N is for Nature vs. Nurture

NI’m a Colorado girl – well, woman, I guess – and as I write today, the April ground is covered in a very thick coat of newly fallen snow. This is not an uncommon occurrence here and I couldn’t help but think, as I looked the frozen, drooping tulips and daffodils that I would have thought they would know better by now that to start growing at the first blush of Spring. Of course, they don’t because that is not how God created them. Instead, God created them to start to push through the cold, hard winter ground early in the season to remind us that regardless of what is to come, there is always renewal and hope.

But sometimes it just doesn’t feel that way, does it? Sometimes, as we watch the nightly news or read the paper, the evil that permeates our daily lives is overwhelming. What is it that has made this world so bad?

Having spent many years studying various aspects of psychology and also watching far too many episodes of DATELINE to be healthy, I often hear the discussions turn to nature versus nurture. As humans we like to be able to pinpoint a reason for something in order to make sense out of something that otherwise would remain not only a mystery, but in many cases, painful.naturevnurture

While there are certainly extensive discussions on the topic of nature versus nurture, I personally don’t believe the answer lies in either nature or nurture but rather free will. C. S. Lewis discussed this very thing in his book The Problem of Pain. For Lewis, suffering – and I would add evil – are inevitable in a world where free-will exists.

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Now this is challenging for us because we don’t want suffering and we don’t want evil, but the idea that we were all placed here to just be puppets in a pre-planned existence is fairly repugnant as well. I believe God thought so as well, and that is why He provided us free-will.

But if God created free will, did he also create evil, if in fact it is free will that causes us to do evil acts?

From  my perspective, no because it is not possible for an all loving, all powerful, omnipotent, and omniscient God to create anything other than good. But in order for us as humans to recognize that which is good, we also have to to know that which is evil. As the old saying goes, you can’t know light unless you know darkness. Evil is the natural opposite of good. As hard as it is for us to grasp, God, who is all good, has always existed with evil. They are part of the same whole.

cslewis freewill

So free will, then, becomes our way to determine good and evil for our selves. We test the waters to see what’s what and find our path to truth.

For most of us, it’s not that we are specifically choosing to participate in an evil act, but rather that the idea of that evil action is more enticing to us than the good action. And for most of us, “evil actions” tend to be relatively minor – things like stealing candy from the 7-Eleven when you were 12 or disobeying traffic laws because they are inconvenient.

As an aside, I know what you’re saying to yourself. Speeding isn’t “evil”, its just bad. Unfortunately, from the perspective of a wholly good God, there is only one other option and that is evil. It is our human nature that chooses to create the shades of gray to make actions feel less injurious when we disobey what we know to be right. But I digress.

For others of us, that sense of power that comes from using our free will to behave in ways that are evil becomes intoxicating. The quote “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” plays itself out over and over in our lives.

Free will is, after all, power. It is the power within us to choose the right thing or the wrong thing; to behave in ways that glorify God or in ways that do not. The thing is that regardless of our choice, God will work our actions of free will out for good. As difficult as it may be to acknowledge, we now have medical knowledge that we may not have if it weren’t for the heinous acts that occurred during the Holocaust. Forest fires clear years of underbrush so new growth can come through. Death must occur to make way for new life. It is the natural order of things – and the natural order of things was and is created by God who can do no evil.

God created mankind in His image meaning our nature is to be good but because of free will, we have the choice to be something other than good.

So how do we change this? What is the way back to our true nature?

For me, it is spending time in prayer, in devotion, in nature itself seeking out God in all of the ways He presents Himself to me.

How about you? Where do you find your true nature?

 

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