Until you believe that you have all the resources within your own personhood to ruin your own life, you don’t really believe in total depravity. Until you believe that you are fully capable of blowing up important relationships in your life for bad reasons, you don’t believe in total depravity. Until you believe that someday it may actually seem like a good idea to stop worshiping God all together or to quit being a part of his family, you don’t believe in total depravity. This is what it means to say sin has so corrupted our nature that we are prone to hate our neighbor and hate God.
But, conversely, unless we believe God can intervene in the life of such a one, and give him or her gloriously different thoughts and desires than these, we also don’t really believe that “Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
The bad news is bad, but the good news is greater.
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” -Thomas Nagel, The Last Word
Here’s a fascinating quote from Stevenson’s book that bears striking resemblance to something the apostles Paul says in Romans 7:
I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original sin; and the thought in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine… [Edward Hyde’s] every act and thought centered on self. (quoted in Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pg. 175).
Compare that with this:
14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:14-15)
“The Christian dogma of the double nature in man–which asserts that man is distinguished as necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him–makes the present parlous state of human society seem less hopeless and less irrational.”
as quoted by Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 168
Here’s a really nice quote on the nature of sin from Barbara Brown Taylor:
“Neither the language of medicine nor of law is adequate substitute for the language of [sin.] Contrary to the medical model, we are not entirely at the mercy of our maladies. The choice is to enter into the process of repentance. Contrary to the legal model, the essence of sin is not [primarily] the violation of laws but a wrecked relationship with God, one another, and the whole created order. ‘All sins are attempts to fill voids,’ wrote Simone Weil. Because we cannot stand the God-shaped hole inside us, we try stuffing it full of all sorts of things, but only God may fill [it].”
As quoted in Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 160.
Henri Blocher discusses the annoying oversimplifications that have gone into understanding how original sin is transmitted. He offers this quote from Soren Kierkegaard, intended to add a little respect to a difficult topic:
“Sin is precisely what cannot be conceived of and penetrated, the riddle of the world, because it is the groundless thing, a gratuitous interruption.” as cited in Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, pg. 108
Sin is mysterious because there is no need for it in the world, thus it is always an interloper, and that makes it harder to understand how it works. And that should encourage humility in our reflections on it.
“In order to relieve the tension [in identifying the source of evil in humanity], some criticize on epistemological grounds the unwarranted ‘reductionism’ often associated with scientific method. Human being transcends what ‘controlling knowledge’ can apprehend; experience witnesses, for those who have ears to hear, to the mystery of humanness, to the person as homo absconditus (whether there be a ‘hidden God’ or not)…
I suggest the duality of experience is better explained by the doctrine of original sin. It teaches both personal responsibility (‘I am a man of unclean lips’) and social conditioning and solidarity (‘and I dwell among a people of unclean lips;’ Is. 6:5). Henri Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, pp. 94.