Confessions on Total Depravity, Part 2: Genesis Six and Eight

Read also Part 1.

Yahweh, I come before you. Undeserving of any of your favors, for I am not worthy to be called your son. Oh Yahweh, guide my thoughts and my understanding. Lead me in the path of righteousness for your name sake.

There are many who say we cannot respond to you unless you regenerate us first. There are many who say that we have no ability to collapse by faith into your outstretched arms. Oh God, is this true? Do you not give men the capacity to respond to you when you call?

“This inability,” they say, “is brought upon us by the curse.” But in the curse, you make no such declaration. You curse childbearing, the ground, and the serpent. But you make no mention of this inability for man to respond to you. Why, oh Lord, if this is greatest effect of the fall, do you make no mention of it? Surely, there must be clear scriptures that speak of it.

“Yes,” they say, “ for in the eyes of God ‘the wickedness of humankind [is] great in the earth, and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts [is] only evil continually’” (Gn 6:5, NRSV).[1] They say this is the state of man in every generation. And that no exception comes unless you regenerate them. Yet Lord, this was the state of men at that time.[2] And you were “sorry that [you] had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved [you] to [your] heart” (Gn 6:6). And so you planned to destroy all men, save those who had received the righteousness of faith (Gn 6:9-10; Heb 11:7). And so you did.

“Yet,” they say, “God still viewed man the same way after the flood, for ‘the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth’ (Gn 8:21).”[3] Oh Lord, when I read this, I was indeed ready to believe them. For your words concerning the state of all men—you express them in this passage. As you have said, so it must stand. I fell from my arrogance and sought forgiveness. But when I lifted my eyes to see your word again, you showed me that I had not understood it right.

You said at first, “the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gn 6:5). Yet in the second place, you said, “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Gn 8:21). You said not the second time the words every, only, and continually.[4] You had wiped that previous generation clean off the earth. But in the heart of man remained wickedness. His spirit is still in bondage to sin. But yet not everything he thinks is only evil continually. And more, not only did you leave words out, but you said, “from his youth.” Youth does not signify an infant or a preborn, but one who a boy to a grown man.[5] And so, oh Lord, it is at the time when we have moral capacity that we choose to turn from you. You do not say here that man is completely unable to turn to you when you call them.

Part 3 of my confessions

[1] Literally: “And YHWH saw that the evil of the man was great in the earth and all the formations of the plans of his mind were only evil all the day.”

[2] Chapter 6:1 opens with וַיְהִי indicating that chapter six begins a new section of the narrative (Gesenius Grammar §111.g). This is followed by several verses beginning with an imperfect with wāw consecutive (Gn 6:2, 3, 5). According to Gesenius, “The imperfect with wāw consecutive (§ 49 a–g) serves to express actions, events, or states, which are to be regarded as the temporal or logical sequel of actions, events, or states mentioned immediately before. The imperfect consecutive is used in this way most frequently as the narrative tense, corresponding to the Greek aorist or the Latin historic perfect” (Gesenius Grammar §111.a). This flow is only interrupted by verse 4: “הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ.” This too refers to past time because the normal function of the היה copulative generates a past time statement when embedded into a narrative (G. S. Ogden, “Time, and the Verb היה in O.T. Prose,” Vetus Testamentum 21, no. 4 (1971): 451–2.). Further, the word בַּיָּמִים “in the days” indicates past time: “the day or period of which the historian has just been speaking” (Gesenius Grammar §136.b). Thus, this statement occurs in a narrative describing the events at a particular time on earth’s history. Not the general case for all men everywhere.

[3] Literally: “Because the thing formed of (by) the heart of the man [is] evil from the youth of him.”

[4] Hebrew: וְכָל, רַק, and כָּל־הַיּוֹם.

[5] The Hebrew word נְעוּרִים signifies persons who are young but are able to tend cattle (Gn 46:34), to marry (Pro 2:17;  5:18), able to lead nations (1Sm 12:2), to go to war (1Sm 17:33), to trust in God (Ps 71:5), and to keep the law (Eze 4:14). These and other descriptions of the youth clearly point to someone in their teens and twenties. In no instance does it refer to an infant or a child unable to make moral decisions.

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