Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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