Humans (all humans) are divided beings. Our division is between dignity and depravity.
Amazing expressions of human dignity have always existed alongside large amounts of human selfishness, evil and violence.
Why are goodness and evil a universal reality?
Many years ago (1993), I choose for my morning reading, John R. W. Stott’s book “The Contemporary Christian.” I highly recommend it.
Stott emphasizes the dual nature of humans as beings of dignity (made in the image of the good Creator) and beings of depravity (fallen from that image). This explains a lot about the world and about our daily struggles. We find in each person a mix of good and bad – yet even the good is tainted in certain ways with the bad.
It reminds us of the words of the apostle Paul, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19).
Two essential truths
- Dignity – “There is an “intrinsic worth of human beings … God made man male and female in his own image and gave them a responsible stewardship of the earth and its creatures. He has endowed us with rational, moral, social, creative and spiritual faculties which make us like him and unlike the animals. Human beings are Godlike beings. Our Godlikeness has indeed been distorted, but it has not been destroyed.”
- Depravity – Those intended to be whole are now fallen, broken, partial and fractured. As a result, we can speak of our existence with a sad set of terms. We are lost, wayward, drifting, restless, alienated, separated, partial, incomplete, sinful and dying.
Who will help us?
One thing that is clear from history is that we cannot by our own intelligence and strength solve our dilemma.
“Faced with the horror of their own dichotomy,” Stott wrote, “some people are foolish enough to imagine that they can sort themselves out, banishing the evil and liberating the good within them.”
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
“The classic expression both of our human ambivalence and of our hopes of self-salvation was given by Robert Louis Stevenson in his famous tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(1886). Henry Jekyll was a wealthy and respectable doctor, inclined to religion and philanthropy. But he was conscious that his personality had another and darker side, so that he was ‘committed to a profound duplicity of life’. He discovered that ‘man is not truly one, but truly two’. He then began to dream that he could solve the problem of his duality if only both sides of him could be ‘housed in separate identities’, the unjust going one way, and the just the other. So he developed a drug by which he could assume the deformed body and evil personality of Mr. Hyde, his alter ego, through whom he gave vent to his passions—hatred, violence, blasphemy and even murder.”
“At first Dr. Jekyll was in control of his transformations, and boasted that the moment he chose he could be rid of Mr. Hyde forever. But gradually Hyde gained ascendancy over Jekyll, until he began to become Hyde involuntarily, and only by great effort could resume his existence as Jekyll. ‘I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.’ Finally, a few moments before his exposure and arrest, he committed suicide.”
“The truth is that every Jekyll has his Hyde, whom he cannot control and who threatens to take him over. In fact, the continuing paradox of our humanness throws much light on both our private and our public lives” (The Contemporary Christian, John R. W. Stott).
No human being is irredeemable
“Because evil is so deeply entrenched within us, self-salvation is impossible. So our most urgent need is redemption, that is to say, a new beginning in life which offers us both a cleansing from the pollution of sin and a new heart, even a new creation, with new perspectives, new ambitions and new powers. And because we were made in God’s image, such redemption is possible.”
“No human being is irredeemable. For God came after us in Jesus Christ, and pursued us even to the desolate agony of the cross, where he took our place, bore our sin and died our death, in order that we might be forgiven. Then he rose, ascended and sent the Holy Spirit, who is able to enter our personality and change us from within. If there is any better news for the human race than this, I for one have never heard it” (The Contemporary Christian, John R. W. Stott).