Humans Are Evil (Part 1)
Updated: Feb 27, 2020
We all want to believe human beings are innately good. We watch movies and agree with the main characters as they romanticize the human race and triumphantly exclaim their faith in the goodness of humanity. We implore others to act out of the kindness of their hearts, assuming that the very core of their being exudes goodness. We react to news stories of genocide, mass shootings, and rape with horror, baffled that a person could commit such atrocious acts against another. We want to believe that somewhere, deep inside of every human being, exists pure, unbridled goodness—that the default setting for humanity is love. We want to believe the viewpoint espoused in movies and self-help books, taught by gurus and motivational speakers, and promulgated by friends and coworkers. We need to believe that humans are good, that the sum of our experiences on earth have lied to us, that human beings are not all deeply twisted, corrupt beings, because we shudder at the thought that the very core of our being comprises vile, unhealthy, unhelpful, wicked, ruthless, violent, selfish desires, which naturally manifest in our interactions with the world around us. We argue that people are good. And we are wrong.
By the start of the 20th century, there was a growing consensus among Christians around the world that humanity was advancing—that there would be no literal, cataclysmic “end of days,” but that humans would continue to progress until the Kingdom of Heaven was fully established on earth. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and a time of general peace, the idea was that humans would continue to improve until no improvements were needed. Then came World War I. And World War II. And the Cold War. Suddenly, the entire world was forced to grapple with the problem of modern human cruelties, debating the circumstances and natural inclinations that would allow a person to participate in events like the holocaust. In a matter of decades, Christians and non-Christians alike quickly became disillusioned with the idea of human advancement, recognizing the inherent capability for atrocities latent within every person.
Several generations after Adam and Eve, who lived in perfect paradise with God for a time, God evaluates the state of mankind. He notes in Genesis 6:5 that “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart [is] only evil continually.” God subsequently wipes out humanity with a flood, sparing only Noah and his family. Afterwards, God promises Noah that He will never again wipe out the earth with a flood but continues to assert that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). It becomes obvious in the first few pages of Scripture that mankind is inherently wicked. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who could trace his lineage back to creation and could never doubt the existence and power of God, murders his brother Abel. Only a few generations after the flood, all of mankind refuses to spread out around the world and insists on building a tower to somehow reach God by their own actions. The cultures of Sodom and Gomorrah are so corrupt they warrant destruction in brimstone and fire. Chapter after chapter reminds us of the natural inclination for wickedness present within every human being.
And that was just the first book of the Bible. By Deuteronomy, God has selected for Himself a people to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). He has rescued this people from slavery and given them His divine commands. This nation has seen the power of God. They know His goodness and provision. They have in front of them the written account of what He requires of them. Yet in Deuteronomy 29, God informs the people that they, too, will fail to be righteous—that their innate wickedness inhibits their ability to do good. In Deuteronomy 30:6, surrounded by a beautiful promise of restoration and redemption, God underscores the root of the issue. He indicates that their inability to obey His commands stems, not from a lack of effort, but from their evil hearts.
In case we are tempted to separate our modern, “enlightened” selves from the evil “barbarians” of history, Paul repeats this notion in his letter to the Romans. Following a lengthy quotation from Psalms that paints humanity in an incriminatory light, he states his philosophy in explicit terms: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Lacking any subtlety or nuance, Paul peppers his language with words like “none” and “all.” Every person who has ever existed falls within the category of “all.” I have sinned. You fall short of the glory of God. None of us are exempt.
We want to believe that we and the people around us are naturally good. We see that some people are not as bad as others and use that as evidence for mankind’s innate goodness. But that murderer, that rapist, that philanthropist, that saint are all sinners. At the center of every one of their natural hearts lies unspeakable evil. Selfishness reigns in each person’s life, and out of the heart flows violence and rudeness and arrogance and self-righteousness and more. If we honestly search our natural hearts, if we truthfully look at our natural motives, we know there lies within a propensity for evil. Humans are not inherently good. The world does not require external morality; they require a change of heart—a change that was paid for by the blood of Christ on the cross, poured out by a sinless Savior for evil sinners like you and me.
To continue to Part 2, click here.