People are Inherently Good
9 November 2022 Hits:1698
I have spoken many times about the goodness of God, but I’ve never taught about the goodness of people, and I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon about it. The truth is, I sometimes feel we Christians are a little too preoccupied with sin, especially other people’s sins. It is as if the Bible began with Genesis three rather than chapter one. We fixate on all the evil in the world and what bad people do and surmise that people are inherently evil.
So, let’s examine what the Bible says about people’s inherent goodness.
But What About … ?
If you felt resistance when you read the opening paragraph of this blog, I encourage you to be aware of it. It’s a typical response in your brain to information that goes against long-held beliefs. Your brain will respond first by resisting the new information. Next, it will explain why this new information is wrong, highlighting Bible verses that contradict the new information. But, what about…?
What about the rich young guy that called Jesus a “good teacher?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Is Jesus saying he isn’t good? Not at all. He wants the young man’s perspective. Jesus asked him, “Are you saying you recognise I am God?
The same Greek word, translated as “good,” is applied to people elsewhere in the gospels (Cf. Matthew 25:23; Luke 6:45) because people are inherently good.
“If you, then, being evil …”
But didn’t Jesus call people evil in his Sermon on the Mount? Yes, he did. Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Jesus’ choice of words is interesting. He didn’t use the Greek word referring to an evil character. Neither did he use the word meaning degenerate. In fact, instead of translating the word “evil,” it could refer to annoyance: “Even though you sometimes find your children’s requests irritating, you still give them good gifts.” Jesus refers to the hassle of parenting and how much better a parent the Heavenly Father is compared to us. He is not calling people wicked; instead, he recognises our inherent goodness towards our children, even during stress or reluctance.
No One is Good?
Then there’s David’s statement in Psalm 14, “there is none who does good, not even one.” Paul quotes this statement in Romans chapter three, where he concludes the beginning of his letter seeking to prove the universal sinfulness of human beings. He presents this as a black background upon which he places the gem of God’s grace. And that’s the point. All people are sinful, and no amount of good deeds can save us. But do not fear because God has come to our rescue, and God’s amazing grace can restore us.
Elsewhere in the Bible, this same Hebrew word is used to describe good people (2 Samuel 18:27; Proverbs 12:2; 13:22; 14:14). People are inherently good.
God declared humans to be VERY GOOD. He created them in his image and likeness as the crown of creation. And we must start at the story’s beginning rather than at chapter three. The Bible begins and ends with goodness, so surely that should be our focus.
Humans are made in God’s image, and nowhere does the Bible say that image was destroyed by the Fall. James says, “Sometimes [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.“ All People are in God’s image, and that image is good.
Sin taints the image, but it doesn’t destroy it. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and those who follow him are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Generally speaking, people are still very good. Yes, we all “miss the mark” of God’s perfect character, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to live good lives. Most people do.
People are Like Trees
In his warning to “Watch out for false prophets,” aka bad religious people, Jesus encouraged his followers to discern people’s fruit. He tells a short parable about trees, but he’s talking about people. Good trees (people) bear good fruit, and bad trees (people) bear bad fruit. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognise them, Jesus concludes. Jesus recognised the inherent goodness in most people, but he also challenged us to remain vigilant, especially when it comes to dodgy religious people.
The Bible’s Good People
The Bible is packed with good people ~ Ruth, Cornelius (Acts 10), Noah, Mary and Joseph, Esther, Boaz, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. And the nameless ones like Pharaoh’s daughter and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
Then there’s the Good Samaritan. Sure, he was a fictitious character in one of Jesus’ stories. But, interestingly, Jesus highlighted human goodness in a parable with which religious Jews would struggle. Samaritans were mixed-race Jews, having intermarried with Assyrians during the captivity of Israel. Centuries-long hostility between the two peoples meant they would have little or nothing to do with each other.
And yet, here is Jesus suggesting that the hated “other” is a good person and demonstrates their goodness by being kind to their enemy.
Look Around You
Unfortunately, people are often drawn to negative information. News sources invariably focus on the unusual and critical rather than good news stories. If you consume a lot of “news,” you will believe the world and its people are worse than they are.
The Christian’s emphasis on sin causes us to focus on people’s badness rather than their best. A futurist version of Bible prophecy sees the world worsening (although it isn’t). It’s no wonder we minimise human goodness.
But open your eyes and reflect on the world around you and the people you know. There is so much good being done by descent people. Some of them are Christians.
As my Rabbi friend wrote recently, if God had created us as perfect, he would have denied us the profound joy of being human, to improve. The process of being today a better human than we were yesterday and the hope of being better people tomorrow. If we were robbed of that sacred imperfection, we would be imprisoned by our perfection.
(Please note: I do not deny people’s sinful nature and need for a Saviour. Neither do I deny that some people are intrinsically evil).