The first and most fundamental element of any worldview is the way it answers the questions of origins—where the universe came from and how human life began. The second element is the way it explains the human dilemma. Why is there war and suffering, disease and death? These questions are particularly pressing for the Christian worldview, for if we believe that the universe came from the hand of a wise and good Creator, how do we explain the presence of evil? Or, to paraphrase the title of Rabbi Kushner’s best-seller, why do bad things happen to good people? If God is both all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t He use His power to stop suffering and injustice?
No question poses a more formidable stumbling block to the Christian faith than this, and no question is more difficult for Christians to answer.
Yet the Biblical worldview does have an answer, and it accounts for universal human experience better than any other belief system. Scripture teaches that God created the universe and created us in His image, created us to be holy and to live by His commands. Yet God loved us so much that He imparted to us the unique dignity of being free moral agents—creatures with the ability to make choices, to choose either good or evil. To provide an arena in which to exercise that freedom, God placed one moral restriction on our first ancestors: He forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The original humans, Adam and Eve, exercised their free choice and chose to do what God had commanded them not to do, and they rejected His way of life and goodness, opening the world to death and evil. The theological term for this catastrophe is the Fall.
In short, the Bible places responsibility for sin, which opened the floodgates to evil, squarely on the human race—starting with Adam and Eve, but continuing on in our own moral choices. In that original choice to disobey God, human nature became morally distorted and bent so that from then on, humanity has had a natural inclination to do wrong. This is the foundation of the doctrine that theologians call original sin, and it haunts humanity to this day. And since humans were granted dominion over nature, the Fall also had cosmic consequences as nature began to bring forth “thorns and thistles,” becoming a source of toil, hardship and suffering. In the words of theologian Edward Oakes, we are “born into a world where rebellion against God has already taken place and the drift of it sweeps us along.”
The problem with this answer is not that people find it unclear but that they find it unpalatable. It implicates each one of us in the twisted and broken state of creation. Yet just as sin entered the world through one man, eventually implicating all humanity, so redemption has come to all through one Man (Romans 5:12-21). Righteousness is available to all through belief in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
The Christian view of sin may seem harsh, even degrading, to human dignity. That’s why in modern times, many influential thinkers have dismissed the idea of sin as repressive and unenlightened. They have proposed instead a utopian view that asserts that humans are intrinsically good and that under the right social conditions, their good nature will emerge. This utopian view has roots in the Enlightenment, when Western intellectuals rejected the Biblical teaching of creation and replaced it with the theory that nature is our creator—that the human race arose out of the primordial slime and has lifted itself to the apex of evolution. The Biblical doctrine of sin was cast aside as a holdover from what Enlightenment philosophers disdainfully called the Dark Ages, from which their own age had so triumphantly emerged. No longer would people live under the shadow of guilt and moral judgment; no longer would they be oppressed and hemmed in by moral rules imposed by an arbitrary and tyrannical deity.
But if the source of disorder and suffering is not sin, then where do these problems come from? Enlightenment thinkers concluded that they must be the product of the environment: of ignorance, poverty or other undesirable social conditions; and that all it takes to create an ideal society is to create a better environment: improve education, enhance economic conditions and reengineer social structures. Given the right conditions, human perfectibility has no limits. And so was born the modern utopian impulse.
Yet which of these worldviews, the Biblical one or the modern utopian one, meets the test of reality? Which fits the world and human nature as we actually experience it?
One can hardly say that the Biblical view of sin is unrealistic, with its frank acknowledgment of the human disposition to make wrong moral choices and inflict harm and suffering on others. Not when we view the long sweep of history. Someone once quipped that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by 35 centuries of recorded human history.
By contrast, the “enlightened” worldview has proven to be utterly irrational and unlivable. The denial of our sinful nature, and the utopian myth it breeds, leads not to beneficial social experiments but to tyranny. The confidence that humans are perfectible provides a justification for trying to make them perfect … no matter what it takes. And with God out of the picture, those in power are not accountable to any higher authority. They can use any means necessary, no matter how brutal or coercive, to remold people to fit their notion of the perfect society.
The triumph of the Enlightenment worldview, with its fundamental change in presuppositions about human nature, was in many ways the defining event of the 20th century, which explains why the history of this era is so tragically written in blood. As William Buckley trenchantly observes: Utopianism “inevitably … brings on the death of liberty.”
Charles Colson (1931-2012) was the founder of Prison Fellowship and the BreakPoint daily radio commentary, as well as the author or coauthor of many books. He was a plenary speaker at BGEA’s Amsterdam 2000 conference for preaching evangelists.
Taken from How Now Shall We Live?, by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey. Copyright ©1999. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. (Product available for purchase at tyndaledirect.com).