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 
listed.

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 
will explain.

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 
purpose.

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 
good.

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 
purpose.

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 
history.

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 
purpose.

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 
meaningless.

It is when we accept God's assessment of our goodness 
that we can begin to discover our true design and 
purpose.