The story of Malcolm Muggeridge’s life is quite interesting. He went from being a heavy drinking, womanizer with communist sympathies to being a devoted Christian who used his powerful intellect and deep faith to write some of the most profound books of the last century. He lived through the horror of two world wars and saw firsthand the brutality and depravation that occurred under dictators like Joseph Stalin. He also knew the depths of his own sin and thus cherished the salvation secured for him on the cross.
Muggeridge wrote, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” What is he saying here? He means that the sin nature of human beings is self-evident. The pages of history are filled with example after example of human cruelties ranging from hurtful words on a child’s playground to the loss of nearly 3,000 in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The advent of the 24-hour news cycle has only heightened out awareness of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Our technological advances have provided new opportunities for cyber-bullying and email scams, and have created new venues for purveyors of child pornography. Great strides in scientific achievement have merely made it possible for radical regimes bent on annihilation of have the ready means of accomplishing their diabolical goals.
We may not want to admit that there is deep cruelty and evil staining the heart of man. We would far prefer to believe the notion that people are basically good and if given a choice between good and evil they would choose the good nine times out of ten. Oh, how we want to embrace that appealing illusion in the hope that embracing it so tightly would somehow make it true. We can rub on that magic lamp until we can see our reflection clearly, but the wish for humankind’s inherit goodness will only materialize here and there as faint wisps of smoke rather than with the power of Aladdin’s genie. We get glimmers of the goodness that could be, but they prove to be the exception rather than the rule. We see the truth but we do not like the truth we see, so we create a new untrue truth and attempt to convince ourselves that the untruth is the truth after all.
By observing the world and his own life, Muggeridge came to understand that which he would have preferred not to recognize. It was something spoken by God through the prophet Jeremiah centuries ago, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable–who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Humanity’s depravity is not our loophole to avoid the certain judgment of a righteous God. The Apostle Peter reflecting on the words of Leviticus and moved by the Holy Spirit wrote, “But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)
The demand for holiness was not discarded simply because humankind was incapable of reaching that lofty pinnacle on its own. God’s demand for our holiness is just as true today as when Moses penned the words in Leviticus or Peter wrote them in his letter. And when we acknowledge the depravity of man and our inability to fix this inner sin problem, we have stepped into theological territory that can feel very uncomfortable. We would prefer to say, “If we build a society where children are educated properly and fed nutritiously, then given enough time we will achieve some kind of human-created utopia,” but deep within we know this is false. The pieces of broken societies and broken lives lay shattered at our feet, yet we refuse to acknowledge what is undeniably evident through both revelation and observation.
Before we pick up one of those jagged pieces scattered about us and slit our wrists out of raw hopelessness, I remind you there is hope! “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)
In Jesus the price of our sin debt has been paid. In Jesus we are born again. In Jesus we are a new creation. In Jesus we have exchanged our old sin nature for His righteous and have gained a right standing before God – not by our own actions or goodness but by the perfect work of Jesus Christ! The world will not embrace this hope en masse, but one by one in faith the message of reconciliation may be believed and received so that we become outposts of God’s Kingdom on earth. Our lives and our message become proof to a dark and dying world that there is a hope which is given to us by the righteous Judge of our souls. As certain as it is that the human heart is depraved and prone to evil, it is no less true that a gracious God gives us a new heart through faith in His Son.
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