Total Depravity & the Image of God
What is meant by the expression Total Depravity? I think the expression conjures up many different ideas. Some think of a depraved creature as an evil freak of nature. It would be something from which everyone would run in horror. For others, a depraved human is someone who looks deceptively good on the outside, but who is always plotting evil deeds on the inside. Even what may appear to be a noble deed must have some evil ulterior motive.
Is this what me mean when we think of total depravity from a Christian perspective? First of all, the word, depravity, is derived from the Latin word, pravus, meaning disordered and not being straight. 1 The thought is that, before the fall of Adam, humankind were in an ordered state. After the sinful fall, humankind became bent or crooked. So, before the fall, Adam and Eve were noble upright and good creatures according to the straight measure of God. After the fall, Adam and Eve were crooked or distorted, and they did not meet the perfectly straight measure of God.
For example, marriage was instituted before the fall of Adam and Eve. They were in paradise enjoying each others in a harmonious companionship of love. Then they sinned, bringing in the fallen state of humankind. But, notice that human marriage, as an institution, continued in the fallen state. In the fallen state, marriage became bent, disordered, and a challenge to maintain in a loving harmonious relationship. Hence, we see that the woman would have sorrow in child birth and her husband would rule over her. Adam had to face the fact that the ground was cursed because he disobeyed God. (Genesis 3:16-17) A tug-a-war began in marriage because of the fall of the human race. A crookedness or bentness characterized the union of husband and wife. It is no wonder marriage seminars and retreats are so popular. Yet, marriage remains the most rewarding human relationship that a person can enjoy. If marriage were totally depraved in the sense of completely evil, marriage would be something to be avoided at all cost.
However, we recognize that Adam and Eve were married both before and after the fall. The fall did not annihilate the concept of marriage. Marriage was not completely defaced beyond its recognition. Yet, it was not in its pristine condition either. It was bent, marred, tattered or depraved. Furthermore, it does not mean that marriage is an evil institution because there is depravity in it. Marriage is good and proper; but marriages depravity is expressed in the disharmony that may occur occasionally within the bonds of matrimony.
This illustration of marriage's depravity could be extended to the human body. Before the fall of Adam and Eve, the human body was straight, i.e., healthy and strong. It would not catch colds or have heart attacks. Their physical senses were such that they could avoid accidents and harm. But after the fall, our bodies could catch a cold, grow old, and finally die. Again, notice that Adam and Eve had good physical bodies before the fall. They also had good bodies after the fall. The difference before and after the fall is the measure of their bodily depravity. Again, the human body is good in itself, but it shows its depravity in disease and death.
Finally, total depravity means that all aspects of a human being are crooked or bent. Total depravity means that the fall influences all aspects of our human experience. This includes our mind, will, soul, body, marriage and family ties, social encounters, economic systems, and governments. You name it and humans have the ability to disorder and disfigure it. Yet, even with human nature being bent, there is still the image and likeness of God in Adam’s descendants.
Humankind still bears the image of God. In fact, the image of God is given as the reason for capital punishment for premeditated murder.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
This command was given after the fall of Adam. So, we can be assured that after the fall humankind still bears the image of God. To kill another human being is to kill God in effigy. If we understood the true significance of man bearing the image of God, we would treat one another with more respect. Also, we would not to curse our fellow man, because they are made in the likeness of God.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. James 3:9
Now, if human beings were totally depraved in the sense that they were totally evil, scripture would not speak of them still bearing the image and likeness of God. Total depravity and the image and likeness of God are expressed in every human being. There is a danger in concentrating so much upon the depravity of humankind that we forget the divine image that each one bears. The image and likeness are there, but it is bent, tattered, and dim, but not totally destroyed. Our bentness and depravity show that we are truly sinners.
Our depravity is displayed in our sinful thoughts and deeds. We have all sinned and come short of God’s perfect moral standards. Therefore, we have all sinned and need the redemption that is offered in God’s love for the world. Have you repented of your sins and accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16.
1 “Depravity, fron the Latin pravitas and pravus, in Greek ραιβος, and the Hebrew רע to be disordered, or put out of its estabilished order,” ... “Depravity or depravation implies crookedness or distortion from the regular course;” George Crabb, English Synonymes: With Copious Illustrations and Explanations, Drawn from the Best Writers, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1837, p. 128.