What is total depravity? It is that warmest and fuzziest of all theological doctrines that says, as my pastor Tal likes to say, you suck. You have not lived, incidentally, until you have been in a room full of recovering addicts jumping for joy and begging for their pastor to levy the most obvious of charges against them. Yes, we suck. That is what the doctrine of total depravity says, essentially. Oh what is that? You would like a more classical definition of total depravity?
The Puritans, who would savor an uncharacteristic chuckle at Tal’s definition, used to talk about total depravity as consisting of a distorted mind, a wayward will and some messed up emotions. Mind, will, emotions. The whole Casey is a part of this curse that our first father Adam inflicted on us by eating the fruit of the tree that was off-limits. My thinking is flawed, my choices are dumb and my feelings rarely reflect reality. Total depravity.
These days it seems like everybody is talking about a “holistic” approach. You see super-magnate companies like Google provide their employees with everything from a paycheck to free cafeteria food to a climbing wall to a laundry room. They want their employees to be happy people and that makes plenty of sense, right? How much better do you think you would do your job if you were encouraged to be a “person” at work? Google knows what they are doing because they are not treating employees as workers but as whole people. Maybe they have a job opening…I already have a washing machine but the other perks sound pretty awesome…
Where was I? Right, total depravity. The problem with people ever since Adam and Eve pretty much flipped God the bird is that we are everything but whole. Think about it, there is no such thing as a united movement toward anything, good or evil, that was able to stand the test of time. Even the Puritans, a people renowned for uniting against all things devilish or silly, crumbled in amongst themselves when they finally gained power in England. But that is a long story, all to say that we are some very un-whole people. We are divided even against our own selves. It was no surprise that they were right again.
And this is why Jesus stands out in a crowd. Jesus was a whole person. He had a sharp, focused mind. His choices were, without fail, directed toward loving obedience to his Father and love to his neighbor. And his emotions- they were right on time.
If anything, Jesus’ emotions show us that it is ok to be sad, confused, angry, lonely unsure, fearful and distressed. These emotions, although negative, are not, in and of themselves, signs that we are on the wrong path. They may mean just the opposite.
Take the scene in front of Lazarus’ tomb for an example. Jesus was “troubled, deeply moved and weeping” at the scene of Mary and Martha’s recently deceased brother. He was so moved that the extras on the scene took notice: see how he loved him! Of course, there were others who were skeptical: could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? I wonder if those cynics had lost somebody close to them. Would any amount of weeping bring them back from the dead? Better to leave the past in the past and move on with life.
But Jesus is the Man who lives in wholeness. He is about to speak three words and call a man back from four days of death and he knows it. Yet he still weeps. He is still troubled. He is still sad. He still makes space for his emotions.
You see, in times of trouble, we tend to let our dominant side take over. I might have broken down and wept like Jesus but that would have probably led me to be so sad that I forgot the reason I came. Lazarus would still be dead. Others of us would have been so focused on the task of raising the dead man that we think what is the point in crying? This is called total depravity.
But Jesus is the whole Man. His mind, will and emotions work in perfect concert with one another. Jesus weeps because he is whole. He also gives life to the dead because he is whole. This is total perfection. The man Jesus lives so fully that we say with Luther: this man is God.
And to prove that he is not only for us in emotion, he calls Lazarus to come out of the grave. His message is the same today. God, in his wholeness, simply says:
To obey that word is to live.