I cannot find the "total depravity" in me!


How come I cannot find myself as all that bad?  I mean, sure, I say the not-so-nice comment to my sister, or I grumble about the doing the dishes.  But I cannot see myself as all that bad. Why? I look very hard, but I cannot find it. I cannot find the “total depravity" that Calvin talked about.


Dear friend,

I appreciate your honesty.  The teachings from Scripture, as they are reflected in statements like “total depravity” don’t always seem to line up with how we experience it.  So you struggle to see yourself ‘totally depraved’ as Calvin taught.

First, let me remind you that Calvin didn’t teach that but that Calvin reflected what the Bible teaches.  But then what does that phrase “total depravity’ mean?  It means that we have completely lost the holiness, knowledge and ability we once had before the fall.  Now we are capable to all the evil human nature is found capable of doing. That means, if the Lord doesn’t restrain us, you and I would do the things we naturally shutter to do.  One of the earliest references to this condition is Gen. 6:5 where it says, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  I have highlighted the words which indicate how total this depravity is.

Now ‘total depravity’ does not mean that every person will live as evil as he possible could.  God’s restraining grace holds most us back from living out the terrible sins of our heart.  I don’t think we will even know how terribly bad we really are. Many people who are not even Christian are still very nice people as far as we can see. But God looks inside these ‘very nice people’ and sees their pride (Look at me!), selfishness (Everyone will think good of me!) or hypocrisy (I do it only because it makes me look good).   Now that ‘nice’ person isn’t so nice anymore.  All he or she cares about it themselves!

By nature we are blind for ourselves but also feel not how bad sin really is.  A ‘not-so-nice comment to a sister’ doesn’t seem too big of a deal.  Or grumbling about doing the dishes isn’t a crime, is it?   Yet both of these actions are transgressions of God’s law.    We may not think it a big deal but to Him it is an offense of the His law. He requires us to be like Him in that we are to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves.  The ‘not-so-nice-comment’ hurts someone He cares about: your sister!  The grumbling about doing the dishes is hurting someone He cares about as well and someone who cared enough about your to prepare a meal!  They both are opposite of God’s most glorious nature: love. Though among us such little actions aren’t too bad, in His sight they are bad. 

Let it be your prayer as in Job, “Teach me what I see not.”  When God does that we will even see our sins in the nicest actions we do.  The harder we will try not to sin, the more we will find that we are totally depraved.’ 

Eichmann was a SS officer in World War II.  This doctor did all kinds of horrific experiments on Jews and war prisoners.  After the war he captured and tried for crime.  They placed him in a bullet proof glass cage during the trial.  Survivors of the camp would testify against him.  One man, who bore the torture marks of Eichmann on his body, broke down in sobs when he saw him sitting in that glass cage.  After the trial, reporters cautiously approached him with the question what made him cry so intensely when he was in the court room.  One ventured, “Was it the revived memory of what he did to you that caused you to break down like that?”  His answer was stunning.  “No, that didn’t cause me to weep.  As I saw him sitting there in the glass cage, I realized that we are like Eichmann.  He lives within us.  Only grace keeps us like the glass cage kept him.”   Now this was indeed received a striking inside in the ‘total depravity’ of our human heart.  May God keep us from living out the sins that Eichmann lived out but may He also keep us from thinking that our human hearts aren’t as bad as his. 


Pastor Vergunst