I think we want to believe that people are ultimately good. It is more comfortable to think that evil is limited to a select few bad guys in the world who are responsible for all of it, and hence that average people are fine. If this were so the problem would be contained, and we could deal with it. However, when I look at the world, I don’t think this holds up, and I think the reality worries almost everyone.
There are so many terrible things happening in the world because of the actions of people; all kinds of abuse and neglect; hatred and strife. There are times when I feel I get bogged down by all the evil going on. It stops me from acting as I normally would.
The monstrous actions of others somehow make one’s own self feel tainted. I think I feel this because I see that humanity is broken. I think if we see clearly, there is something of the same evil inclination in our own hearts. We may know we would never act in the same way, but still knowing that there is darkness in our nature frightens us.
By treating these stories as actions perpetrated by monsters, we ignore the depth of the problem. I don’t think we can say that these people are inhuman monsters. Rather, I think we should acknowledge that humans are not at all perfect; that people are closer to evil than perfection.
The condition of mankind
I see a lot of effort being put into changing society, educating people and trying to get rid of the dysfunctional parts of people. I don’t think this will ever fully succeed. It is worthwhile, but our actions are not enough to reshape humanity sufficiently to see the kind of changes we need. The problem is deeper.
We want to strive to make humans into gods, but what we actually need is to be reformed into the likeness of God. God’s character is better than ours, and we will need that compassionate, loving, just and steadfast nature to truly realise humanity. To see what this looks like, there is nowhere to go but Jesus. Jesus is the true human, the image of God. He is not alone in representing humanity though. Jesus is the ‘first fruits’, God is restoring his people to be like him. At the resurrection of the dead, Christians will be truly realised humans in the image of God.
In the meantime, we ought to strive to do good. I think we will struggle against the darkness of our hearts, but it is still better to be OK than to be down-right bad. One might selfishly disagree, but I think human misery will be less if people try to do good.
On the other hand, I think our efforts will never be enough and so one might be right to characterise them as essentially meaningless. I think we still need God’s actions to change us before we will actually be good (even more so if relating correctly with God is a part of being good).
What is enough?
Perhaps you feel that I have defined the good too highly, and you feel that good enough is sufficient. If humans only have to be OK by some lower standards, maybe you can get away with thinking that humans tend toward the good.
However, I think it would be very sad to take this stance. If merely OK is good enough, I think you would still be stuck with a world of injustice, war and foolishness. Though I do not think we will see it on the world as we know it, humanity needs restoration towards something greater, towards God.
When the dead are raised and God’s judgment is fulfilled, that is when we will see the greatness of restored humanity on a grand scale. at one of the climaxes of God’s plan for everything.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.