Faith in human nature

You have a secret, probably more than one. There are unkind or evil thoughts you’ve had about other people, thoughts you don’t want anyone else to know. There are things you’ve done in private that you’ve never told anyone. The memories of them may go all the way back to your childhood.

Then we listen to the news. Violence and hatred are everywhere. People can be selfish and cruel. Deep down, it may remind us of the violence in our own hearts; we’re angry and ashamed. We want the newscast to end with a more upbeat story, something that renews our faith in human nature, that gives us some hope that the world isn’t going to end in flames, at least not this afternoon.

As Christians, we spend a lot of time and energy keeping up appearances. But we know that there is sin in the human heart. Does anyone really know who we are in our inmost selves?

Yes. God does.

Following his description of Jesus driving the sellers and money-changers from the outer court of the Jerusalem temple, John writes this:

While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs that he did. But Jesus didn’t trust himself to them because he knew all people. He didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature, for he knew what human nature was. (John 2:23-25, CEB)

If he had stopped with the first sentence, the passage would have ended on a high note. Jesus did miracles in front of the Passover crowd, and many believed. Hallelujah.

But John doesn’t end there. As we’ve seen in previous posts, Jesus had spoken cryptically about his coming death and resurrection. The Jewish leaders neither believed in him nor understood what he was saying, so they mocked him. In contrast, the disciples believed. But they didn’t understand the bit about destroying and raising up the temple either. It wouldn’t make sense until much later.

What, then, of the people who “believed” when they saw the miracles Jesus performed? John uses the same word in the negative to declare that Jesus didn’t “trust” himself to them. We might say that they had some kind of “faith” in him, but he didn’t have faith in them.

Jesus, in other words, didn’t have “faith in human nature.” And he knew that not everyone who “believed” was therefore ready to be a disciple.

This theme will come up over and over in John’s gospel. Miraculous signs may lead to opposition or jealousy, or they may provoke belief. But even if it’s the latter, what kind of belief is it?

Jesus knows who we are, knows the things about us that we hide from others. He sees human nature for what it is.

That’s why he didn’t put any faith in it.

Instead, he died for it, so that we could put our faith and trust in him.