Good and Evil in Degrees

By Robin Schumacher

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Originally posted at The Christian Post

How "bad" are the things that you do — really? Dr. Michael Welner wants to be able to tell you.

Welner, a leading forensic psychiatrist who has testified in some of America's most infamous violent crime cases, is looking for yours and other's input on creating a human depravity standard with the end goal being to codify the concept of evil for the justice system. What Welner and his associates at the Forensic Panel in New York are attempting to do is formally draw up lines of demarcation between poor-bad-worse-heinous behaviors so those prosecuting crimes and juries that hand down decisions can have guidelines with which to work for properly assigning judgments.

Welner says, "In criminal courts today, the decision to charge a case as heinous, atrocious, cruel, depraved or vile rests with the prosecuting authority but, [only] because the law does not include a standard to what constitutes an evil crime. That decision is either visceral, or one that may be driven by political considerations, bias, or sensationalism. A Depravity Standard that is rooted in specific hallmarks of intent, actions, attitude and victimology keeps prosecutors accountable to fully investigate a crime for these unique qualities so that evidence informs decision making." [1]

In the end, Welner states that he wants to be able to "actually determine the level of evil in a crime." [2]

In today's culture, it's rather refreshing to hear Biblical and moral terms like "depravity" and "evil" used to describe the source of wrong behavior vs. the usual banter of liberal psychologists who label such activity as being a sickness and parrot assertions by their predecessors such as Maslow and Rogers who say, "I do not find that...evil is inherent in human nature." [3]

But can Welner and his team actually come up with a scale and unchanging standard for immoral conduct? Further, will it represent anything along the lines of the standard the Bible sets for sinful actions?

What is Depravity?

The term "depraved" occurs five times in the Bible; two times in the Old Testament (and in the same book — Hosea) and three times in Paul's writings (Romans, 1 & 2 Timothy). In the Old Testament the Hebrew terms šǎ·ḥǎṭā and št are used, which literally mean to "ruin", and be corrupted.[4] Romans 1:28 uses the word adokimos for depraved, which means "not standing the test; worthless", while the term used for depraved in 1 & 2 Timothy — Diaphtheirō — means "to spoil or destroy like rust eating into iron; to cause someone to become perverse, as a type of moral destruction; to cause the moral ruin of." [5]

Both the Old and New Testament definitions of depravity dovetail perfectly with Scripture's definition of evil (ʿ in the Old and ponēros in the New), which is something that is "worthless"; a thing that used to be good, but is now lacking its prior excellent qualities.

Just as rot on a tree ruins a good tree and rust on a car eventually renders the vehicle incapable of performing as it should, depravity and evil rob a person of their ability to do good in the eyes of God. Or as Paul says, a person becomes "detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed" (Titus 1:16).

The bad news for all of us is that the Bible states we are all depraved and capable of terrible things. Scripture says everyone is born in this condition (Psalm 51:5), and that our heart is "is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). But that said, is one person really worse than another in God's eyes where depravity is concerned?

Is All Sin the Same?

Most believers will tell you that a mantra they hear repeated often in sermons and other Christian gatherings is something along the lines of, "all sin is the same to God."

No it isn't.

While the effect of each sin is equal where a person's eternal standing before God is concerned (as James says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" - James 2:10), the Bible says that the degree of sinful actions differs.

Proverbs calls out seven particular evil actions that God despises (Proverbs 6:16-19); Jesus said that the person who had delivered Him up to Pilate had committed a "greater sin" (John 19:11), that there are "weightier provisions of the law" (Matthew 23:23), and that people who had witnessed His miracles and refused to repent were on the hook with God for more than those who had not (Matthew 11:2022).

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Published 12-9-14