The New York Times, the Natural Man, and Spiritual Truth

I wanted to write about an article that I came across in the New York Times that spoke about a topic on which I think I know something about: "Clergy Burnout." In this article, a problem is correctly identified, but the solution offered is tangential at best. I mentioned in the earlier post that the world will always come to the wrong conclusion, even when they have correctly identified the facts. In this post I'll explain why it is that the world's solutions can never (that's right…never) be trusted. (BTW, this material can be found in my book Spiritual Maturity in an expanded form.)

The natural man, that is the man who has not been born again, can’t conceive of what is spiritually true. It is outside his ability to conceive since he has never experienced it. Again, any truth that is not available on the material plane is outside the natural man’s ability to grasp.

The natural man is described by Paul with these words:

However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.…
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Cor 2:9, 10, 14 NIV 84)

Only what is perceived by the senses (“no eye has seen, no ear has heard”) or available to human reason (“no mind has conceived”) is recognized as truth. Because he has no awakened spiritual consciousness, spiritual truths are beyond his ability to experience.

Now at this point it might be helpful to state what I’m not saying to avoid any confusion. I’m not saying the natural man is unable to understand the content of a spiritual argument or that suddenly everyday language becomes unintelligible when the discussion turns to the things of God. Instead, this person will understand as best he is able, but because the real substance of the matter lies outside his experience, he just can’t believe it’s true. That’s what the word “accept” means in this context. The man without the Spirit is unable to receive the information and “regard it as true.” In fact, Jesus said of the Spirit, “The world cannot accept him (the Spirit of Truth), because it neither sees him nor knows him.” (John 14:17)

Likewise, I’m not stating that the man without the Spirit cannot think about spiritual things. The world is full of religion. Every brand and stripe of “spirituality” that can possibly be cobbled together is being taught all around the world. The problem is that, just like the monsters created for the movies, the natural man will only be able to glue together those things that are available to his senses and reason. The interesting paradox of all these religions is that, while they claim to speak of spiritual truths that lie outside this world, these “spiritual” truths are really bound to this world because of their origin. They begin and end with humanity’s limited experience and knowledge.

Therefore, the results of natural humanity’s best attempts to think spiritually end up being Jabberwocky. 


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!’

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

Did you notice in Carroll’s famous poem (excerpted above) there is the appearance of wisdom in the midst of all the nonsense? The “wise” father is warning his son about the dangers of the Jabberwock (with the jaws that bite, the claws that catch!), the Jubjub bird and especially the frumious Bandersnatch! He (oh so humbly) recounts his own bravery (he took his vorpal sword in hand), his perseverance in the face of imminent death (Long time the manxome foe he sought), and the wisdom that he learned from this harrowing experience (so rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood awhile in thought). But it’s all gibberish! In the same way, the natural person may spout lots of spiritual-sounding mumbo-jumbo, but in the end it’s all gobbledygook! True spirituality remains outside his grasp.

In the interest of fairness we must realize that, while the natural man doesn’t need any help to dream up spiritual Jabberwocky, he nevertheless receives help in doing so. Satan has “deep things” of his own to reveal (Rev 2:24), so people are deluded into believing “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim 4:1). And because Satan does not “have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt 16:23), his teaching is predictably tantalizing to the person living merely on the material plane. He knows what fallen humanity wants to hear and provides it with relish. 

A case in point is man’s ability to produce religious systems that, while false, nevertheless contain moral principles pleasing to God. This is because Satan knows mankind inwardly longs to establish some type of righteous order because God has written his law on their hearts (Rom 2:15). Therefore, Satan “assists” the natural man to teach, preach, fight, even die for those things that are universally regarded as good. But these good teachings are intertwined with elements designed specifically to appeal to an individual’s pride, lust, and greed so that the false system will be received as true by the natural man, while the truth will be regarded as foolishness. This is always the case whether the commentator be the Times, the college professor, or the neighbor across the fence. Unless someone has the Spirit of God, they will always come to wrong conclusions, even if they have correct facts.