Total Depravity, or Why I Need to Change My Blog Title
Posted on April 23, 2015
The title of my blog is “Thinking My Way Through”. When I started the blog in 2009, I thought this was noble enough. I would not be one of those pulled and shoved by emotion, or by peers, or by culture. I need to change the title. Why? For psychological and theological reasons that are hopefully, and ironically, thought-through.
One explanation is Personal. One of my favourite personality tools is the Enneagram: it points to key motivators in life that explain behaviour. On the Enneagram scheme, I am a ‘Five‘. Fives have a driving need to understand: they accumulate knowledge, mostly to protect themselves from painful emotions. Too much knowledge is never a bad thing; their cardinal sin is gluttony. However, I found that too much knowledge ties me in knots of thoughts that thought cannot alone untangle. I cannot think a way through. The Enneagram suggests that I need to put myself in positions where thought cannot suffice: places of action, places of prayer, places where emotional vulnerability is needed.
The other explanation is Theological: the thought of John Calvin has not been an attractive one, mostly from ignorance. I am to remedy that soon. One element of Calvin’s thought is that of ‘Total Depravity‘. Given I am no expert on Calvin, I hesitate to attempt explanation. Many people shy away from Total Depravity because it seems to allow no possibility of good human behaviour, but I think gives us honest ground on which to stand.
My take is: there is no dimension of human life and endeavour that has not been somehow corrupted by our desire to go our own way: against the wellbeing of others, the natural world, even our own good. For Christians, this is a definition of sin: ‘rebellion’ against God, and what God has created. How does this apply to my blog title? My mind is fallible. It can’t do the very thing I want it to, and I shouldn’t place unqualified confidence in it.
Total Depravity as Antidote to Triumphalism
Total Depravity seems like a depressing view of life, and it certainly is when construed as a rejection of any human good. An alternative view of Total Depravity is not that we cannot act for good ever (known as ‘utter depravity’), but that even our good desires, thoughts and actions are tainted with this rebellion. I think this is simply honest, rather than negative. However, it does go against the triumphalist and individualist view of humanity that pervades Australian culture: that I am basically pretty awesome apart from a few endearing flaws. It ignores the destruction in which we are complicit: against those oppressed here and in other places; against loved one and neighbours; against the Creation; against our own selves and souls. Though we desire to do good, we find ourselves so often doing the opposite and neglecting to do the good we intend.
<h2 class=”pullquote”>there is no dimension of human life and endeavour that has not been somehow corrupted by our desire to go our own way: against the wellbeing of others, the natural world, even our own good.</h2>
This is what the early church pioneer Paul is talking about when he says:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)
The good news, according to Jesus and Paul, is that this ‘body of death’ is not our endless destiny, but has been healed through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And, that all people are invited to experience this healing victory in our own lives through a costly, yet joyful, ‘taking up the cross’, allowing ourselves to die and be reborn according to the image of Jesus. This healing victory not only changes us, but sends us out to speak and live and work this good news wherever we are.
Strange though it is, that is the ground in which my life is planted. And though I can’t really ‘think it through’ completely, I give it more creedence than my mind. •