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The beast from the black lagoon

February 1999 | by Eric Wright

Have you ever been attacked by the beast from the black lagoon? No? Well, that black beast from the depths surfaced the other day and knocked me senseless with one of its slimy tentacles. It sent me reeling.

By the way, it’s called depravity. Not ‘depravity’ in the sense of degrading behaviour, but in the theological sense of unfitness for God.

I thought it was one of my better days. I even hummed a ditty as I went about my work. Devotions had been great. God was in his heaven and everything was right. Of course, my cheerfulness pumped up my playfulness. I dropped into the kitchen a couple of times to give Mary Helen the gift of my wit.

As the day wore on, I noticed she seemed unusually quiet. ‘What’s the matter’? I asked. ‘Have we got a problem?’ She responded with alacrity: ‘You always cut me down. Can’t you ever say something good about me?’

‘Thud’ went my ego. ‘Hey, what is happening here?’ I thought. ‘I was just kidding, having some fun’, I responded to her.

‘Does kidding have to be negative?’ she replied.

Depravity in disguise

I had thought I was being playful – and she took it as a put-down! I never thought of my kidding that way. As I grew in my Christian walk, I had asked the Lord to curb criticism, sarcasm, and any form of negative speech. I had tried to become a verbal ‘encourager’. But kidding? Like many mature Christians I felt confident in my faith, spent daily time in devotional reading and prayer, and sought to serve the Lord. I had the sense that I was a strong, growing Christian.

Then the beast surfaced. The more I pondered Mary Helen’s words, the more I realised the truth of what she had said, and the more depressed I became. Here I was thinking I was far above the petty evidences of depravity that marked my early Christian life. Although I was relatively content with my Christian walk, I quickly realised that the black monster lurks there in the dark lagoon below my consciousness, just waiting to surface.

Compensating

I grew up compensating for shyness and small stature by trying to develop a rapier wit. Repartee, the art of catching people off guard by throwing in caustic comments, seemed to be the only way I could hope to excel. As kids we called it ‘kidding around’. Retorts dripping with sarcasm had brought me some youthful approbation. Years had come and gone. The Holy Spirit had ground off the sharper edges of my conversation – or so I thought.

But as I waded through the dark thoughts spawned by Mary Helen’s comment, I concluded that what I had considered ‘good humour’ was just depravity in disguise. Hiding there in the dark recesses of my personality, my fallen nature still schemed and insinuated its way to the surface of my life, in a thousand different ways.

No, I am not a victim of my childhood, or my family upbringing, or my gene pool, or job insecurity. Peter got it right: ‘I am a sinful man’. Paul also spoke truly: ‘I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing’. Every Christian struggles with depravity, the fallen nature, until Christ calls us home (Galatians 5:17).

Victors, not victims

In seeking to excise guilt from our psyches, modern psychiatry has cast us all in the role of victims. Unfortunately, politically correct ‘victimology’ has just given man’s fallen nature another field to exploit, and has also infiltrated evangelical thinking. Some tell us that we need inner healing, when what we really need is forgiveness through the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to put our old nature to death (Romans 8:13).

Whatever happened to depravity? The other day I re-learned, forcibly, that it lurks underground, ready at any moment to burst forth in a thousand guises. It rides our ego to the surface of our lives.

‘But thanks be unto God, who always gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). If we ‘walk in the Spirit’ we shall ‘not fulfil the lust of the flesh [the old nature]’ (Galatians 5:16).

What about Mary Helen? Well, she and I are helpmates, and helpmates help each other in lots of unconventional ways. I had to eat humble pie that day and admit that she was right. It’s going to take a while for the Spirit to wrestle my ingrained kidding to the mat for the count. It doesn’t want to lie down. And it took me a year or so to get up the courage to write this article!