Back in Junior High School we read William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies. The question of the day was whether destructive behavior resulted from nature or nurture. Golding's intent behind the story of English school boys marooned on an island was to show human depravity as intrinsic and not the result of nurture or culture.
Golding was often accused of being a Calvinist since his story powerfully illustrates the doctrine of Total Depravity. This dogma, based on biblical passages such as Ephesians 2:1-3, teaches all humanity became pervasively corrupted by sin as a result of Adam's transgression in Eden. His fallenness became the inheritance of every human descending from him except Jesus himself.
Total Depravity does not mean humanity is as bad as it can be in all areas. It does not preclude the writing of great literature, or music, or acts of heroism and love. It simply teaches the separation between God and mankind, brought about by sin, cannot be bridged through man's efforts. In terms of having the ability to bring himself back to God, man is both unwilling and unable due to sin having blinded his intellect and corrupted his ability in this area.
In Golding's day some were suggesting a different view. Human nature comes into the world at birth in a neutral state. Each child is an empty tablet, and the effects of her culture, including the nurture of her family, will shape her character. Nurture, not nature, is responsible.
This question still rages on although a new answer has entered the arena. Those devoted to a worldview of materialism, who believe everything is the result of either physics or chemistry, now suggest all aberrant behavior is the result of our DNA. Yes, our nature determines our trajectory, but it isn't spiritual at all. Sin has been replaced by value-neutral DNA. And further, since we had no choice in the DNA we received, we can't be held responsible for our actions.
We read more and more about genetic predispositions said to be responsible for behaviors that are anti-social or worse. Many tied into the world of mental illness now believe DNA is responsible. Even those with no previous signs of mental illness can now be seen as victims of their dormant DNA if a traumatic event "unlocks" their dysfunction and brings about a negative response. Criminal defense attorneys often refer to this as "temporary insanity" which has brought about a "diminished capacity" to know and act on reality properly.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, please understand I am not suggesting DNA has no bearing on our behavior. I am also not suggesting mental illness is not a huge problem in our day, and one worthy of being addressed with compassion and courage.
What I am suggesting is simple: When aberrant behavior is explained on the basis of physical processes alone (e.g.. DNA), we have ceased to recognize the prominent role our inherited corruption from Adam plays in human nature.
The great problem here involves the necessary link between proper diagnosis and effective cure. As Christ-followers who believe the Bible to be God's Word, we understand human nature is riddled with sin, along with all creation. This virus of sin has found its way into the operating system of our universe, producing death and all its precursors. Most importantly, sin has darkened the human heart and mind to the righteousness of God (see: Romans 1:18ff) and left us in a futile search for something to fill the God-shaped void in the core of our being.
Augustine said it best, speaking to God: "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you!"
If we fail to see the spiritual component in life, and consider problems solved when we can medicate away the aberrant effects of our DNA, we will be dealing with only a fraction of the real problem. We all were created with a spiritual element that will only find wholeness in a restored relationship with the one who created us in the first place. Only a spiritual solution can solve our spiritual problem, and that solution is Jesus Christ.
Once again, I am not blind to the ravages of mental illness in our day. Some have accused me of dismissing mental illness insisting that my preoccupation with sin eliminates the possibility of physiological causes. But their criticism is shortsighted and shallow. Certainly there can be many reasons behind aberrant behavior. All I am saying is the spiritual corruption of sin must be recognized as a major contributor to the myriad ills that plague our society.
If we talk in terms of "illness" it must be conceded that sin is a much greater illness than all mental maladies combined simply because sin has infected everyone pervasively. All have been born with an inherited sin nature, and a guaranteed predisposition to sin. Consequently, we all sin.
It is not overstating the case to say we live in a world constantly enveloped by an ongoing, deadly plague called sin. To overlook this deadly virus as responsible for so much harmful behavior is simply unloving for in doing so we fail to offer to those in need the great medication called "grace" which ushers in new life found in Jesus Christ alone.