Why Do People Sin? A Rational Defense

One intriguing aspect of Jonathan Edwards’ defense of the doctrine of original sin is his appeal to reason.

He suggests that if the Bible were silent on the matter, thinking people would still come to the conclusion that sin is a universal reality.

Here’s how he did it.

Questions for Those Who Reject the Doctrine of Original Sin

People who deny original sin often point to decadent societies as the cause of our degradation.

In other words, people are born innocent…but are corrupted by the culture they grow up in.

But if that’s the case, then shouldn’t some societies be innocent? Or at least one society in which the prevailing influence is virtue and not vice?

Furthermore, what corrupted these societies in the first place? Where did that evil creep in?

And why isn’t there at least a statistical average of, say, 50% innocent people? Forty percent? Thirty?

These are just a few questions Edwards raised. But there’s more.

The Problem with the “Nobody’s Perfect” Appeal

Optimistic and sanguine views of human nature–those that say man is basically good–will appeal to the phrase “Nobody’s perfect.”

Okay. Why?

If man at the core is good and innocent and evil is tangential, peripheral and on the outside, why doesn’t good eventually win out?

Why doesn’t the substance win over the accidental?

Strangely enough, in a culture like ours where objective, absolute values are rejected, people still appeal to “nobody’s perfect.”


That can’t be. Haven’t we denied objective perfection?

Besides, even when the ethical bar is lowered, we recognize that this “standard” isn’t even met. We reduce what’s acceptable and still fail.

Funny thing is, people will appeal to an objective standard if you cross them.

Sleep with some one’s wife and see if they don’t hunt you down. Steal their car and see if they don’t call the police. Cheat on an exam and see if the professor doesn’t flunk you.

See, the credo “everything is permissible” often is thrown out the window when what someone else wants conflicts with what you want.

“Come On You Curmudgeon–Can’t We Do Any Good?!”

John Calvin recognized that we are, though fallen, capable of doing so-called good deeds. He called this “civic righteousness.”

Augustine referred to these deeds as “splendid vices.”

He went on to say that while these may on the outside conform to the law of God, deep down they proceed from a rebellious and woefully detached heart.

The Bible teaches that our deeds must not only conform to prescriptions of God’s law–but also rise from a heart that loves God.

This is apparent from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New.

And in the final analysis, the  with all your heart lies underneath all human morality and activity.

How Many Sins Is Too Many?

At one point in Edwards’ defense he says that there is a . But he points out even one sin is too many.

Edwards goes onto echo James: Sin against one point of the law is to sin against the whole law…

And of course against the law giver himself.

Furthermore, one act of obedience doesn’t negate one act of disobedience. In God’s economy, obedience is a mere condition to being a child of God.

A Few More Examples of Our Native Sin Nature

Edwards also sees evidence for man’s depraved nature in our bent to sin the moment we are morally capable.

Anyone with children will know what Edwards is talking about.

But original sin is also evident in the fact that we continually and progressively sin. There’s no secret: Suffering dominates world history.

And never diminishes.

Thus even the most sanguine observer must confess that something is wrong with this world.

Nor is sin entirely absent from the most sanctified saints. [Indeed, sanctified saints may sin less–but they WILL grieve more.]

The Final Piece of Evidence

Edward’s closes his argument by stating that the evidence of universal sin is also found in the universality of death.

Death emerged because of sin.

That’s the biblical interpretation. And it represents a judgment on wicked mankind–a judgment even babies, who are presumably innocent, aren’t excused from.

The question one has to ask himself is this: Why do babies die? Why do we die? For that matter, why does anything die and not live forever?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Brutal and all.

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