This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(6) Q. Did God create man so wicked and perverse?
A. No. God created man good and in his own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might truly know God his creator, love him with all his heart, and live with God in eternal happiness, for his praise and glory.
(7) Q. Then where does man’s corrupt nature come from?
A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are all conceived and born in sin.
(8) Q. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
A. Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.
What were we like when we were younger? Each of us can ask that question of ourselves. The answers can demystify the past, explain the present, and equip us for the future.
We can also ask that question of the human race. What were people like when we were first born? Studying the present state of humanity, like excavating the ruins of an ancient civilization, doesn’t allow the development of a complete anthropology. Ruins can’t tell us everything about how life used to be. Judging by ruins’ low walls without roofs, we might suspect folks from long ago didn’t value privacy or care about rain coming into their homes. But we aren’t seeing the whole picture.
What if we could learn from the architect? What if we could hear from someone who had been present through the entire human experience? Just as your parents can tell things about you from before you had memory, God can say things about us that we couldn’t know any other way. And you can’t live to your full potential without knowing yourself. So, what can a little history tell us?
Humanity Had a Good Start
“God made man good and in his own image, that is in true righteousness and holiness” (Gen. 1:27). That fact gives us crucial insight into humanity’s story.
Knowledge of life before the fall helps us take responsibility for sin. We quickly blame God when things go wrong. “Where was God when . . . ?” But sin isn’t his fault. He created us to live in beautiful harmony with himself and others. Where was God when this world became ruined? He was intimately invested in Adam and Eve’s life, surrounding them with good, and warning them against poisoning the world through sin. The fault for this world’s mess is ours. When God allowed the fall, he let us have just what we wanted.
Knowledge of life before the fall helps us lament what we have become. Lament is a strange word today. We’ve been tricked into thinking there’s no use crying over losses; “no regrets!” But the Bible teaches us to lament. Lamentations is an entire Bible book dedicated to helping people grieve the consequences of sin. The author’s assessment is true of us: “She who was a princess . . . has become a slave” (1:1). We sometimes forget how far we have fallen. And we can acclimate to dysfunction. We overlook bad behavior in our homes until outsiders are present as witnesses. In a similar way, we underestimate our misery unless we hear Scripture’s testimony of our prior glory.
Knowledge of life before the fall helps us desire better days. People love to reminisce about “the good old days.” But often the construct is a myth. For the 1950s to seem idyllic, you must overlook such things as the polio outbreak and Jim Crow laws. If we go further back, we lose such benefits as indoor plumbing, electricity, and anesthesia. But there truly were good old days. And we mustn’t forget them. Real people have known God better than you know your dearest friend. Real people have loved God 100% and lived with him in happiness and unbroken praise. Believers keep these memories alive for the rest of humanity. Future paradise (Luke 23:43) is neither a fantasy nor the result of evolutionary processes. It will be a divine restoration even better than how humans once lived in this world.
Humanity Took a Great Fall
“God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl. 7:29). We’re “so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and [are] inclined toward all evil.” Because of sin, we’re totally depraved. No part of humanity has escaped sin’s degrading influence.
By our sin, we continue to act out the terrible schemes of our first parents. Sin came into the world through one person, and death through sin. But we don’t just die because of Adam’s sin. “Death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Imagine a company that makes parts from plastic injected into aluminum molds. If the mold gets damaged, every part will be deformed. The first human, Adam, is like a mold that became defective when he willingly perverted his nature by sinning against God’s command. So long as we remain patterned after his image, our nature will be corrupt. The ordinary continuation of the human race is like a production line using the defective mold of Adam.
To use a more organic illustration, humanity is like a tree growing out of the roots of our first parents. Their sin guaranteed that every branch, leaf, and fruit would be poisoned by their sin.
God made a covenant with Adam: obey and live, or sin and die (Gen. 2:17). When he sinned, Adam answered for himself and his posterity. This truth is both terrible and hopeful: In Adam, we are in bondage to sin, but if our misery is tied to the deeds of a champion, even a failed one, we can be restored through the heroics of a better champion (Rom. 5:17).
God Gave Humanity a New Hope
The answer to question eight has an important word: “unless.” We are “so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good . . . unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.” The Spirit is like a powerful, mysterious wind (John 3:8). Wind can knock down trees more massive than 10 people could budge an inch. The new birth (John 3:1–15) starts the process of being remolded into the image of Christ, grafted into the healthy tree of Jesus so his life-giving power can flow through us.
Our first birth is a spiritual disaster. Our second birth by the Spirit is the start of a total recovery. Knowledge of the source and extent of our misery can help us worship the Savior who makes us new.