The Three Universal Laws of Human Nature

We live in a world that hosts billions and billions of individuals who are remarkably different from each other. Yet there are a few things that are common among all human beings. Just as the universe is governed by fixed laws of nature, people are also governed by fixed laws. Accordingly, there are three laws that regulate a person’s self-opinion, which I am labeling “The Three Universal Laws of Human Nature.” It doesn’t matter the time, culture or context; more or less all human beings operate according to these three laws. Here are the rules: One, “I am autonomous, acting of my own free will”; Two, “I am intelligent in my own way”; Three, “I am basically good and decent.” So, where do these three laws of human nature come from? Well, that’s simple. All we have to do is take a look at Genesis 3. There, not only do we begin to understand what sin did to the human race, the text also clarifies for us what people are and why they are the way that they are.

So, let us begin. The very quick summary of Genesis 1 and 2 is that in the beginning, God made everything. He made the universe and Planet Earth, as well as the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. At the end of six days of creation, everything that God made was good and our first parents needed nothing: after all, they were in Paradise. Although everything required for satisfaction was already given, the Lord desired that the man and woman obey Him freely. That is to say, for obedience to be genuine, disobedience had to be an option. As a result, God placed a tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden and commanded Adam not to eat from the tree.

Then what? In chapter 3, the serpent began to tempt Eve. In verse one, he asked, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Eve’s response was basically, “Yes, God did say that.” The serpent then said (in verses 4-5), “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” What happens next is that the text gives us insight into what was going on in Eve’s head before she ate from the tree and subsequently disobeyed God. Nonetheless, we must stop and ask what ultimately caused Eve to begin reasoning in a way that was contrary to God’s will. And the answer is that Eve, in one way or another, thought to herself something along the lines of, “I am autonomous and at liberty to act outside of the will of God. I am free to act based on my own will. Yes, I recognize what God has said, but I am at liberty to act outside of the contours that God has defined.” In other words, Eve followed rule number one, “I am autonomous, acting of my own free will.” This pre-supposed autonomy is never concerned with the truthfulness or the virtue of its choices; it is merely concerned with exercising its own freedom without consideration of God. This type of thinking is personified best by the devil. And, as I hope is evident, sin was birthed in thought before it was born in action. The sin of eating from the tree was the second sin of humankind. The original sin happened in the mind.

Verse six then tells us what was going on in Eve’s head. It says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” In other words, Eve first made the choice to defy God’s word and then reasoned to herself why disobedience was a good idea. Rule number two offers some explanation as to why she arrived at such a conclusion: she honestly believed she was intelligent in her own way. She believed she had weighed the pros and the cons, and thus, the reasonable thing to do was eat the fruit. Human intelligence is always finite; God is omniscient. Yet one of the grand ironies of human nature is that we are comforted by the speculations of our darkened, creaturely minds while repulsed by the wisdom of a heavenly, divine mind. This may nudge all of us to think twice about looking anything up on Google, spending five minutes reading, and then considering ourselves experts.

Verses 67 tell us that the perceived benefit Adam and Eve thought they were getting didn’t actually give them what they expected: it gave them more. That is, their sin also came packaged with separation from God, separation from one another, shame, guilt and misery. Verse seven says, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” Of course, a mind that is neither omniscient nor able to see where its choices lead will never see the host of negative consequences of sin and that God’s way is the best way. God’s way is the only way that leads to life and light because where God is absent, there is death and darkness.

What happens next is that God descends into the garden and asks the first question to fallen man, “Where are you?” The brief exchange that God has with Adam succinctly brings the third rule to light. Verses 10-13 begin with Adam speaking to God:

“I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And [God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Notice what happened after sin corrupted both Adam and Eve. They shifted blame away from themselves to something else. Adam blamed his sin on God because the Lord had given him a faulty mate, and Eve basically said, “The devil made me do it.” So, what’s going on here? In both cases, Adam and Eve were acting out rule number three. That is, they expressed the sentiment, “I am basically good and decent, so the problem must be someone or something else.” The problem, of course, with the idea that everything outside of me is the problem is that it never recognizes and gets to work on the real problem: me. Without responsibility and repentance, there can be no forgiveness and reconciliation. The serpent did not point a gun to Eve’s head and say, “Eat!” She was tempted and willingly consented to sin in her mind, which resulted in action. Adam did the same. He was not coerced by Eve, but was given the option to disobey, which he willingly consented to.

So, Genesis 3 succinctly gives us insight into the three universal laws of human nature: One, “I am autonomous, acting of my own free will”; Two, “I am intelligent in my own way”; Three, “I am basically good and decent.”

Now that we know what the laws are, what do we do with them? Well, the first application is to realize that the Bible tells us about the effects of sin in our first parents so that we could obtain an education about ourselves. Adam and Eve were people, just like you and me. I live based on the three universal laws, and what the Genesis 3 narrative makes clear is that any way of life that steers away from God’s word will invariably end in darkness, no matter how good of a choice it seems to be in the moment. Pride is the sin behind the sins of each of the universal laws, for the only way a man would regard his autonomy, his counsel or his inherent goodness superior to that of God is if he is literally full of himself and his neck stretches high above the heavens. The most fitting applied lesson, then, about the universal laws is that they expose the pride lurking in all of our hearts. This need not be a pride that openly boasts; it may simply be a pride that privately whispers and asks, “Did God really say what He meant and mean what He said?”

The second application is that the universal laws of human nature speak to the general blindness of humankind; that is, they are unable to see God’s truth as the ultimate barometer of truth that will stand forever. You see, Adam and Eve actually believed that disobeying God was a good idea—even though what they stood to lose was everything. And this is the point. By their own nature, human beings think they are reasoning clearly and intelligently, but their counsels are darkened by foolishness. Yes, Genesis 3:7 says that after they ate the fruit, the eyes of both Adam and Eve were opened, but they also simultaneously lost their eyesight.

The final application is a very simple and practical one. It involves the negation of the three universal laws in order to keep a person focused on God and not on the self. Rule number one becomes, “If I am free to choose my own demise, of what value is that freedom? True freedom is not autonomy but to do the will of God.” Rule number two becomes, “I may be smart compared to other people or in the eyes of men, but I know nothing relative to an omniscient God. Yes, there may be many things that I don’t understand, but I trust holy omniscience, not sinful stupidity. Let me then open my Bible and study the Word of God, for there is so much more I don’t know than I know.” Rule number three becomes, “How can I call myself good in the eyes of a God who is holy? No one is good but God alone. I therefore trust not in my goodness but in the perfect goodness of Jesus Christ.”             

What this all means, beloved, is that no matter what lies in front of us in this life—whether contemplating what fruit to eat, who to marry or what to do next—we must do it with a sense of humility and with an open Bible, open ears and open eyes. It is the natural tendency of human beings to wander in their own shadowy counsels, and so it is knowledge of the true God which dispels these as the sun disperses the darkness. If the three laws teach us anything, it’s that all people, everywhere, all the time are intensely religious: that is, they worship themselves and are superstitiously compelled to do so, owing to their own blindness, weakness of mind and frailty of heart. It is therefore this religion—the worship of self—where all false worship begins and thereby obscures the eyes of men from apprehending the true God of light. In the end, because these laws of human nature are universal, it is evident that man cannot save man. It is also evident that God must save man. It is this God who is more than good: He is holy. He is the one who, of His own free will, voluntarily sent His Son to redeem a chosen people. That rescue mission was done through an old wooden Cross, which is a plan of such incomprehensible intelligence and wisdom that even if given eternity, man would never think of God’s plan of redemption: that in order to save man from the wrath of God, God Himself must become a Man and die, so that the elect can live.

Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal

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