Essence is EVERYTHING!
We live in a very superficial world. Every day, we're presented with glossy social media messages presenting the best of everyone else's life. Hollywood and even our "news" media presents a scrubbed reality which will support a specific political or socially-acceptable point of view. We're taught to embrace the external and believe what we're told.
And yet, real maturity is the recognition that what's under the surface, the core essence of something or someone, is the true reality. As the old southern proverb suggests, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." This is why it's so important to look under the hood, so-to-speak. It's critical to find the essence because that will ultimately determine everything else. The core of who we are WILL eventually dictate all that we think, say, and/or do.
Having said that, let me present the two foundational philosophies that dictate everything about culture, psychology, politics, government, and yes, even religion. There are really only two basic views of man. He's either basically good, or he's basically evil.
That's it--at his core, man is either good...or he's bad. Whatever you believe regarding this will dictate EVERYTHING about how you view and live life.
Despite classics like "Lord of the Flies," (a fictional work by William Golding which outlines the cruelty and brutality of children left to fend for themselves on a deserted island), the prevailing view of mankind today is that he's basically good. Most modern psychologists suggest that it's our environment accompanied by occasional genetic flukes that lead to bad behavior. They would suggest that we're born good, but "life happens," such that we learn to do bad things. Thus, with the right therapy and/or medication, we'll return to our basic selves and do right.
Politically, this idea that man is good is the basis of communism/socialism. Since man is good, if we put the smart people in charge and give them all the money and power, they'll do good and make sure all resources are divided fairly so that all will live well. Despite the fact that this has failed every time it has been tried over the last several hundred years--including an attempt at Plymouth Colony under William Bradford--the United States is voting and moving toward becoming a socialist republic as I type this blog.
But IS man really, in essence, good?
Scripture suggests otherwise. Notice Jeremiah 17:9 in the New Living Translation:
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?"
It is beyond the scope of this blog to explore how and where scripture demonstrates this concept repeatedly and tells us that the cure is a new heart--a new inner man given at conversion when one puts his/her faith in Christ (Hebrews 8:10, etc.). Still, I think it's critical to think-through how our view of man's core or essence truly dictates everything else in our worldview. More importantly, this concept dictates how we vote, how we live, how we treat others, and even how we practice our faith.
We've already looked at politics or specifically the foundational concepts undergirding socialism. Let's talk about counseling for a minute and how our view of man affects our approach to therapy and yes, even "Christian" therapy. If I believe man is evil at his core, I want to help the person come to faith in Christ to be transformed by forgiveness and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Then, I want to help him/her walk by the spirit, exercising that new heart, instead of following the passions or works of the flesh (See Galatians chapter 5).
On the other hand, if I believe man is basically good, all I need to do is help the person find out what bad things happened to them to cause them to stray from their normative "righteous" path. If we find out how they were hurt, who to blame, and then deal with that hurt correctly, they should almost automatically start doing the right things...right?
How's that working for us? What does our track record suggest? What is the actual success rate for the millions of dollars spent on counseling and psychotropic medications annually?
More importantly, let's consider how the wrong worldview affects salvation. Do I truly NEED a Savior? If I'm basically a good guy who's just made a few mistakes, maybe not. On the other hand, if I'm born as an evil, selfish sinner who is, at his core, selfish, desperately wicked and sinful--I need a perfect Savior in Jesus the Godman. And, if I'm saved, why would I need to repent--turn 180 degrees--if I'm headed in the right direction already?
I propose we get back to basics and remember that essence is everything. We need to believe scripture and start from that paradigm. This is not a negative, defeatist position. Rather, it's the reality that God's grace and transformative promise in the gospel starts with. It's where true healing begins. I'm all for seeing that play out for millions of us, to the glory of God!
To that end,