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    Are Humans Naturally Good or Evil?

    A Chinese house church pastor urges Christians not to shy away from what communism, fascism, pandemics, and persecution reveal about human nature.

    By Yang Xibo

    July 28, 2022
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    • Brett Whipple

      I liked this article about the Pandemic the best. Pretty interesting about the effects of sin on a person. I've seen it happen in my own Family.

    • Dr. Mercedez White

      WONDERFUL

    • Judith leonard

      Thank you

    • Stewart Patrick

      Wonderful to read this, thank you.

    • Lawrence Brazier

      "Are Humans Naturally Good Or Evil" - the keyword seems to be "naturally". Are we born good and subsequently get corrupted? Well, apparently we bring baggage into the world with us. So we get born and are confronted with the realities of getting by. It seems that most aggression has its origin in fear of somehow "losing". See Matthew 6:28. The much maligned ego is hardly to blame - it is what we do with it, not what it does with us, that counts. Same goes for money. See the ego as a God-given tool that gets you out of bed in the morning. It is mechanical, not the least bit psychological.......the rest needs a 1000 word article to give my (hopefully) balanced view.

    Sin is sly and will hide itself. If we ask why there is so much injustice in the world – massacres, war, corruption, and bribery – many people will answer without hesitation, “Generally people are good except for a handful of scumbags.” Consequently, they take away judgment. In fact, this neglects sin.

    Communism and Marxism teach that only a few people are evil, and they become capitalists who take control over the economy. As long as we can get rid of these few, most people are intrinsically good and the world will become better as human good exceeds human evil. We all subconsciously believe this story, but what happened when the people were granted authority in China? No one wanted to work for the common good. As a result, China’s economy crashed, because people are selfish, and they would rather put more effort into taking care of their own fields than communal ones.

    The Bible says all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). Without being taught, the intention of a person’s heart is evil from youth (Gen. 8:21). Humanists and anthropologists often consider humans to be good, because without God that is the only hope they have. They cannot accept or bear the fact that humankind is evil. Yet such hope has been shown to be bankrupt in history.

    Frances Perkins, the female Secretary of Labor in the US cabinet during the Second World War, recounted a story. President Franklin Roosevelt had read many reports about atrocious war crimes all over Europe, including concentration camps, but he was not willing to believe them, as he could not believe that humans could be so evil. Then he had dinner with a young pastor named Howard Johnson and got into a conversation about the evils of Nazism. Johnson suggested that he read the works of Søren Kierkegaard to understand the doctrine of original sin. Roosevelt began to read those works and was greatly impacted. He told Perkins to also read him, saying, “I have never been able to make out why people who are obviously human beings could behave like that. They are human, yet they behave like demons.” In other words, Roosevelt had originally been a secular humanist who advocated freedom. When he heard about those atrocities, he needed Kierkegaard to explain in the words of the Bible that such was the sinful nature of man.footnote

    We all try to evade sin. This is why the Nuremberg Trials were among the most shocking moments after World War II. Many records said that the audience looked especially uneasy because they had thought they would see some atrocious Nazis, fascists with ferocious facial expressions and evil thoughts. Only such people would be able to cause the death of an estimated eighty million people worldwide. But instead, they ended up seeing kind-looking faces. Those on trial were fathers and husbands who seemed to live ordinary lives and spoke with gentleness. Many in the audience were overcome by despair after the trials. The sinful nature of humanity is even more hideous than you could imagine.

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    Photo by Susan Wilkinson

    How do pandemics come to reach the scale they do? Honestly, if we do not shy away from this question and are frank about it, we know that the reason is because it has not received proper attention from the very beginning. In order to prevent potential economic damage, it has not been properly reported, although rumors have been bubbling for some time. All eight whistleblowers simply posted things about the disease in their family or classmate group chats, and yet they were admonished by the police.footnote While some people might complain, “If there is a God, why would China face such a terrible pestilence?” others might answer, “God sent those eight to save you, but you would not listen to them.” The problem lies within humanity itself, and so we will always have such problems.

    We are not talking about the rulers and authorities only. We are the same. Because of this pestilence and the persecution of the church, Chinese society is coming close to how it was during the Cultural Revolution. I have to ponder what Xi Jinping is thinking and how he could do such things. But then I remember a dream I had a few months ago. In that dream, Xi came to our home and I was entertaining him. I found that he was not a bad guy at all, but very joyful and spoke like a normal person. When I woke up from that dream, I understood that God wanted to remind me of this fact: “You are no better than anyone else.” We all are sinners.

    When we reject God, when we become self-righteous, self-centered, and require others to live their lives around us, we see the impact of original sin. The darkness in the depths of our hearts will be churned up. Our friends will leave us, and our lives and even our bodies will fall apart. The more self-centered and proud you are, the more broken your life will be. This is the fire that burns in hell: you do not have to go into hell to taste it. In your final moments, your family and the people you love will leave you. Or, if you argue with your family, staying at home feels like staying in hell. Because the cost of sin is death, it devours anything that is good. This is the severity of sin that Jesus talks about.

    Imagine you are sitting on your sofa, and the other end of the sofa catches on fire. Would you just sit there and watch it? No, you would hurry to put out the fire, because the fire can destroy the whole room, and even the whole building. Jesus is reminding us: If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. In other words, you should deal with your sin without delay. But many people would rather cut off their hands or tear out their eyes than deal with their sins.

    Timothy Keller has said, “Persecution can make us fail, but it can also make us more self-righteous.”footnote You may be under government persecution and suffer from injustice, but even if you persevere and prevail against them, you may still be in danger. Why? Because you will feel terrific about yourself: everyone else has run away and only you have stood firm.

    The sins of Christians are deep. Think about your church and mine. We are all the same. After persecution, every church will say that its way is the best way. No church will repent and admit the mistakes it might have committed. Every preacher will claim they did well in all aspects.

    Sometimes God brings judgment, such as pestilence, to warn us to wake up. How much time have we wasted that should have been lived for the Lord? How deep is our self-righteousness and self-centeredness?

    Recently, a letter by Martin Luther titled “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” has been making the rounds among Christians.footnote Martin Luther experienced two plagues in his lifetime, but he did not flee from either of them. He even brought patients to his home to help them. But he was not a superstitious man who would say, “God is protecting me and I definitely will not be infected,” like the heresy of Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea, whose members were told they would never be infected, which resulted in a big cluster of infection.

    Martin Luther said, on the one hand, we should not fall into the sin of fear and self-preservation so that we desert our neighbors in trouble. If we don’t help them, we sin against God and humankind. On the other hand, we should not act foolishly, neglect precautionary measures, despise the effects of medicine, and even enjoy company with the infected to show our fearlessness and optimism. This is not faith in God, but tempting God. God gives us rationality and enables us to create medicine. Therefore, we should take good care of our bodies and help others.

    Martin Luther asked all pastors not to flee but to stay and continue to pastor their congregations. I know many pastors who have stayed in Wuhan and continue to pastor brothers and sisters there. Martin Luther also asked Christians to confess their sins and repent so that the nation and they themselves could be forgiven, as plagues in the Bible are often considered God’s judgment on a nation or on God’s own people. Therefore, he called all Christians to repent and confess their sins and then sincerely live as salt by helping and serving those around them.

    Brothers and sisters, the pandemic originating in Wuhan showed us how close we were to death. But the good news of salvation tells us that death is not our final destination, but points us to the eternal hope of entering into God’s arms. Therefore, we must be brave and make use of all the resources God has given us, including money, medicines, and our wisdom and rationality to help people.

    If you are always thinking about your own needs, then you are deserting God’s way and betraying the gospel given by God. His gospel is about denying himself and showing love, so we should live a life of denying ourselves and loving others. My hope is for more Christians who go to the hospital beds covered by fear of death and bring the gospel and hope of eternal life to those living under the shadow of death. I hope there will be more Christians who bring water and food to the rooms of those who are old, weak, ill, disabled, and are in dire need of resources. I hope people will tell the truth to those who try to cover up and sing praises for the authoritarian regime. I hope there are hymns and words of comfort for those in extreme loneliness.

    I hope Christians will stand between the living and the dead, so that we will realize that because of the gospel we already have an eternal “antibody.” If everything you do is to protect yourselves, people of the world will say your faith is false. If you want to prove your “antibody” is real, you must deny yourself and live out a life as salt.

    Indeed, there are many Christians who have lived such a life and taken care of others quietly, and I have been moved by their good works. For example, there was a couple in Ningbo who had planned to get married during the pandemic. They ended up donating the half million yuan they had saved for their wedding. Then the bridegroom, who was a Christian, learned that there was a five-year-old whose parents were quarantined and could not care for him, so he took the child home. Later, he discovered the child was infected and he took care of him wholeheartedly. Afterwards, he was also infected and quarantined. Others asked him if he regretted doing so. He said he had no regrets. His neighbors were afraid of his infection, so he apologized to them and said, “Sorry that I chose to bring him home. We will take good measures of self-quarantine. You do not have to worry about us.” … May God come and help us live out a Christian life with such love and bravery.

    Excerpted from Faith in the Wilderness: Words of Exhortation from the Chinese Church, edited Hannah Nation and Simon Liu (Bellingham, WA : Kirkdale Press, 2022). Used with permission.

    Footnotes

    1. James D. Bratt and John F. Woolverton, A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019), 199.
    2. In January 2020, several individuals began to share an official hospital report warning of an unidentified SARS coronavirus in private chat groups. After the report began to spread online publicly, police in Wuhan interrogated and reprimanded eight “rumor mongers” for sharing information. After one of those reprimanded, Dr. Li Wenliang, returned to work, he contracted COVID-19 and died. Vast public outcry across China led to a formal apology by China’s top court.
    3. Timothy Keller’s keynote address at KL2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
    4. Martin Luther, Devotional Writings II, vol. 43 of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1999), 119-38.
    Contributed By

    Yang Xibo is the pastor of a house church in Xiamen, China. He received his Master of Divinity from Singapore Theological Seminary.

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