October 20, 2003
You Are Basically Good
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good"
(Bereshit / Genesis 1:31).
Do you think of yourself as good or bad? Upon what do
you base your opinion? Usually we think of those who
do more good things than bad things as good people,
while people who do more bad things as bad. I am not
really concerned at this point about the things we do
as about our nature. Are human beings basically good
or bad? Or do we come in to the world as a mixture of
both? Or are we actually neutral? Maybe it all depends
on how we turn out as we get older.
How we think about this makes a difference on how we
see ourselves and others. Throughout history their
have been several philosophical theories that have put
forward one or the other of the options I have already
The most common view in the Western World for the past
hundred years or so is that we are basically good.
Contrary to some Bible scholars, I agree with this. I
According to the Scriptures, God assessed the quality
of his creation at each stage of its development, and
that he saw it as good (Bereshit / Genesis
1:4,10,12,18,21,25). When he completed his work, after
the creation of humans, he said it was very good
(Bereshit / Genesis 1:31).
You can relate to this if you have ever made anything
yourself, whether it be a work of art, something to
eat, a piece of clothing, some furniture, and so on.
At some point you likely made an assessment of whether
the thing was good or bad or something in between.
While something can happen to change the quality of a
thing, that does not change the original assessment.
The goodness of something depends upon its purpose. If
it is visual art, its goodness includes its look and
the effectiveness of its message. The goodness of food
relates to its taste and nutrition. The goodness of
furniture relates to its suitability for its intended
In fact goodness always relates to suitability for its
purpose. That includes things that may seem secondary
as in the case of taste for food. The main purpose of
food is nutrition, but taste is one of the most
effective things in food to encourage us to eat it
(which is what one needs to do to get the nutrition
from the food).
The goodness of human beings also pertains to the
suitability to our purpose. In as much as our original
qualities support that purpose, God assessed us as
As the story goes, in the early chapters of the Bible,
our first parents made a devastating choice to go
against God's directions and partake of the fruit of
the forbidden tree. That decision opened the door for
evil to enter human existence.
Some people believe that this entrance of evil so
completely altered our nature that human goodness was
completely eradicated. We were good, but became bad,
thus becoming completely unsuited to our original
But clearly throughout the Scriptures we see that evil
is a foreign intruder into the heart and affairs of
mankind. To claim that all vestiges of our original
state were lost at the moment Adam and Eve sinned is
to deny the ongoing battle between good and evil that
is so prevalent, not only in the Bible, but throughout
Some blame the moral decline in our society on the
humanistic view of humans as basically good. They say
that it is because we have fooled ourselves into
thinking that we are better than we are. They claim
that our denial of evil is the breeding ground of the
very evil that we deny.
I agree that not taking evil seriously is one of the
reasons evil flourishes. But it is not the view that
man is basically good that is the problem. In fact I
don't even believe that most people really do think
that we are basically good.
The actual prevalent view in the Western World is that
human beings do not possess any intrinsic quality at
all – good or bad. How can people make any assessment
on the nature of humans, if they don't believe that we
are anything more than a cosmic fluke? For years
people have been taught that we are the impersonal
result of an accident. And if we are not the product
of any purposeful design, then we must have no
It is this deep sense of purposelessness that is
pervading how we see ourselves and one another. Since
we possess no intrinsic purpose, then it doesn't
matter what we do. Concepts of morality become
It is when we accept God's assessment of our goodness
that we can begin to discover our true design and