In old Western movies, it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Good guys wore white hats, and bad guys wore black. Simple.
In real life, it’s not quite that clear. In fact, it can get pretty complicated.
Are people good? Most of us believe we are the good guys but we get confused at times. We do some good things but we also know that in our heart there are some pretty bad things going on.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo)
Are People Bad?
To see how complicated it can get, let’s try a quiz. Which of these statements are true?
a. There are no good people, only bad people.
b. There are many bad people who do lots of bad things.
c. There are bad people who do some good things, but that doesn’t make them good.
d. There are good people who do some bad things, but that doesn’t make them bad.
e. There are no bad people, only good people.
What if I told you the answer is, “All of the above.” Like I said, it’s complicated.
Part of the confusion comes from how we define the word “good.” If we say “good” means that we have some potential for goodness in us, then that leads us to one answer. But if “good” means that we are totally righteous and without sin, then that is a different matter entirely.
Are People Good?
Let’s try our quiz again with that distinction cleared up:
a. There are no good people, only bad people – The tough truth is that no one is totally righteous or without any sin. Not Billy Graham. Not Mother Theresa. Not me. Not you.
“There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)
b. There are many bad people who do lots of bad things – Unfortunately, there is evil in the world. Some people succumb to it and do many evil things. And some sit back and do nothing.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
c. There are bad people who do some good things, but that doesn’t make them good – Our spiritual standing is not defined primarily by what we do, but by the condition of our heart.
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” (Blaise Pascal)
d. There are good people who do some bad things, but that doesn’t make them bad – All good people do bad things. It’s part of the human condition. But those bad things do not define us.
“We either accept weaknesses in good people or we have to tear pages out of the Bible.” (Robert Duvall)
e. There are no bad people, only good people – God offers the potential for goodness to all of us. We can’t become totally righteous on our own–no one is that good–but God’s grace is big enough to take care of any of us. Amazingly, it even makes us good in God’s own eyes.
“Good people can do bad things, make bad decisions. It doesn’t make them bad people.” (Sonia Sotomayor)
Finding the Answer
Yes, it’s complicated. But we can get it figured out, and the answer brings us good news.
To help us get there, let’s take one last quiz:
1. Have we accepted that we can never be totally good enough on our own?
2. Do we want to be good and are we willing to do our best to be a good person?
3. Will we trust the Bible to understand what it takes to get there?
If we can say “yes” to those questions, we are on the right road and should keeping taking steps in that direction. Are people good? Yes, there is a way for people to become good.
Because there is a God-given spark of goodness in us even though none of us is totally good enough on our own. The good news is that we can be made good enough.
And that’s good enough for me.
Question: Do you accept that God’s grace can make us good even when we do bad things?
Action: If all of this is still confusing, use the Bible to help put it all together.