Noah, Anthropology, and a Bigger View of Grace

What do you do when your view of humanity and the world around you is actually different than that of the Bible? Are you willing to let God, with his holiness and perfect knowledge, define humanity instead of you? You and I look at the world from our limited and corrupted perspective. God sees all of the world and all of humanity from the vantage point of absolute, perfect, and complete wisdom and knowledge.

Start with these questions. Is humanity basically good? Are people basically good? How does the human race deserve to be treated by our Creator?

Look at the writings and proclamations of all sorts of people, In them you will find a common praise of the human spirit and the general, innate goodness of mankind. We lock arms after tragedies and call ourselves strong. We put together t-shirts and hash tags that pronounce our hope in the good hearts of people all over the globe. And in doing so, we demonstrate that we have no clue of a biblical anthropology.

Reading through the Bible in a new year will most often start us in Genesis. As we read, we want to be careful not to let ourselves miss the important things that are said by God about us. A look at some of the verses around the account of the flood and Noah help us to see some true things about God’s view of humanity that are not popular preaching points.

Why did God flood the earth?

Genesis 6:5-7 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.

How does that match your understanding of humanity? How does it match your understanding of yourself? God said that every intention and thought of the hearts of mankind is only wicked all the time.

But wait, maybe that is just humanity before the flood. Here is what God says immediately after the flood.

Genesis 8:21 – And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.

After the flood, when Noah and his family were rescued, God evaluated the world. No, God would never again flood the world like he did with Noah. But how does God still evaluate mankind? The Lord said, “for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”

You might argue at this point that such an evaluation does not match your view. You might say that this does not fit your experience. You might say that you have run into good people in the world, that you like people, that you have seen the kindness of man to man. And I would agree. There have been countless expressions of kindness, graciousness, helpfulness, and general goodness of human being to human being all over the world all through history.

Does this then make the biblical assessment of humanity wrong? No. Why? First and foremost, the evaluation of the goodness or evil of the hearts of mankind is being evaluated by the holy God and not by other people. Second, though we do not see it here, part of what brings about the decency of one man or one woman toward another in our world is the common grace of God and the restraining power of the Holy Spirit. God acts to prevent us from acting out the natural evil in our hearts. And so, when any of us, before being transformed by God, does any good thing, we must understand that our behavior is not matching the true heart of humanity. Thus, any good behavior must be credited first and foremost, not to the person, but to the acting grace and presence of God.

What must this do to our worldview? If we are willing to let the word of God lay for us the framework of how we view the world around us including all of humanity, we will find that God’s grace is all over the place. Every good is from God. Every decency in humanity is the restraining power of God. And God has a better perspective to see this truth than we do. We cannot see into our own hearts. WE are corrupted by the fall. WE do not understand how desperate is our condition.

It also changes our understanding of the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not that God sent Jesus to offer heaven to people who are naturally pretty good, but who do need a little help to make it the rest of the way to heaven. No, the gospel is that God sent his Son to pluck from a wicked and rebellious people a bride, a church, a temple of God. Jesus came to plunge himself into the mess that is humanity and to bring out of the world people who, if left to themselves, would do nothing but hate God and hate good forever.

Yes, this is a dark anthropology. But it shines the truest and brightest light on the glory of God. God is holy. God, even today, is restraining humanity from being all we could be if we were left to our wickedness. God shows us that we have only evil intentions in our hearts. But God sent Jesus and rescues out of that mass of rebels a people for himself. Jesus transforms wicked hearts into hearts that find their greatest joy in the glory of God. And this is grace, absolute grace, perfect grace. This is the grace of a God who saves God-haters, not basically good folks. This is a grace that gives all the credit, 100% of the glory, to the Lord and none to the rescued sinner. This is the grace that we magnify when we have a truly biblical grasp of who we are when left to ourselves.

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Plain Truth in a Strange Passage

Because I read through a Bible-in-a-year plan on a regular basis, I often find myself in the book of Revelation as the year closes. Some years I find myself more fascinated with the mysteries. Others I find myself hard pressed to want to again consider what all the symbols might mean. In all instances, I am reminded of the glory of God, the ugliness of sin, and the victory of Christ.

At times, as we study a book like Revelation, it can be an incredibly helpful thing, in the light of such mysterious language, to find something very straight forward, very simple. And something like that hit me in my read through Revelation 9. No, it is not a pleasant passage, but it is surely clear.

The context is the trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. In those chapters, we have seen some terrifying disasters. And the text has described for us fantastic creatures bringing much death. And while many will debate what those creatures are or what they symbolize, the reaction of humanity to them is telling. And that reaction is not a mystery at all.

Revelation 9:20-21

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

When the people of the earth in the book of Revelation are faced with the horrors of these creatures, when they come face-to-face with their own mortality, the people do not change. One might think that a reminder that we live in a world that is well beyond our control might have an impact. One might think that that a reminder that we die, and that there is a judgment to come, would change the hearts of men and women. But the word of God is clear that it does not. When mankind is set on rebellion, logic and emotion are powerless to change us.

What did the people cling to in the passage? The list is awful. They would not repent of their idolatry—no surprise there. But they also would not repent of murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or theft. People facing the judgment of God will still kill. People facing the clear evidence of the power of God will still worship false gods or turn to fortune-tellers. People, even in a world that is falling to pieces, will cling to sexual immorality and materialism. Human nature is depraved.

Now, let’s think of three quick things. First, we see in this text that certain sins are a big deal to God. We must not allow our culture to tell us that, since society has moved on to a new consciousness, the old morality no longer applies. God is the one who tells us what is right and what is wrong. Idolatry and sorcery, false religion and the embracing of supposed spiritual energies and powers, are direct assaults on the glory of God. Murder and theft, things we basically still see as criminal, are things God hates. And right there in the list, even in the face of the eye roll and sneer of society, is sexual immorality. God takes these sins seriously. And one way we know they are all significantly evil is that God includes them in the list of sins that man doubles-down on to his own destruction.

Second, just note the basic depravity of humanity. I’m using that word in a technical and theological sense, not as an intended insult or expression of exasperation. Ever since the fall of mankind, humanity has been corrupted by sin. Every aspect of our humanity is fallen. Our nature is to oppose the Lord. By the grace of God, people do not tend to be as evil as we possibly could be. But the fall of man has so impacted us that it is impossible for a human being, apart from the transforming grace of God, to be pure before God. And that depravity is so deep-seeded that, even in the face of genuine judgment, humanity will scratch and claw and fight to keep our sin rather than submit to the God who made us.

And that leads me to my third thought today. How great is the grace of God? I am just like the people in the verses above. I am, by nature, nasty to the core. I would fight God tooth and nail were it not for one simple thing: God saved me. The sovereign God over all the universe and beyond did a work of supernatural power in my soul to bring me to himself. After God transformed my spiritual heart and made me spiritually alive, I repented of sin and believed in Christ for salvation. I have never yet been anything like perfect. Some of the worst things I’ve ever thought or worst impulses I’ve ever acted upon were still in my future. But the Lord had changed me. I could no longer sin without conviction. And, by the grace of God, my desires began to be turned to the Lord and his glory and not toward my natural evil.

God is good, mighty and gracious. He is the only one who can change a human being who would otherwise spit defiance at him with his dying breath. May we allow these moments of clarity in Revelation, these scenes that are not at all difficult to interpret, to remind us of the power and grace of God. Mankind is irreparably fallen. We, by nature, will never turn to the Lord. Sin is significant, no matter what culture thinks. But God is gloriously gracious. He saves sinners, transforming us from what we would naturally be into something that can truly honor him. Let us repent and be amazed at the grace of our God.