a supreme being necessarily come up with no rationale to explain such things. They must steal notions of right, wrong, and justice from the pages of the Judaeo/Christian heritage.
Today we may have vestiges of a Christian society; we still believe in kindness and good will toward others; we still seek to develop a just society. Such things may be more like a cut flower, detached from the roots of Christian values, and though we maintain the beauty of those values, like a flower cut from its roots, we must wither and die. Perversions of all sorts keep raising their ugly heads. Might this prove the truth that we are all under the condemnation of sin? Might this drive us to see that we need to be delivered from the curse of these things?
I believe this second chapter of Peter’s second letter is ugly. Most certainly it is humanity at its ugliest. Arrogance, deception, greed, and taking advantage of the innocent and the naive paint an unflattering picture of human beings. The author has already (in chapter one) provided the means for his readers to escape their own sins; they are not excluded from the truth that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Despite Peter’s vivid portrayals of the evil in the midst of his audience, we escape only by developing a spiritual life based on the nature of God.
The truth of Christianity and a reason to believe it comes from seeing the truth about our separation from and rebellion against God. Though it is difficult to come to grips with our personal sin, once perceived and admitted, we conclude that truly God’s judgment is right. I suggest that rejecting his claim that there is any other way of solving the question of what’s wrong with the world leaves us in a state of evil suspended animation. When we turn elsewhere for an answer, we may find ourselves in the same old Babylon seeking to become God. Perhaps the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was right; everyone has a dark side.
© 2023 Robert T. Weber, The Lazarus Chronicles and Words Done Right LLC