Does human nature ever change?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Do you see human nature as changing or unchanging? (Asian non-believer)

Answer:  Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to respond to this question — and it’s a telling one today — because the Christian worldview has the best answer for what is often called the human paradox: why are people so good? … and why are people so bad? … and to your question: does this reflect a change in human nature itself.

I see from your profile that you are not a Christian. Nevertheless, I need to cite some Scripture in this answer. I realize that non-Christians have little motivation to take Scripture as God’s authoritative word, but it will still show you that Christianity is congruent. Furthermore, it makes a reasonable case that what we observe today is the steady-state of human behavior. Here’s an overview.

Christians understand that every human being was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) — and this is seen empirically in human exceptionalism. Although we are biologically similar to (and in some cases, perhaps inferior to) other creatures, we are exponentially smarter and more accomplished than our nearest competitors. We do indeed rule the earth (Gen. 1:28). But this is an ontological distinction and not merely a functional one.

We also see God’s image in our soulishness. We are uniquely self-aware beings. We alone are introspective; we alone express our emotions in the arts; we alone write language; we alone record and analyze events.

Yet, we are also horrible. We are selfish and mean. We are clannish and murderous. In fact, we sometimes organize ourselves to kill tens of millions of our fellow human beings for a “noble” cause… while killing millions of unborn children for no more than our convenience.

Behaviorally then, we are indeed a paradox — and I see every one of us playing-out this paradox in four ways.

First, we play-out our being-made-in-God’s-image via our nobility. We Christians were born to a King (1 Timothy 6:15) … but we were later corrupted by the king’s enemy. Furthermore, that enemy has been given temporary control of the kingdom! (2 Corinthians 4:4) This is the controlling paradigm for this age: sometimes we act like nobles and sometimes we act like corrupted beings… because we are both. But we live in hope of a better day, not in the current reality of one. In the not too distant future, God will vanquish every foe, he will re-establish his kingdom and he will restore our positions (1 Peter 5:10).

Second, we play-out Adam’s fall into sin — and here I’ll just say, “Just look around!” … because our sin-nature is much more apparent than our nobility. But this too is congruent. Jesus taught that Christianity is a minority enterprise (Matthew 7:13-14) … although this doesn’t mean that God’s redemptive work will yield a paltry harvest. (Indeed, billions will be redeemed! (Revelation 7:9.) But the redemptive process reveals more of Adam’s fall than of our nobility. We live in a world of continual darkness… where our lights are occasionally seen.

Third, we play-out crime and punishment under God’s law — and this ties-in to human exceptionalism: God wrote the law down… because we can read. Yet, the law is also in our hearts (Psalm 119:11) — but not just in our hearts… in everyone’s. You see, God wrote his law into each human conscience (Romans 2:14-15) because we tend to make excuses, like “Now… where’d I put my copy of the law?”

It is the atheists who have a problem reconciling humankind’s apparent morality, though — and not the Christians — because, if there is no God, then there is no objective right and wrong. But who set the standards for morality that exist across cultures and across time? Well… “someone” (or something) did… because its existence is well-documented. But the Christian model has the best explanation for the phenomenon of morality.

Fourth, we play-out our volition because God has made us free… but free from any excuses, too (Romans 1:18-25). Part of our freedom is that we are an informed people… and informed people make informed decisions. So, just as Adam was free to follow God or to rebel, so are we. And just as Adam had knowledge of the consequences (Genesis 2:17), so do we. God gives every person adequate light… and every person either responds to it or rejects it. In this way, we get to prove our volition for all eternity — some in Heaven, some in Hell. This is the testimony of Scripture.

Now, the details of human nature can change. After all, people vary; they live at different times, in different countries and in different cultures. And their actions can vary, too. Some people live overtly moral lives, while some live so horribly that it hurts to look. Yet that describes the predictable range of human behavior. Here again, the Christian worldview explains the differences the best.

Now, technology has tested us as in no previous age — so let’s look at that before we finish. On one hand, we are using the latest medical advances to help people in ways that our ancestors never even dreamed of. On the other hand, we are sinning at nearly the speed of light! But, although these behaviors do push the envelope… it’s not a new envelope… and it’s not a new pusher. It’s the same old show that humans have been putting on for millennia. We push good and evil to the edges of their containers because it is our nature to do so.

Now, you asked me about human nature. But did you notice that I dodged defining it? This is because I did not want to spoil the surprise. You see, the “problem” with defining human nature is that its details continually morph… because human nature is what humans do. So, if we humans began doing something — even if it were truly new — then that would be human nature, too… by definition! The definition of human nature absorbs anything that might be thought of as human change. As such, the category merely grows. Humanity’s database resists assigning our behaviors to the category “other.”

That being said, we have been observing humanity for thousands of years now — and we have a huge dataset! It shows what the Christian model teaches. We are all unique as persons… in spite of playing-out a limited range of behaviors. We are, therefore, homogenous in nature throughout time — while still being infinitely various as persons. This is thrilling! … and this too is predicted by the standard Christian model.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20170320 Has human nature changed?).

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