After his horrific experience in the Gulag, the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that, “The victims hated their victimizers with the hatred by which they were victimized. And as hatred beget more hatred, the whole world became a concentration camp imprisoned and stoked by hatred.”
He then wrote these piercing words: “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
“According to Genesis 3, sin appeared very early in the history of our race. In this chapter our first parents try to be “like God, knowing good and evil,” and succeed only in alienating themselves from God and from each other. They choose to believe the tempter rather than their Maker and turn their garden into a bramble patch. The good and fruitful earth becomes their foe (Genesis 3:17-18; cf. 4:11-14), and their own sin then rises in a terrible crescendo.”
Adam and Eve’s pride and disbelief trigger revolt, scapegoating, and flight from God (Gen. 3:4-5, 10, 12-13). Their first child ups the ante: Cain resents and kills his brother, Abel, launching the history of envy that leads to murder. Like his parents and the rest of the race, Cain refuses to face his sin (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) and is exiled by God to a place “east of Eden.” In a phrase that suggests the restlessness of all who are alienated from God, Cain becomes ‘a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’”
“The Bible’s account of the human predicament is that from the start we’ve been choosing wrong. We’ve kept on perverting and polluting God’s gifts. It’s not just that each of us commits individual sins—telling lies, for example, or wasting time. The situation is much more serious than this. By sinning we not only grieve God and our neighbor; we also wreck our own integrity. We are like people whose abuse of alcohol ruins not only their liver but also their judgment and will, the things that might have kept them from further abuse of alcohol. The same pattern holds for everybody. We now sin because we are sinners, because we have a habit, and because the habit has damaged our judgment and will.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. “Not the way it’s Suppose to be”)
Who can reasonably argue with Scripture when it says, “There is none righteous—not even one”? (Romans 3:10). Many thinkers have painted dark but honest pictures of humanity. “Man,” observed Rousseau, “seek the author of evil no longer. It is yourself.” Hume wrote, “Man is the greatest enemy of man.” In “The Devil’s Dictionary,” Ambrose Bierce wrote: “The defining feature of humanity is inhumanity.” “We talk of wild animals,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.”
A prisoner in Auschwitz, the most notorious German concentration camp, gripped by the horror of his circumstances asked, “Where is God?” To which a fellow prisoner replied, “Where is man?” At the liberation of Auschwitz, an American soldier said, “We knew man was evil but hadn’t suspected he was that evil.”
Upon returning from the Rwanda Massacre, U.S. Ambassador Robert Seiple said, “There are no categories to express such horror. Someone used the word ‘bestiality’—no, that dishonors the beasts. Animals kill for food, not for pleasure. They kill one or two prey at a time, not a million for no reason at all.”
In 1999, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report penned ominous words that today seem to have been prophetic. But, more likely, her insights were based on unbiased observation of world affairs.
“In looking back at the past 100 years, one thing stands out: Man’s capacity for cruelty seems fairly constant … As the millennium closes, it seems there are more and more random assaults on the anchors of American life: offices, schools, post offices. Some fear terrorism too, is the wave of the future — the targeting of American fortresses by crazed militia groups or by international madmen seeking redress with powerful bombs. Crime experts worry that someday we might see the frightening brand of overseas terrorism that has so far eluded us: suicidal fanatics bent on destruction” ( Angie Cannon, U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 6, 1999).
I’d like to say that things have changed and the world is a safer place but this simply isn’t true. Each day many dangers affect or threaten all areas of life: physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and ecological. We live in a world full of unsafe people and dangerous places. We have good reasons for being concerned about our personal, local, national and international security.
“Peace,” one suggested, “is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”
A Savior is needed
Some still consider it quaint or even antiquated to suggestion that humanity needs a Savior. This view became popular in 1973 with the promotion of the Humanist Manifesto II. The document was signed by scholars from universities around the world — considered the basis for public education. Consider some of the affirmations:
“Human life has meaning because we create it and develop our futures… We strive for the good life here and now.”
“As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. “Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.”
The disappointment in Manifesto I and II is the absence of recommendations for this “other means for survival.” The ambiguous language of social idealism only produced statements like this:
“Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures. We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not renounce them, to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values. “
The events and changes in our world since 1973 make this statement appear to be “an unproved and outmoded faith … diverting people with false hopes.” It seems far more honest and realistic to admit that we need a Savior. We also need to look back to our beginning to understand our deepest problem.
“Near the beginning of our history, we human beings broke the harmony of paradise and began to live against our ultimate good… As Genesis 3 and Genesis 4 reveal, we rebelled against God and then we fled from God. We once had a choice. We now have a near-compulsion—at least, that’s what we have without the grace of God to set us free (Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.).
- Something great has fallen from its greatness.
- Something amazing has lost its amazement.
- Something beautiful has lost its beauty.
- Something whole is broken.
- Something healthy is sick and in need of healing.
- Something peaceful has been vandalized.
As a result of our fall from our Creator, a sad but realistic set of terms is fitting to us:
Not surprisingly, a vocabulary of salvation is precisely what we need. We need intervention, rescue, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. We need someone to rescue us from our sins and our hellbent path to destruction.
The Savior has come
“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:14). Further, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:10). For “this is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:3-6). “… to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. … God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19-21).
The salvation God offers as a gift of His grace is full and final restoration to the glory of the image of God.
- A glory we had at the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27).
- A glory we fell from in disobedience (Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 3:9).
- A glory being restored in us (through God’s gift of salvation and the indwelling Spirit, Rom. 6:23; II Corinthians 3:18).
- A glory fully restored (despite our present suffering, Romans 8:18; Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:1-2;Revelation 21:1-5).