Sin is an unpopular subject, and Christians are often criticized for going on about it too much. But they only do so because they are realists. Sin is not a convenient invention of church ministers to keep them in their job; it is a fact of human experience.
The history of the last hundred years or so has convinced many people that the problem of evil is located in human beings themselves, not merely in human society. The nineteenth century saw a flourishing of liberal optimism. It was widely believed that human nature was fundamentally good, that evil was largely caused by ignorance and bad housing, and that education and social reform would enable people to live together in happiness and goodwill. But this illusion has been shattered by the hard facts of history. Educational opportunities have spread rapidly throughout the world, and many welfare states have been created. But our human capacity to get it wrong seems undaunted. The persistence of conflict on the world stage and the widespread denial of human rights, together with the general increase of violence and crime, have forced thoughtful people to acknowledge that a hard core of selfishness exists in each and every one of us.
Much that we take for granted in a ‘civilized’ society is actually based upon the assumption of human sin. Nearly all legislation has grown up because we simply cannot be trusted to settle our disputes with justice and without self-interest. A promise is not enough; we need a contract. Doors are not enough; we have to lock and bolt them. The payment of fares is not enough; tickets have to be issued, inspected and collected. Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them. All this is due to our sin. We cannot trust one another. We need protection against one another. It is a terrible indication of what human nature is really like.
John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 82–83.
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