There was an article on CNN.com today entitled, “Is man inherently good or evil?” In it, writer Will Cain notes that while events like the Boston bombing remind us that evil exists in the world, the countless acts of bravery, heroism, and love in the aftermath demonstrate that good outweighs evil in this world. He concludes that though acts of evil occur, man is still inherently good and is to be commended.
I can understand Cain’s point of view. Certainly, the acts of selflessness and care on Monday far outnumber the one act of violence. After the bombs went off, immediately people sprang into action to save the lives of total strangers. Cain mentioned one specific person, Carlos Arredondo, who moved quickly to apply a tourniquet to the legs of Jeff Bauman. In Cain’s opinion, “[Arredondo] says more about us than whoever dropped a pressure cooker at the marathon on Monday.” In other words, heroism is more indicative of the human condition than is terrorism.
However, if we have a biblical worldview, we must say that Monday’s events do not demonstrate that man is inherently good, but that there exists an inherently good God who regularly shows mercy to man, who is inherently evil.
How is this? First of all, the moment we begin to speak of the categories of “good” and “evil” we knowingly or unknowingly presuppose the existence of an absolute moral standard. In order to recognize good or evil, we must have a way to recognize it objectively. God is that standard of good. Jesus testified that “no one is good but God alone” (Luke18:19). His standard is recorded for us in the form of Scripture. The bible is the revealed will of God, by which we may discern good and evil. The bible teaches that there also exists within the human heart an understanding of that standard in the form of the conscience (Rom 2:15-16), although this conscience is imperfect and needs to be educated according to Scripture. So even by asking the question, “is man inherently good or evil?” we assume that there is an objective standard of evil. That standard is God.
As to the inherent nature of man, the Bible is clear that man is evil. When God created the first man, Adam, he was good (Gen 1:31). But when that man sinned, he acquired a sin nature, which he passed on to all who came after him, so that Scripture is able to say, “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). The NT repeatedly agrees, with one passage emphatically noting that “there is no one good, not even one!” (Rom3:10-18).
This would seem to prompt two obvious questions. First, if man is inherently evil why don’t we see these kinds of acts of horror more often? If left to ourselves, we would not only see these things all the time, but we would all be perpetrating them. But Scripture teaches that God actively restrains evil (Job 1-2; Gen 20:4-6). He only allows those evil acts that achieve His purposes. For this we should be overwhelmed with gratitude. We deserve far worse than the evil of man; we deserve the eternal wrath of God. Yet for a time, He withholds both. This is a demonstration of His grace.
A second question: If man is inherently evil, how do we explain the acts of service and kindness that take place on earth, like the actions taken on Monday to save the victims of the bombing? Again, we have to start with Scripture, which affirms not only that God alone is good (Luke 18:19), but that every good thing comes from Him (Jas 1:17). That means that nothing good originates in the heart or intention of man. God is the source of all good. When we do good, it is because God has created that desire in us. This is why Paul explains to the Philippians, “it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13, cf Eph 2:10). This is true not only of believers but also of unbelievers, as in the case of Balaam blessing Israel (Num 22-24) and when Cyrus gave the command for the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem (2Chr36:22-23; Isa 45:1-7). God uses human instruments to do good in the world, good for which He alone is to be credited and praised. In other words, our good works are the result of His grace in our lives.
What we’ve witnessed this week in the events in Boston do not show us that man is inherently good. Man is inherently evil and in desperate need of a Savior. God is inherently good and He alone is the source of all good, whether it be acts of kindness shown during times of tragedy or the giving of His own Son to save the souls of men and eventually, finally rid the world of evil. Our gracious God alone is to be praised.
Posted by Greg Birdwell