One often repeated story tells of G.K. Chesterton answering the question: What is wrong with the world today?
You might have expected him to talk about poverty, wars, racism, or the dangers of disease, but he didn’t. Instead, his response in The Times included just two simple words: I am.
There is so clearly something wrong in our world. It’s not hard to look around and see pain and hurt, sometimes seemingly without cause, many other times brought about by the actions of people.
There are so many ways to answer the question of what is wrong. Yet, the most powerful response I’ve ever heard is still contained in those two words: I am.
Although on most days I don’t love that answer and would rather find error in the world around me — in how other people are rude, how others tell lies, how others allow pride to prevent them from listening — I have no doubt that it contains an invaluable piece of wisdom, because I’m guilty of those things too.
Who can understand the human heart?
Undoubtedly, human nature is one of the most important things we can spend time considering. Our answer will influence not only how we perceive the world’s problems, but also how we arrive at a solution.
But the answer is not so easy to come by. It’s a touchy subject. In defining human nature, we are faced with the inescapable dilemma that what we find will also apply to ourselves.
It’s a confusing subject. So few of us can even understand what we do, let alone evaluate the intentions and actions of others.
It seems contradictory at times. People can be so good-hearted and kind one minute, and then hurtful the next. Men have both given their lives for others and been responsible for exterminating lives in mass genocides.
We are a bundle of contradictions. Jeremiah 17:9 diagnose the problem:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked.
Who can know it?
You could make a case that the view in that verse is too extreme. After all, there is a clear distinction between a cold-blooded crime and messing up now and again.
We generally think a person is doing alright as long as they’re not hurting anybody. But that’s wrong. Whether a sin is little or big, it is still sin rooted in the same place.
Why can’t we all just get along?
Eventually, the little things matter too. We have jealousy, pride, selfish intentions, things that seem small but build up into bitterness, cause friction between friends, pain and misunderstandings, and ultimately grow a cold heart.
The question is why. War benefits nobody. Yelling matches between friends lead to tension, not solutions. Lies cause problems. We know all this. We’ve seen the consequences. Yet, we still do these things.
Are we crazy?
Probably, yes. I think that’s the only word for such self-destructive tendencies. But there is something else going on.
Most conflicts aren’t logical. They’re emotional. And they’re rooted deeper — in a heart predisposed to center on self.
That’s why Jesus’ teaching is so revolutionary. He raises our conduct to a higher, impossible standard. He taught perfect love, the kind that lays down life for a friend, that serves, that esteems others greater than oneself. He claimed the law alone was insufficient, that people needed to repent, change their hearts, and follow Him. Jesus is the only one who truly gets the problem.
We need change not outside in, but inside out.
The detriment of a misguided view.
Misunderstanding human nature has consequences. If we don’t understand the problem, we’re going to fight evil outside for all our lives. We will expend all of our energy trying to fix the environment while ignoring the individual. We treat the symptoms of evil — a broken system — without actually addressing the disease, our fallen nature.
When our understanding of people is inaccurate, our policies and methods of organizing society will be ill-constructed to fit the reality. They’ll be bad for both society and individuals.
As C.S. Lewis said,
“No justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”
Our emotions need to be educated. Otherwise, we’re still left with a darkened, broken heart that needs to be healed. No answers. No hope. Laws might restrain public behavior, but they don’t change who we are.
The cure for our condition.
The problem with people isn’t societal. This is why teaching morality alone is not enough. Preaching on principles is powerless because we are powerless to fulfill them.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:11)
None, not one, can fix this completely. Our world will remain fractured while individual hearts are fractured.
The gospel is the ONLY good news. This is the only way we can be made whole from the evil that is within each and every one of us.
Because Jesus died, rose, and took the punishment for our sins, we have what we really need: forgiveness. We are empowered and changed. Not superficially — but at our core.
That is the cure. Getting right with God first enables us to get right with fellow human beings. We understand how to love each other because He loves us.
Society will have us believe evil is out there. If we work hard enough through politics and activism — we can change it. While these methods of making change aren’t bad, and Christians should engage in them, they aren’t the ultimate solution.
We’re not here to build utopia. We are to preach the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, call for repentance, and live by love, awaiting the day Jesus returns and all is set right.
For now, we grow day by day, leaning on his strength and shining as lights among men.