Are we good at heart or inherently evil? The former is a presupposition of progressives and the latter of conservatives. We believe neither political view is wholly accurate in their assessments and correctives. Even though it seems up for debate, humans’ moral state was once demonstrated in no uncertain terms. This judgment was not given lightly; nor was the punishment administered capriciously. We, as a species, were indicted and found guilty:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)
And a grave judgment followed.
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great. Moses [makes the argument] that God was neither too harsh, nor [abrupt] in exacting punishment from the wicked men of the world. And he introduces God as speaking after the manner of men, by a figure [of speech] which ascribes human affections to God; because he could not otherwise express…that God was not [persuaded] hastily, or for a [minor] cause, to destroy the world.
…By the word saw, [Moses] indicates long continued patience; as if he would say, that God had not proclaimed his sentence to destroy men, until after having well observed, and long considered, their case, he saw them to be past recovery.
Calvin then points out that our iniquity was worldwide and total:
Their wickedness was great in the earth He might have pardoned sins of a less aggravated character: if in one part only of the world impiety had reigned, other regions might have remained free from punishment. But now, when iniquity had reached its highest point, and so pervaded the whole earth, that integrity possessed no longer a single corner; it follows, that the time for punishment is more than fully arrived…[The earth and all it contained] was not overwhelmed with a deluge of waters [until] it had first been [fully]immersed in the pollution of wickedness.
He compares the depth of our sin with the severity of due punishment:
Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart. Moses has traced the cause of the deluge to external acts of iniquity, he now ascends higher, and declares that men were not only perverse by habit, and by the custom of evil living; but that wickedness was too deeply seated in their hearts, to leave any hope of repentance. He certainly could not have more forcibly asserted that the depravity was such as no moderate remedy might cure…
Calvin emphasizes that, although Moses spoke of God’s condemnation of pre-flood humanity, those after the flood and up until our day, justly, fall under the same indictment:
Continually. …The world had then become so hardened in its wickedness, and was so far from any amendment, or from entertaining any feeling of penitence, that it grew worse and worse as time advanced…It was not the folly of a few days, but the inveterate depravity which the children, having received, as by hereditary right, transmitted from their parents to their descendants.
Nevertheless, though Moses here speaks of the wickedness which at that time prevailed in the world, the general doctrine is properly and consistently…[extended] to the whole human race. So, when David says,
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one;
For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
Psalm 14:3; 5:9 English Standard Version (ESV)
he deplores, truly, the impiety of his own age.
…[And the Apostle] Paul does not [hesitate] to extend it to all men of every age (Romans 3:12) and with justice; for it is not a mere complaint concerning a few men, but a description of the human mind when left to itself, destitute of the Spirit of God.
It is therefore very proper that the obstinacy of the men, who had greatly abused the goodness of God should be condemned in these words; yet, at the same time, the true nature of man, when deprived of the grace of the Spirit, is clearly exhibited.
Finally, Calvin explains God’s grieved motivation behind our indictment and punishment:
And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sakes God should, [via figures of speech, transfer to himself what is peculiar to human nature (i.e., ἀνθρωποπάθεια, or anthrōpopátheia: the actions of men attributed to God)]…
[So, the] Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity…to teach us, that from the time when man [became] so greatly corrupted [by his sin], God [no longer reckoned] him among his creatures; as if [God had said], ‘This is not my workmanship; this is not that man who was formed in my image, and whom I had adorned with such excellent gifts: I do not [condescend] now to acknowledge this degenerate and defiled creature as mine.’
Unless we wish to provoke God, and to put him to grief, let us learn to abhor and to flee from sin…
Commenting on the flood judgment and the one yet to come, the Apostle Peter says:
[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
2 Peter 3:4-7 (ESV)
The Deluge, 1834, John Martin (1789–1854), In the Public Domain in the United States