All human beings live by values. Mostly we get them, the late Francis A. Schaeffer used to say, “by osmosis.” We absorb them from surrounding culture. We haven’t thought about them; they’re just there.
Psychologists, philosophers, and theologians debate various ideas about how human beings acquire knowledge and values, among them John Locke’s tabula rasa, i.e., “blank slate.” It’s an intriguing idea, but I’ve never believed all children were essentially born with a mind full of nothing and therefore all our knowledge, attitudes, and values develop later via experience and sensation.
I certainly agree our minds and even personalities are formed over time in part by our environment, i.e. Nature (vs Nurture). But I do not believe we start from scratch. Rather I believe God endows each human being at birth with unique personality and talent. Later, through our choices and our life experiences, Nature again, we can build upon, suppress, or redirect our basic personality and talent. But we don’t begin with nothing, like an animal with no more than instincts.
I also believe we craft our personalities, worldviews, and values via Nurture. Made in the image of God we are rational creatures capable of reason and accumulated knowledge. We may be taught—nurtured—and we may learn.
Along the way, we may be taught and we may learn poor or bad values. We make them our own. That’s what Schaeffer meant by osmosis. We embrace values without questioning their moral content.
For example, I’ve known dedicated, knowledgeable, and otherwise spiritually mature Christian people who hold racist points of view. Have they simply never applied—connected the dots—their Christian worldview to their racist viewpoints? Or are they just not knowledgeable enough about biblical theology to sense the spiritual dissonance between claiming to be Christian and to be racist at the same time? It could be either of these possibilities.
This scenario could apply to any number of attitudes, values, or behaviors we've developed: prejudice toward Middle Easterners, a temper or simply ongoing anger, laziness, you name it. We can be different from what we are.
Our task, as believers, is to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We’re supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). To do this, we must continually run our values through the filter of our Christian worldview. If we do this, that is, compare our values to the principles God's Word provides, with the Holy Spirit’s enablement we will gradually rid bad values, attitudes, or behaviors from our daily life. This is called sanctification, spiritual maturing.
Clearly, it is possible for human beings to learn and adopt new values, attitudes, and behaviors. We cannot blame who we are entirely upon Nature or Nurture. We can change and we are responsible for our own growth.
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness," (Ephesians 4:22-24). Which means this: we may not be able to change the world, but we can with the help of the Holy Spirit change ourselves.
This may sound like work, but actually it’s something far more enticing: it’s hope.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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