We’re a number of days into 2021, and it seems as though nothing has changed. Truth be told, nothing changed. Nothing ever changed with a transition to any new year. But the usual enthusiasm that accompanies the coming of a new year seems to be lacking in this new year. I will blame this on the pandemic that continues to ravage the world. This lack of excitement is probably one of the reasons why I have been thinking a lot in the first few days of 2021.
In these past few days, I’ve been forced to ask myself if things will ever get better this side of eternity. In my country, things are certainly not getting better—or, if they are, the changes are imperceptible to the ordinary man on the streets. One only has to turn on the radio to hear how bad things are, or live here for a few weeks to gain firsthand experience of how bad things really are. There is hunger on the streets. There is no security of life and property. There are false prophets on our pulpits. There are false gospels ravaging the land. Things look bleak, and the air reeks of hopelessness.
And as I churned these matters in my mind, four words seem to provide the answer to my contemplations: Man has not changed.
I see this truth in the pages of old books (which I find extremely helpful these days, probably more than most new ones I read). Dead writers, commenting on the social and moral ills of their time, seem to be speaking about life today. And I cannot be the only one who has felt this way. You must have read an old book that spoke to you as though its author were writing in this century. And if you read the Bible with some level of consistency, you might come to the same conclusion as I have: Man has not changed.
While the issues today are certainly more complex than those faced 500 years ago (or even in Bible times), the fundamental issue is the same. Man is sinful. And sinful creatures sin. “Now, isn’t that an overly simplistic way of interpreting today’s events?” you may ask. Maybe it is. But it is an answer that, I believe, comes from the very pages of Scripture. Man’s nature is corrupt and can only go in a certain direction. He can’t do otherwise. He can’t act against his nature.
Just this past week, I read very disturbing news. An 18-year-old lady set the house of her boyfriend on fire after a serious quarrel between them. The young man was asleep in his house when she carried out the dastardly act, and he died three days after the incident. As I wrap my head around this news (and other disturbing reports that I read or hear on a daily basis), I can almost see the depravity of man right before my eyes. It stands so clearly before me, I could almost see its arms and hear its breathing.
It is tempting (and maybe easier?) to resort to tackling symptoms rather than solving a problem. This happens when we fail to realize that a solution has already been given for man’s malady and attempt to invent other means to help man. But the single, overarching problem of man is sin, and it won’t do to solve symptoms at the expense of facing the problem.
While I don’t deny that there are real factors that can explain why so much is going wrong today, I believe that at the root of all man’s problems is sin—the killing of babies before they are born, attacks against people of a different tribe or color or religion, the corruption that constantly cripples many African nations, and so on. The sickness of man is sin, but we are often found treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Thuggery, corruption, drug addiction, murder, and a thousand other social vices are mere symptoms, signs that reveal a crack in man’s nature.
It is easy for Christians to forget that the Gospel is meant to be preached to a dying world. After all, there are congresses and constitutions to deal with man’s sinful nature, and stronger laws are designed to create a well-ordered and prosperous society. But as good and helpful as these things are, they can only deal with symptoms, and not man’s real sickness.
If we correctly diagnose the problem of man to be sin, then we must give man his only cure (or point him to where it can be procured). No doctor rightly diagnoses an illness and goes on to prescribe unhelpful drugs. Man can only be ultimately helped by a cure.
I have been reminded of man’s need in a stronger way these past few days. May God help us be faithful guides who point men to where their cure lies and tell them how it can be rightly obtained.