Are People Basically Good? The question presented is provocative. Many of you know someone who seems good. They are nice and appear to be a “good” person.
This question is provocative for several reasons. First of all, it assumes that “good” is relative. Another way to say it is, they are good from my point of view because I can judge what is good.
The flaw in that line of reasoning is found by looking at them from across cultures, or cross religions. Someone who appears good in the western 21st century probably wouldn’t be good in the Eastern Hemisphere 8th century culture. Belief in family dynamics alone is a dramatic gap between the two cultures.
Good also cannot be attributed to another because you only see what that person allows you to see. An illustration would be a mouse seeing a piece of cheese but neglecting to see the trap that the cheese is resting on. If I assume that someone is good but neglect to see them behind closed doors, would I make that assumption? Good is not relative.
Good must be attained by goodness, not by the sight of others.
The second way most assume that someone is good is by who they are. They do good things. They have a good personality. They are good because the sum total of their life is good. Good in this line of reasoning is based upon personality, likeability, being smart, or doing good things.
The problem is, what may be good in the line of personality may not be good if it is that same personality in a different environment. The same would be true of works, intelligence, and likability. Take for instance a conservative is disdain to a liberal and vice versa. This would be true in religion, politics, ethics, and other areas of value to humanity.
These are two simple ways to reject the sentiment that “basically people are good.” These two simple ways are not just reasonable. They display the problems with the logic that people are basically good.
It is typical for me to combat this line of reasoning on a regular basis. Theological reasoning isn’t the normal way of seeing life in American society. I find this line of reasoning too often in the church as well. I find that this faulty understanding pervades not only in the minds of believers but unfortunately in the leadership of many in the church. Not too long ago I was in a meeting with leaders who were discussing that most are “good” and that the demons were the problem. The problem is a false perspective on demonology (the study of demons), which I will not address here, and poor hamartiology (the study of sin), and anthropology the study of man. Sadly, poor theology leads to seeking the answers to the right questions in the wrong places. Understanding the condition of man, the effect of sin, and the battle of the soul is essential in order to find what and who is good.
Here’s the problem. It’s you. People are not basically good. They are bad. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV) The Bible is clear on this issue. Our hearts long for selfish things, because we have selfish motives, desperately sick. Good can only come from goodness, and goodness is not in the human heart. Paul wrote, “All have sinned, and fall short…” (Romans 3:23). What most assume is good is just their view of good. Their hearts are deceiving themselves so that they don’t have to plunge deep into the wickedness of their soul. They create a barrier between themselves and the gospel. They hold the gospel at a distance demanding that they are good, that they don’t need the redemption, grace, mercy, and kindness of God to remove their wicked desires. Therefore, in the belief that I am good, and that people are generally good, we reject the gospel and the need for it.
Good transcends the human heart. It isn’t born in it. Good isn’t in the heart of man at birth as Psalm 51:4 states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David knew that he was sinful from birth.
Good transcends culture. Jesus being in the Old Testament and the New Testament displays good through both sections of Church history. In the Old Testament, He is good by leading Israel out of bondage, protecting them, and allowing them to worship Him. Jesus in the New Testament is good by coming to earth, fully God, and fully man. Man needed to pay for his sin but couldn’t. So, God took the form of a man so that God could do what man alone couldn’t. Jesus would offer redemption so that man could commune with God and have a relationship with God. Culture doesn’t dictate good. God does. The Religious that lived under the rules of the Old Testament thought that the Christians in the New were bad. Jesus’s good is not held captive by our worldview.
Man cannot be the judge of good. Jesus having a conversation said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19 ESV) If a man is not good, how can a man call something good? Good can only be judged by what is fully good. Jesus being God, being good said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:30 ESV) Jesus is the only one who judges what is good.
Here is the secret to being good: You can be good only through Christ! Paul in Galatians 5:22 states, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…” The only way to goodness is through Jesus. Man is not good outside of Christ.
We like to say a guy/woman is good, but he struggles with drugs, anger, lust, or whatever. In reality (because they are bad), they struggle with drugs, anger, lust, or whatever.
If a person wants to change their bad traits, they must have their hearts changed. And that change can only happen by the one who transcends the sinfulness of the human heart, the values of shifting cultures, and the perceptions of man. Church, seek the good, seek Jesus, and only through Jesus can you obtain goodness. Stop saying people are good.