The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
By A. Prentice
All Scripture citations are to the New International Version,
Isaiah 1: 18
IN THE ANIMAL kingdom, instinct is an irresistible spur to behaviour. This is true to some extent also of humans. We raise our arms in self-defence without deliberate forethought, an instinctive reflex which is impossible to resist. In addition, many spontaneous responses are programmed into our brains, most of which serve to protect or maintain one’s body or personal comfort – such as blinking, scratching an itch, or sheltering against the cold.
Although some of our responses are beyond our power to suppress, being involuntary, some impulses we may choose by an act of will to defer. We might, for example, suppress pangs of hunger until a fixed hour or until we complete a certain task. We might really want that last piece of chocolate cake, but refrain from eating it so that someone else might have it.
Many animals evince a similar ability to forbear from acting on impulse (such as females denying themselves food to tend to their young), though the degree to which this function can be classified as unselfishness is debatable. Some evolutionists argue that altruism is an evolutionary development, because it is conducive to the welfare of the community of which the animal is a part – a worker bee in a hive, for example. This contention demotes human unselfishness – a key component of affection, charitable actions, and overall good will – from a virtue to a mere practical necessity.
The human brain-mind can police its secret thoughts, either through fear of conscience or by reference to charitable feelings (good will) towards another. The mind learns to develop self-control and self-denial, and a variety of other mental disciplines, by purposeful application and effort. More than a mere repository of information, or a command-and-control mechanism, the mind is the embodiment of one’s personality and character. Its conscious actions, then, can play a pivotal role in the development of goodness and morality, qualities which are as necessary to the well-being of the community as any other.
The process by which the mind teaches itself is usually by trial and error. The term applied to this method is heuristics (from the Greek, heuriskein, ‘to find [out]’). As individuals, we often discover the right way of doing something as a consequence of first doing it the wrong way. When assembling an Ikea flat-pack piece of furniture the self-assured don’t bother with the directions, but prefer to apply their own judgement. Only after reaching an unsatisfactory result will they consult the diagrams, and start again. Likewise in many branches of science: some of the most useful discoveries are perfected only through a long string of failed experiments.
We often learn from the mistakes made by others. For example, the note in the repair manual which lays stress on the maximum torque one must not exceed in tightening a particular bolt, probably reflects the fact that others had broken it by over-tightening. The father who counsels his teenage son to avoid the sins he himself committed when a youth, hopes to pass on some intrinsic value from his own experience.
Millions of similar lessons occur every day in the animal world. Birds, tigers, elephants – most animals teach their offspring how to behave and survive by example, ‘vocal’ clues, and so on. In order for any creature to survive in a complex environment, it must be equipped not only with raw instinct, but with the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances, to remember successful and unsuccessful patterns of behaviour, and act appropriately.
The capacity of the human mind to learn and to invent is remarkable. But two historic developments have served to undermine the overall appreciation of Man’s special stature: the theory of human evolution and advances in computer science. Allied with a materialistic viewpoint, both of these innovations have stripped Man of his ‘divine spark’ , portraying him as a mere by-product of genetic accidents – a bag of bones with a sophisticated calculator in his skull, one which may be improved upon. Despite the genuine science which otherwise underlies these two historic developments – along with advances in psychology, mechanical engineering and other disciplines – these discoveries are employed to diminish Man’s stature in his own eyes , a deprecation by Man of his own species – the secular version of guilt, but without the God bit.
Just as God originally designed him in perfection, Man was made by God to be a thinker and a maker. But Man was also made in the moral image of God. Due to Adam’s sin, Man has been separated from fellowship with God. Without this relationship with his Maker, all of Man’s faculties have been corrupted. Without godly morality, human knowledge will remain incomplete, ever short of full truth. The Apostle Paul portrays an extreme case in Romans chapter 1:
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
This damning passage by St. Paul portrays those pagans whose self-obsession, fetishism and worship of the natural order led them into an atmosphere of superstition and aberrant sexual practices – sodomy, prostitution, etc. The Apostle warns us of what Man without God might degenerate into. Today it is the nominally Christian west which tumbles into this squalor: by denying godliness, formerly conservative societies, under the guise of progress and equality, now manifest pagan tendencies.
From a relatively straightforward sojourn in Eden, Adam and Eve were plunged into a complex environment, governed by events adverse to the sustaining of life. Thorns and thistles and an unyielding ground would from then on make existence difficult and wearisome. Likewise, getting accurate knowledge, cut off from direct instruction by their Maker, would become impossible. Despite the wonderful accumulation of facts in science, health and technology, and a thousand other disciplines, Man becomes more clever, but not more wise in spiritual matters. Unaided by the Divine Mind, he cannot unlock the true treasures of Heaven. A ‘break-in’ by brute force will not work. Impious, he stands only on the periphery of a boundless vault of understanding. And, puny though he is, fancies that he might one day command the whole.
God permits ‘bad’ and confusing things to happen in order that Man may learn by trial and error, not only in academics and social science, but also in matters of faith. God has been willing to put Himself in a false light in order that His human creation may come to a knowledge of truth. And however much the Christian may lament the lack of piety in the world at large, the fact is that widespread unbelief is an essential element of the Divine Plan. Had there been no fall from grace in Eden, no sickness, suffering, death and sin, mankind could never comprehend the implicit rightness of virtue. In this state of affairs, friction and uncertainty permeates all aspects of knowledge and conduct. These conditions adversely affect Christians, too, undermining one’s convictions and morality. It requires fortitude and determination to live a godly life in an ungodly world, an objective which is not without risks or mistakes. Don’t be discouraged.
Learning from one’s mistakes, or those of others, does not work unless one pays attention. This is true at the communal, historic level, and at the individual level. The persistent, recurring agonies which have dogged mankind throughout his time on earth have more or less captured his attention. But he has not yet fully applied his heart to the lesson. This epochs-long handbook of evil has been crafted by God to tutor mankind in all the rotten aspects of an existence without Him.
The value of this onerous lesson will not bear fruit now, but in the Judgement Day, the long period of time also denoted as the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. Many will fail to learn the lesson, refuse to comply with the godly conditions then in force, and will be destroyed (not tortured in fire). For those who do learn it – the majority – they will find the regime of righteousness profoundly satisfactory, fulfilling the highest and best longings of the human heart and mind. Then they will say (Psalm 90: 12, 15):
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
(For more information on the Permission Of Evil, read our three-part series, beginning here.)
Copyright June 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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