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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “School Raze”

Have you ever heard of the debate of “Nature vs. Nuture”? Most of us have, but if you haven’t I’ll explain in brief.

In the philosophy of ethics and the sciences of psychology and sociology, an ongoing debate that has lasted for years (and will likely last indefinitely) is the impact of Nature vs. Nurture on human development. Those who favor “Nature” say that one’s demeanor, personality, and morality is ultimately the result of genetics and is, therefore, a simple matter of who that person is from the time of conception. Those who favor “Nurture”, on the other hand, say that the same qualities of a person are a result of their environment and upbringing and therefore can be controlled and shaped by surrounding them with the proper influences at key points in their development.

In truth, either one of these is monstrous if they’re considered to be the sole factor in determining a human being. If it were only Nature, then there would be justification to stereotypes stemming from racism and sexism saying certain individuals can’t do or become certain things. If it were only Nurture, then morality and ethics would not exist as such things would purely be a byproduct of environment, and therefore “good” people couldn’t be praised for their virtue and “bad” people couldn’t be punished for their vice. Therefore, what most people argue for is that one has a greater influence over the other, and this philosophy, in turn, shapes how we see other people and society at large.

Whether this episode intended to or not, it delved right into the issue of Nature vs. Nurture. Consider both Chancellor Neighsay and Cozy Glow. Neighsay was, most clearly, a racist. He believed that simply due to the fact the Student Six were mostly non-ponies that they were innately hostile and treacherous. Later, when trying to frame the Student Six for her own crime, Cozy Glow played off the same idea that non-pony races were innately “evil” to try and sway the student body against them.

It seems, therefore, that the episode was purely pro-Nurture, but looking deeper we find that’s not the case. Again, consider Cozy Glow next to the Student Six. All of them had gone to the same school, which emphasized the ways of friendship, kindness, honesty, loyalty, generosity, and laughter. The whole goal of the school was to instill those values into its student body. And yet, while the Student Six internalized those values, we can see from the season premiere they already embodied them for the most part. By comparison, all of the lessons didn’t change Cozy Glow at all. The episode therefore actually has a pro-Nature message too.

But of the two views, which one is “Biblical”? Which one should the Christian endorse?

Honestly, I’ve seen Christians do both. Occasionally I’ve seen the same individual exhibit both philosophies. I’ve seen one flat out condemn an entire group as not being worth any time or effort because he felt it would be a waste on them due to their genetics. That same individual extended help, generosity, and forgiveness to a career criminal time and again because he knew him personally and he wanted to believe, deep down, that this was a good person who only needed the help to get his life in order.

Different churches have different philosophies too. More traditional, “older” churches and religion seem to want some evidence or proof of a person’s good nature before allowing them fully into their services, while others immediately bring everyone in regardless of their station in life. In doing so, they show that one expects a person to show their good quality before being allowed to be considered a “Christian” (more toward Nature), while another believes the environment of the Church itself is all they need to be influenced into being a more righteous individual (more toward Nurture).

What’s most perplexing to me is that people seem to back one way or the other when there’s plenty of evidence that goes both ways. There are some people people who waste every opportunity, kindness, compassion, and outreach sent their way and continue to destroy themselves and occasionally others. There are other people who most of us would think are “human garbage” who turn everything around and become shining inspirations to us all without much more than them deciding to get their lives in order. Some people become “saints” on their own or require help, and some people are “sinners” either due to what people did to them or simply because they just decided to be that way all on their own.

Yet to me, neither philosophy really matters. What ultimately matters in life, and what ultimately determines how good or poor of a Christian we are, is not whether we think someone is good enough intrinsically to overcome any personal setback or if, properly surrounded by support, they’ll go from a gangster to a model citizen. What matters to a Christian, and especially their world view, is if they can believe people can change.

If a Christian decides to go do the Will of God, but has a fierce belief that some people are “beyond saving” (whether or not that’s true), I have a hard time believing that they’ll be that effective at God’s ministry. God often calls us to go outside of our comfort zone and to push ourselves beyond what we know. Well, if we “know” that this group of people over here or that group of people over there is rotten to the core, then we’re highly unlikely to carry out God’s will or, at minimum, give it a half-hearted attempt. Or if we innately assume that some people will be deaf to the Word of God, or will waste any attempt to give them charity or outreach, or would sooner kill and rob us than build a relationship, we’ll likewise avoid all of those things.

In the time of Jesus, not only the religious leaders but much of society had their own class of “untouchables”. People who were prostitutes or tax collectors were considered the scum of their society and worthy of nothing but condemnation for their immorality and greed (Matthew 9:10-11; Luke 7:36-39; Luke 19:1-7). Jesus, however, went against the culture and reached out to them. He was ridiculed for even bothering with them (Matthew 11:19), but as a result they came to Him and had their lives changed (Luke 19:8-10). I’m sure not every one did. No doubt, they were still plenty of tax collectors extorting their own people and prostitutes who thought Jesus was full of it. But many did, and those many wouldn’t have come if Jesus had automatically dismissed them all.

Even the early Church had issues from belief in the ability of people to change. Initially, the Gospel was preached only to people who followed the Jewish faith. It wasn’t until Peter was given a vision by God that he felt any need to start preaching to Gentiles as well (Acts 10). Likewise, the Apostle Paul, considered one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, got his start being a persecutor and accessory to murder of Christians. So much so that the early Church refused to believe that he could have possibly changed and needed testimony from a Christian named Barnabus first (Acts 9:23-28). Can you imagine what Christianity would be like today if the Church hadn’t accepted that others could change in these scenarios?

It’s true that the world won’t always be sunshine and rainbows, and being forgiving of everyone doesn’t mean wandering into danger cluelessly. Nevertheless, the Gospel still gives Christians a higher calling than the average person, and demands more from them both in attitude and personal risk. That includes occasionally taking a chance on people. As we believe God has overlooked our own pasts and has faith that we can change, we must do likewise to all others.

After all, whether we believe a person is who they are due to genetic or upbringing, the one thing all Christians can agree upon is only God can change the heart.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the tremendous mercy and marvelous gift of salvation you have granted to me through Christ Jesus. Today I choose to have faith, hope, and love in those that the world has dismissed. Please help me to be as Christ to anyone I have ever unfairly judged as being a “waste of time”, and help me always to be mindful that, as Christ never considered me beyond help, I must always leave a little room to do likewise. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”