In Defence of Total Depravity and the Love of God

December 17, 2009

Total Depravity seems to be a pessimistic doctrine. It seems to say that man do not even have the capacity to recognize their own wickedness, which seems contrary to our experience. Yes, we concede that there are certain man who are more depraved and more wicked than we can fathom, and they surely must revel in their own sins and not recognize their sinfulness at all. But surely, does not most of humanity, the vast majority of mankind at least partially act courteously and sometimes kindly, and therefore not desert to be labelled as totally depraved? Do we not in our best moments recognize the wretchedness of our worst moments?

But this is a misconstruction of what Total Depravity really means. This doctrine does not claim that man lack the faculty to do any sort of good at all. It simply means that any sort of good acts do not count in our standing before God. We may indeed in our best moments, recognize that certain of our acts are despicable. Yes, the unbelievers have a sense of morality – in fact they yearn for it. But whether this preliminary recognition of our sins will produce genuine repentance is a wholly another matter. For that we must examine what has caused this recognition in the first place. Was it a mere sense of morality within the person’s heart? Or was it the conviction of the offense of his sins towards God wrought by the Holy Spirit? The difference is between day and night, and literally between heaven and hell. The cause of repentance will determine its effect, for no effect can be greater than the cause. If our repentance is merely caused by our own sense of morality, then it will only effect something temporary, something material, something physical. However, if we our repentance is wrought by God, then the effect can be ever-lasting, spiritual, and life-giving. The type of repentance that brings a soul onto Christ, therefore, cannot be wrought by the mere faculties of a man without the supernatural moving of God inside of him.

If this doctrine is indeed true, then we cannot avoid the truth of the following deduction:

Premise 1: We were created to be loved by God.

Premise 2: God loves something only as much it deserves to be loved.

Conclusion: Since we are totally depraved, and lack any sort of merit, any sort of lovable character before God, then it must only be by grace that God can love us.

Premise one seems so awkward, so heretical in light of premise two. How can we claim that we were created to be loved by God? Is not the chief end of man to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever? Yes, but these are the same truths, for God will only love something that glorifies Him and enjoys Him. In our fallen nature we think that we love out of weakness, that we love others because we see in them something we lack in ourselves, because there is a need within us that we cannot fulfill by ourselves. So when we say that God loves us, we fallaciously attribute these same weaknesses to him as well. But that is not Love at all. Love, ultimate Love, does not need the object of the love, but rather gives selflessly. If there is any notion of God needing us, it is only through His own choice to lay down His divine rights; it is in fact through the cross, the final embodiment of His inexorable love for His beloved, in which we find that mysterious metaphor of God calling us as His bride, this romantic love that co-mingles gift-love and need-love. It is no fault of Love to have loved us first, while we were yet His enemies. It is no fault of Love to have called us when we neglected Him. This is the attribute of grace – that it reaches out first, that it gives to those who do not deserve it.

So in conclusion, the doctrine of Total Depravity of man is not a pessimistic doctrine at all. For in acknowledging that it is God and God alone that brings about recognition and repentance of sins that brings life, we see that He is a God of Love who calls first, who loves first while we were yet sinners. Whats more, this truth allows us to love others. This truth makes us love our enemies. It makes us reach out first, to mend long neglected relationships, to call first to ask for forgiveness, to seek out and to cry with those who are hurting. This message of truth properly understood in our minds and our hearts, will mean that we will live a life of imitation of Love Himself. This truth of the Gospel, this forgiveness of sins, this justification will lead inevitably to sanctification.

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