How Total is "Total?"

"We could not even move one iota toward God, we could not make the slightest contribution to our salvation or to our own rescue or escape from the wrath of God. True believers in Jesus are people who not only conclude that I deserve to be under the wrath of God, but also conclude that I am utterly helpless to deliver myself from the wrath of God." - Milton Vincent

I've been camped out in Romans 5 for a couple weeks, therefore have been challenged to put some thought into the doctrine of Total Depravity. First let me present the counter argument. This came from a conversation with a friend, and I really think it's a good argument. It makes sense to the analytical systematic processor in my noggin.

Logically speaking, why would God tell His creation to do something they had no power to do? (*1) Why would He plant the tree and then tell them not to eat of it if He had pre-wired them to eat it? How on earth is that loving, when the punishment for eating said fruit is death? But we're not arguing God's love here; we know He's loving. So what if God, when He created man in His image, also imparted to man a sliver of His own autonomous wisdom? The ability to freely choose, unaffected by preexisting ulterior variables, responding only to our own desire for what we deem valuable. That's how I define free will. (And by that definition, according to my Reformed Theology, only God truly possesses free will.) But this argument suggests that God did impart free will to creation.

Does that sound possible to you? It sounded great to me. (And I converted to Arminianism on the spot!) Then I snapped back into Berean mode and ran to Scripture to "see whether these things were so." (Acts 17.11)

Here's what I found:
  • The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth. (Gen 6.5; 8.21)
  • Our hearts are deceitful. (Jer 17.9; Prov 14.12)
  • None are righteous. (Ps 14.3; 53.3; Is 64.6; Rom 3.10)
  • We are sinners by birth. (Ps 51.5; 58.3; Rom 5.12)
  • Sinners have no ability to change themselves. (Jer 13.23; John 3.19; 8.34; Rom 8.7)
  • No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. (John 6.44) (*2)
  • An unregenerate man cannot even understand spiritual things (Matt 13.11; John 3.3; 1 Cor 1.18; 2.14)
So, if He did give us the ability to chose, it seems like God's omniscient account of history is that we choose wickedness ten times out of ten. Now, I like the notion of free-will as much as the next gal. In fact, I take issue with some too-Calvinist-for-their-own-good arguments that try to erase free will from the pages of Scripture. All it takes is a simple word study (*3) on the Hebrew word בּחר, (bachar) "to choose," and you'll find that men do "choose" (and are commanded to too!). But my observation is this: Whenever scripture speaks of men choosing, it's either neutral (the result of the choosing not identified) or negative (Anti-Yahweh).

Does this necessarily mean that we are depraved of the ability to choose God? Hypothetically, no. Realistically, yes. It seems to me that we have been given a real, genuine option to obey. But without the Holy Spirit first changing our heart of stone, the road to life doesn't appeal to us any more than a vacation at the beach appeals to a child playing in the mud (*4).

Consider the words of holocaust survivor Elie Weisel: "The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference." Total depravity doesn't even (need to) mean that man hates God. It does mean that man is indifferent toward Him. Until our eyes have been opened, there is nothing about righteousness that is attractive to us. We love us some darkness.

Now, please understand that by using the word "indifferent," I'm not making less of our fallen state. On the contrary, Proverbs creates a clear picture of "foolishness" as the failure to value what is most valuable. Foolishness is parallel to wickedness, i.e. the reprobate. If you look at God's only Son nailed to the tree and say to the Father, "Worthless," your indifference is deserving of the fires of hell -- the full, unhindered wrath of God -- for all eternity.

I love the way Rick Holland puts this "Total Indifference" into perspective:
"It's like we're trying to pick up a FM signal with an AM transistor.
And the transistor has no batteries.
And every wire's been cut.
And all the knobs have been pulled off.
And there's no on or off switch.
And we have no hands or arms to reach for it.
And the radio is on the moon.
And we're dead." - Rick Holland
How much more incomprehensible is Christ's love for us, His enemies? "...That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5.8) My prayer is that we would let the hideousness of our depravity and the righteousness of His wrath towards it magnify our view of the gospel. That we would worship Him all the more for adopting us -- wretched sinners -- and winning our hearts.

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Rom 11:33


*1 - There are actually a handful of perculiar verses that seem to represent man as having some type of inward goodness or even holiness. Eventually I want to explore these further. My initial thought is that despite some of their BC dates, they are describing the state of a regenerate man, with his imputed righteousness (see Ps 32.2.) Anyway, here's the list if you care to study it yourself. Sorry I can't offer more insight. Gen 6.9; 17.1; 2 Ki 20.3; 2 Chr 15.17; 31.20,21; Job 1.1,8; Ps 24.3-4; 37.37; 86.2; Pr 17.27; Dan 6.3; Lk 1.6; 6.45; Jn 1.47; Jm 3.18; 1 Jn 2.1; 1 Jn 3.6,9

*2 - This verse, however, becomes problematic in light of John 12.32. Just sayin.

*3 - This method involves finding all the times the word is used and then cataloging the way in which it's used. In the case of בּחר, the word is used 161 times: 30 times it just means "valuable" so I threw those out. Of the other 131, 34 are applied to man choosing; in the other 97 God chooses. *Gets out calculator* That's like 26% or so. Now we just have to do a case-by-case study on those 34, and we may get somewhere.

*4 - C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory

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