Are humans inherently good or bad?

On the morning of Memorial Day I was baking cookies. I happened to look out my front window just as a red truck ran over my neighbor's dog. The truck didn't stop and for a split second I thought: maybe it's just a roll of carpet that fell off the truck. But the carpet was twitching. 

I dropped everything and ran. Sammy lay dying in the middle of our street, a thick river of blood pouring from his head. He'd vomited internal organs. Still, his sweet little tail was wagging.

Three minutes later, he was gone.

Neighbors spilled out of houses, offering help. We were all crying. Everyone knew Sammy because he often got out and wandered around, making little visits.

We hugged each other and said things like: poor Sammy. But thank God it wasn't one of our children.

Sammy was wrapped in a plastic bag and placed in a big cardboard box. Another neighbor hosed down the street. Slowly, we returned home.

But I couldn't stop thinking about it. Our street is quiet and with very little traffic. How did the truck driver not see Sammy? And what kind of person just drives away?

I was reminded of last month's Saturday Evening Blog Post, and how Father Mathis shared that he believed humans beings were essentially good and they needed Jesus. His reflections have stuck in my head and I keep wondering: could it be true? Are we inherently good?

For me, it's a revolutionary idea. From infancy, it was ingrained into my psyche that I was a bad, horrible, wretched sinner worthy of Hell. The result was that for most of my life, I felt unworthy of love.

At one point I literally confessed my sins like 20x per day because I was so scared of dying an accidental death in a state of unconfessed sin.

It has only been in the last couple of years that I have finally come to believe that God loves me.

I'm also slowly coming to agree with Father Mathis' perspective because I realize that my previous position (we are inherently bad) often resulted in a glaring lack of compassion. In fact, it led me to dehumanizing thoughts and opinions about other people. I was unable to see the good–or the image of God–in them. 

In my eyes, people were defined by their sin. If they happened to do good things, I trotted out the verse "all our righteousness is as filthy rags." Good works were a fluke. I don't know how many times I heard the example: well, even Hitler loved his dog.

The point seemed to be that even if we were capable of being good once in awhile, down deep, we were all little Hitlers. 

But what if the opposite is true? What if God created us as essentially good, but we have to build and exercise the muscle of good character and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit? If we don't, we are prone to wander. And wandering becomes sinning and sinning becomes a habitual lifestyle.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe we don't start out as little Hitlers.

Sometimes I think my fundamentalist theology mistook human weakness/sinfulness for inherent human evil. I seemed to think that humans being essentially good meant we didn't need the atoning work of Jesus. It felt dangerously close to diminishing the necessity of the cross.

I thought: yeah, well, if we're all so good then why did Jesus need to die?

Here's what I'm beginning to think now: maybe Jesus needed to die because without Him, we cannot live up to the full measure of the goodness for which we were created. Without Him, the image of God in us is muddled and dirtied by our weakness and sinfulness.

Is this making any sense?

All I know is that coming from a place of essential goodness helps me see the good in others. It helps me give them the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe the driver of that truck really didn't see my neighbor's dog. Or maybe, if he did, he was ashamed and ran away. Maybe what that driver needs is grace. Not condemnation.

Because only through grace is forgiveness possible.

I know that God loves me and I'm even beginning to believe that when He created me, it was good. But I also know that without His grace, I cannot live up to the goodness He meant for me. Without Him, I am wretched. 

Maybe that's why grace is so amazing.

'Course, I don't have all the answers, here. I'm just thinkin' about this stuff. 

What do you think?


Love Makes Me Feel Like a Good Person

  • Ruth Ann

    I am with Fr. Mathis on this one, Elizabeth. If we are made in God’s image and likeness I can see no other possibility than that we are basically good. And I do think we are weak as a result of the Fall. And I also agree that we can, with the help of God’s grace, be transformed and grow in virtue. We need Jesus to mediate that grace to us.

  • Erin

    We are indeed inherently good. Remember sweetie we are made in His likeness, therefore we can’t be anything but inherently good. {{}}

  • jessica mell

    I’m thinking.

    For sure. This is definitely not something I feel able to respond to in a moment. There are a lot of associated strands, sub-questions, implications of either answer to the question you pose…and so, it’s not like I in my finite and tainted mind should expect to exhaust those before stating an answer. (Though my Myers-Briggs type and my probably ADHD send me in that direction!) I do, however, want to think and discuss more.

    Thanks for your well-framed thought-offering in order to facilitate this. You’ve chiseled the issue well. And Fr. Mathis’ post is helpfully constructed, too.

    May the Holy Spirit hover over and give form to our ponderings in accordance with His Word and He who is the Word!

  • jessica mell


    Those little ‘uns are durned cute !!!

  • Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    Elizabeth, this really resonated with me: “my previous position (we are inherently bad) often resulted in a glaring lack of compassion. In fact, it led me to dehumanizing thoughts and opinions about other people.” This is me all over, and a terrific wakeup call.

    As for Christ dying despite our being good–you know, Heaven is for perfect love, and even a good person isn’t perfect. That’s how I see it.

  • Scott Morizot

    “If we don’t, we are prone to wander. And wandering becomes sinning and sinning becomes a habitual lifestyle.”

    I’ll have to mull it a bit, but you may have just captured a central piece of the patristic understanding of the passions in a little nutshell. A lot of the problem is that we don’t see (or do see and lie to ourselves) when a passion dominates us. It’s not easy to be free.

    I also think that the modern reduction of grace to an idea of ‘unmerited favor’ is a significant problem. I think it was Dallas Willard I heard say that such a definition renders, for one example, Paul’s statement about ‘growing in grace’ nonsensical. You can’t grow in unmerited favor. Grace is the power of God at work in our lives, healing us and others through us. Grace is God. That’s one of the amazing things about Christianity.

    I also have children and I’ve never understood how any parent could truly believe that people are inherently evil. That seems wrong to me on so many levels.

    Finally, as others have mentioned, we are created as eikons of God. I know there are threads of Christianity that claim that the image of God in man was obliterated by our actions. Personally, I think that grants too much power to man and not enough to God. Who is creator here and who is creation?

    I think the heart of this discussion truly boils down to whether or not you believe we worship a good God who loves mankind. If he is a good God, then the creation that bears his image is also inherently good. I’ll note that every strain of Christianity I’ve encountered that holds that human beings are inherently evil ultimately worships a God I would never describe as good. I don’t think the two beliefs can be separated.

    And that too makes sense. We see that same linkage in the way Jesus modified the Shema. We can only love God inasmuch as we love our neighbor. If we don’t love our neighbor whom we see, how can we love God who we do not see? As an eikon, our neighbor is one of the holiest objects available to our senses. As you observed, believing and acting as though our neighbors are inherently evil even further reduces our love for them. And as a result, it throttles any love we might have for God.

  • Melissa

    “For me, it’s a revolutionary idea. From infancy, it was ingrained into my psyche that I was a bad, horrible, wretched sinner worthy of Hell. The result was that for most of my life, I felt unworthy of love.”

    “It has only bee n in the last couple of years that I have finally come to believe that God loves me.”

    It’s both, and that is what makes God’s grace all the more amazing. Scripture makes it clear that we are sinners from birth…we have all inherited Adam’s sin nature, and we are utterly depraved, save by God’s grace…both working His good will through unregenerate people (thus we see “good acts”) and through His redeemed people, who now have a new nature.

    We are indeed wretched, worthy of hell, BUT GOD, loved us anyway, and sent His Son to die for us. We need Jesus because there is nothing good in and of ourselves. We’re are 99% good (or any other %), and Jesus makes up the difference…we are 100% evil, and we need Jesus to redeem us, buy us out of the slavery of sin.

    I’m sure it must be hard to study scripture, totally removed from your background, but I’d encourage you to do just that. Study the matter, read commentaries and articles explaining this aspect of theology, and try to forget the baggage that you unfortunately carry from your religious upbringing.

    When you are able to see the truth in this doctrine, you will come to see God’s grace in a new, magnified way…I know I did.


  • MelanieB

    Are people inherently good or inherently bad?


    Both premises are fatally flawed and both can lead to terrible injustices.


    I understand where you are coming from and see it is a necessary corrective to the thinking of your fundamentalist upbringing. But we do need to be careful lest we jump from one extreme to the other.

    Not that you are doing so; but it is good to examine the consequences of that error as well.

    There is a strain of thinking that people are all basically good and that it is outside systems that are bad. If we can only implement the right form of government or abolish government all together, this line of thinking goes, then we can achieve world peace, make this world into a new Garden of Eden. This line of thinking leads to Marxism and other totalitarian regimes. It is a strain prevalent in America too with intellectuals who think that maybe totalitarianism isn’t such a bad thing. People who think maybe America needs to be more like China, for just a little bit, to save us from ourselves.

    The premise that people are inherently good is as flawed as the premise that people are inherently bad… if you don’t understand that our goodness is broken.

    Mankind is good. Very, very good. God said as much on the sixth day of creation. We are made in His image and He is Goodness and Beauty and Truth and Love.

    But we are broken. Our first parents marred that image when they tried to be like gods and we all inherited from them an illness that hinders our ability to choose the good.

    If we ignore the effects of original sin, if we place too much faith in mankind’s inherent goodness, then we don’t need a savior. Christ’s sacrifice becomes unnecessary. Or we think that the evil in the world must result in some other place than in the human heart, we are tempted to shift the blame away from ourselves and seek a scapegoat elsewhere. This can place an unbearable burden on human institutions to save us.

  • Scott Morizot

    Nothing in the assertion that each human being is created inherently good denies the reality that we are born into a damaged world filled with damaged human beings and with an innate capacity for both great good and great evil. (Though in truth, few of us achieve any sort of greatness in either category.) As I alluded in my comment, I believe that statements about mankind’s “inherent” good or evil natures actually say more about the sort of God we worship than they do about mankind.

    The idea you reference seems to me to be one of the philosophical strains flowing from what is often called the “Enlightenment” in Western Civilization than anything directly connected to Christianity. (Well, other than the fact that are strains of Christian belief deeply shaped by those cultural forces.)

  • Mel

    I used to think that the only people capable of doing any good were Christians. Then I realized how awful I am even as a sinner saved by grace and that my unsaved neighbor was cabable of good in an unsaved state.

    Does being capable of good or bad define our nature?

    The fact is we are all very capable of bad because of Adam’s fall. This does not eliminate our responsibility to be good but it leaves us ‘maimed’ so to speak.
    I think to say we are inherently good is to say that Christ adds to our goodness. The beauty of the Gospel is that I am so utterly empty and that Christ not only can add to my life, He is my entire life.
    I don’t think to say that we are inherently evil is a horrilbe thing to say. I think it opens the door for grace. It’s not even ungracious to say that we have a bad nature…it would be ungracious to deny it because then there is no need for Christ. If we were inherently good, then in an of ourselves we could achieve absolute holiness.
    I’m not sure that believing that people can do good is the same as believing that we are born good. It is God’s common grace that allows for any human goodness at all. It is His saving grace that turns even the ‘filthy rags’ to beauty.

  • Scott Morizot

    I would not say we are “capable of bad” because of a fall of any sort. We were created free and thus each and every one of us innately capable of choosing God or not. If we were not created with the capacity to choose good or evil, we would have had no capacity to “fall”. We have all inherited mortality as part of the human condition. As part of that, we are born with a propensity toward being ruled by our passions. Moreover, we are born into a dangerous world surrounded by those who are, as often as not, ruled by their passions. “All have sinned” is more a statement of inevitability than a statement about some sort of innate nature.

    In fact, since Christ joined his nature to humanity’s, we have to say that mankind now shares in his nature. That aspect is universal and is no longer in question. The question before us is do we share to life or to condemnation.

    I believe that buried in the perspective you describe is a flawed idea on what “holy” means and what it means to be “saved.” Here’s a question that I find helps us dig deeper into what the Incarnation means. If mankind had never “fallen” (whatever you might take that idea to mean) would the Son of God, the eternal Logos, have needed to become sarx or flesh? That’s an important question because Christianity has traditionally held that there was much more going on in the Incarnation than just the Cross. (The ancient answer to that question is that the Son would have had to join his nature to ours no matter what since we never had any capacity on our own to become one with God. Without a “fall” he would not have had to die because our nature would not have been mortal.)

    I still think this question has more to do with the sort of Creator you worship than with the nature of the creation itself.

  • KatR

    I think the “inherently evil” mindset was is a tool for control in abusive churches, at least it was in my abusive church. It went something like this:

    1) You are evil and wicked in your very being.
    2) Your only redeeming value is your relationship with God.
    3) This church = God.
    4) Therefore, your only hope of being a worthwhile human
    being rests in your continued membership.

  • mary bailey

    *Personally* (relating to me only; not speaking for anyone else; do not want anyone trying to talk me out of my conviction)—I find great comfort in the fact that I’m not good. I used to cry “I’m not good, I’m not good” and wear myself out trying to be perfect, and then beat myself up when I failed miserably. Now, I can say with joy “I’m not good!” because there is one who is perfect who saved me from myself and my sin. Jesus is the perfect one and I am covered by His perfect blood. In knowing that, I find joy, relief, comfort, and peace.

  • ThatGuyKC

    EE – I’m about to start a busy work day so haven’t had time to read through all the comments above, but I thought this post was very heartfelt and sincere. It stirred me.

    Hopefully the comments tend toward constructive discussion and encouragement. Here are a few quick thoughts of my own:

    - Humans were created in the image of God (so we were intended to be inherently good)
    - Because of the Fall we are flawed/bad and live in a broken world (our sin nature starts us out in life as separated from God)
    - Regardless of this God reigns and uses people (good/bad) to accomplish good in the world (e.g. I’ve met some wonderfully philanthropic atheists doing good for mankind)
    - I think the “good” in us and that is done through us is accomplish in part by the work of the Holy Spirit and by the influence of what God created us to be

  • Heather

    As one recovering “fundmentalist” who uses the KJV and all of that, I understand where you are coming from.

    This is my take on it. Babies being formed in the womb and babies that are born are innocent and good. They are born without sin. Just like Adam and Eve were without sin before they fell.

    But sin came into the world because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and the temptation is very great. No man has ever been victorious over this temptation. No man except Jesus. He was tested in the Wilderness under exceptional circumstances and came out sinless. This is one of the many evidences that we know He was God.

    We reach a certain point in our lives when we come to the knowledge of Good and Evil. And we make a conscience decision to eat our own forbidden fruit…with the full knowledge that we are doing something wrong. Then we sin. Once we sin, we are sinners.

    To enter Heaven we must be 100% perfect. If we manage to live this life without one sin, we are in. If we make one mess up, we are not perfect, and thus we won’t make it.

    This is why Jesus did die. He took our sins upon his body, and died the death we should of, and paid in full for our sins. *ALL* of them. Past, Present and Future.

    As a fundmentalist, I didn’t even understand that essiential truth. I thought there was something always within *me* to make his cross work effective. His cross work is effective weather I believe it or not. It becomes *mine* when I accept the truth and rest in it as my only hope.

    He took *my* sin on his body. He paid my debt that I owed. That payment was death. He paid it through his death in my behalf.

    I do not know if this makes sense, but I do know that I never understood this in my fundmental church.

    And I know what you mean by lack of compassion. I don’t believe that the fact that men are taught that they are inherriently evil makes one uncompassionate.

    I think pride and being legalistic makes one uncompassionate. I was once uncompassionate against man’s frailites myself.

    I became compassionate once I saw myself the sinner that I really was, and saw that the whole of man kind is in the same boat as I am. And that they need Jesus.

    Not to help them to be good through His Grace. But they need *HIS* own rightousness. God took *my* sin. When I believe this to be true, He gives me Jesus’ 100% Righteouss perfection.

    I agree that fundmentalism teaches that God’s love is conditional. I agree that there are *A LOT* of hang ups in fundmentalism.

    I understand the journey you are on, seeking the truth. ♥

  • cindykay

    And maybe the driver just wasn’t thinking. After all, if you hit any other kind of animal on the road–a deer, a coon– you don’t stop. And around here, in our rural area, you don’t stop for dogs or cats either, because who are you going to talk to in the middle of nowhere?

    Also, you have hit the nail on the head, I think, about human sinfulness. Oddly, we have talked about the exact same thing in our family, growing up as I did in a fundamental bible church and general atmosphere. We have come to the same conclusion as you.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    5) and if you leave this church, you are leaving God’s will and therefore; His protection.

    For me, fear was one of the main reasons I stayed until I was 25.

    ((hugs)) Kat R.

  • velinka m.

    Just out of curiosity… from which bible are you drawing these conclusions?

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Maybe it’s just me, but your tone seems a little patronizing. :) I’m not “going to the other extreme.” I’m just rethinking my previous assumption. Seeing human beings as basically good does not negate the necessity for a Savior. I like how Scott points out that our existence has more to do with the Creator–ie. He creates good.

    Sometimes I get weary of the anecdotal evidence like: just watch a room full of 2 year olds!

    As if that explains everything; ie. total depravity.

    Which makes me think: hmm. Maybe what I really disagree with is this idea of total depravity.

    Wow. I’m rambling.

    Last thought: I do agree that belief in the ultimate goodness of man (ie. man w/o need of God) leads to totalitarianism. Good point!

  • Scott Morizot

    I think I should step back and explore what this idea says about God.

    I think most Christians would agree that God is the sole creator of all that is and that he personally and uniquely created each and every one of us, as well as every plant, every animal, every star, and everything else in creation. Given that, if man (or any other part of creation) is *inherently* evil, that means God is responsible for creating evil. If God is responsible for the creation of both good and evil, if God is the source of both, and he is a transcendent God, you are really only left with two options. One is the impersonal Brahman. A personal God who creates evil is an evil God. Period.

    Alternatively, if we are inherently evil, but God is not responsible for creating that part of our nature, then you have to grant evil an opposing and roughly equal creative force. This is ultimately the path of dualism and for it to “work” you must eventually end up with something like the order/chaos duality we see in the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian mythos. Or perhaps the sort of dualism we find in Zoroastrianism. (Of course, for this to even work, we would have to now spring from the evil source and that seems to actually render good weaker than evil.

    The Christian perspective (at least until modern times when there isn’t even vaguely anything like one Christian perspective) has been that the only fundamental reality is God who is good. Evil lacks the same sort of reality as God and is essentially a shadow or darkness to its light. It exists, rather, when that part of the creation that has will (and that’s not limited to humanity — remember the serpent in the story) turns that will against God. Evil is a secondary creation (or perversion of creation) and has no independent reality.

    So I’m curious. Do those who believe that people are inherently evil believe that God is responsible for creating evil? Or do you believe that something other than God creates human beings? To my eyes, that’s really the question when we talk about the “inherent” nature of man.

    Hmmmm. Well, the Incarnation then brings in the question of what it means for the Word to have joined his nature to an “inherently” evil nature and how such a nature could be “inherently” evil unless the nature of the Son was or contained evil? Probably a lot of other messy questions such an idea introduces into the Christian narrative of reality.

    Me? I’ll stick with a good God who creates good things. Reality is still messy, of course, but we have a God who dives right into the middle of that mess in the Incarnation and starts sorting things out. It’s the best story I’ve found to date.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Velinka: Your question strikes me as disingenuous. Are you sincerely “curious” about which Bible I read? Because your question seems disguised as a criticism. The feeling I get from your comment is that you think my conclusions are false because if I were really reading the Bible, I would know better.

    Honestly, this strikes me a borderline nasty comment. However, I want to give you a chance to elaborate and add constructively to this conversation. This comment does not do that. Please try again. :)

  • brooke

    I grew up learning a beautiful (and I believe, true) mix of both. God created us wonderfully in His image. We are truly amazing creations. Capable of absolutely wonderful things. We have seen it. We see it in Scripture when an unsaved person is spoken of in good ways.

    I can do things that help others and it can be used by God in preserving ways. At the same time, I could have done that good thing for any reason other than for the glory of God. And God asks us to do all for his glory. Anything done (good as it is, from His image) that is not for his glory, is missing a vital part of perfection. I think this is the key to an unsaved person doing good in the image of God … but never for his glory. They don’t think to do it for his glory … and this is the extremely sad part of their goodness … in their heart of hearts they are not rendering value to the one who made it all possible. I think we forget how very serious it is to not recognize God as worthy in what we say and do.

    For someone who hasn’t grasped, by God’s grace, the gift of Christ, I would venture to say they never do one of their naturally (made in the image of God) good things for the right reason. Once we grasp it, we are totally changed in our hearts and desires. We will still do good things (and by God’s grace better and better), but for the right reason. Our eyes open to a new purpose for living. The right and only purpose … to bring glory to God. And those good things we do are led by his Holy Spirit … so they are the right choices at the right time. Not all the good in the world that burns us out and perhaps leaves our family behind … instead, we are choosing wisely, guided by God.

    I can’t re-read this because of the way the comment box is not showing the sides … or I would probably fix some things … try to shorten it. But the “short” of it is that I agree … except that, “good” by being created in the image of God is still missing the perfection of the inner goal of doing things for the recognized value of the one true God. kwim?

    Colossians “Do all for the glory of God”

  • Scott Morizot

    Here I think we need to learn to speak carefully. We should all learn to recognize ourselves as “the chief of sinners” and pray for mercy. The parable of the pharisee and the publican illustrates perfectly the underlying reality if we say anything else. And it is true. We also need to learn to see ourselves as part of humanity rather than isolated individuals and learn to perceive our shared participation in the plight of mankind. I say that because coming from my background, neither of those have been automatic or easy for me. I’m still a long way from either, but I do see their importance now.

    But that recognition of ourselves as sinners and of our participation in the sins of all, is very different than this question of “inherent” goodness or depravity. The idea of total depravity teaches something I find loathsome about God and the nature of the universe.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Someone remarked yesterday that there is a difference between being evil and being a sinner. I think that’s a good distinction.

  • jessica mell

    “But that recognition of ourselves as sinners and of our participation in the sins of all, is very different than this question of “inherent” goodness or depravity.”

    Scott, can you elaborate on that more? Particularly how the recognition of ourselves as sinners–even the chief of sinners–coincides with “inherent” goodness? That would be helpful for me.

    (Elizabeth’s obviously touched on it a bit, too. I also think my difficulty understanding may be coming from a relatively slippery understanding of the term “inherent” in this particular conversation. I can tell others aren’t seeming to have this problem, though, so I know there’s something there to be got!)

  • jessica mell

    Hmm–another strand I want to investigate more!

  • velinka

    I’m really sorry to come across that way.

    I found your post fascinating and wanted to share how I come to the conclusions I do in what I believe. But, having a very limited knowledge of catholicism, I honestly wouldn’t know what bible you would be reading. And, I’m assuming, that would be where you are drawing your conclusions.

    I apologize again for coming across that way. I think not knowing me and me having only little snippets of time to comment lends itself to not being able get me intention across.

  • jessica mell

    Instead of it being an either/or, I think the scenario is at least an either/or/or. The third option is one probably mentioned somewhere in this thread–that the Fall ushered in evil into man’s makeup. So, it’s not necessarily that either God created evil or that something else created human beings.

    The third option ties into the distinction brought up by Elizabeth–what’s the difference between being evil and being a sinner? And then, how do simultaneously hold up a reality of inherent goodness + sinfulness?

    Is sinfulness part of our human makeup/unavoidable proclivity? Is it a series of acts?

    I know I read either here or elsewhere little bits in which you communicated that you don’t believe the above third option about the Fall. I’m still hazy, though, about what you do believe about the Fall.

    I hope this has some coherence to it! Jes’ tryin’a learn here.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    No problem, Velinka! :) ((hugs)) Thanks for clarifying!

    Actually, I read several Bible translations. I read the KJV, the New American Standard and I also have a Catholic translation that includes books like Maccabees and the Book of Wisdom.

    However, my thoughts about this topic have come mostly from reading other writers and/or church fathers, etc. I know part of this is a Catholic/Protestant thing and it’s truly not my goal to cause strife or friction since I see us as all being brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Again, thanks for clarifying and I totally understand how things can get misinterpreted. no problem!

  • Matthew Rowe

    “inherently good”… does it mean doing good things or loving and delighting in God as he deserves? If it means doing good things… well… everyone is capable of that. Moralists… Atheists… Muslims… etc… So what separates Christians from them?

    Is sin first and foremost about our outer actions? Or is it about our heart’s love for God?

    Being a perfectionist with you, our tendency is to try and meet a standard. Problem is, I miss the foundation of the standard so much… it’s loving God with our hearts more than we love everything else in this world. Outside of God… I’m not capable of that. Does God want 1st our outward obedience (if that’s the case than Moralists… Good Atheists… and Muslims are on the right track)… or does he want our heart’s love…? I can’t do that to his standard. That’s why Jesus came. To save me. To give me his love. “This is love…that God first loved us.” I can’t love God w/o Jesus 1st loving me and breaking that pressure to “get it right”.

    One thing that scares me a bit… when you say “The result was that for most of my life, I felt unworthy of love.” Please don’t go down that path. Please please please. It’s disguised works-based living. You will never be worth of God’s love. You can never “get it right”. That’s what makes God’s love so special. “Come, buy wine and milk without money or price” (Isa. 54).

    I hate the yoke of “getting it right”… and you’re just trying to put on a more disguised yoke with this, “I’m inherently good” because it’s, again, trying to feel deserving of God’s love. There’s two sides to the spectrum: you can try doing enough religious, moral, etc.. things to feel good enough for God’s love (morality, atheism, muslims, “Religious Pharisee Christainity)… or you can try and push it away and be “undeserving enough”… (Your fundamentalist past)… neither is grace.

    … hating perfectionism and abusive churches with you…

    You my dear
    have been hurt, it’s clear
    by your past so stricken with guilt
    But please don’t place
    another yoke, not grace
    upon your back, scarred with fears
    that will leave your face,
    stricken with tears,
    and your joy in Jesus,
    tainted throughout the years.

    PS… I LOVE YOUR COLUMN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Soooo helpful. Talk about being disappointed ever day when I check and there’s no new posts… :)

  • Maggie Dee

    I’m not sure I can add anything to the discussion. But, as someone who struggles with accepting that God loves me, the real me, not the never ending striving for perfection me I just wanted to say thank you.

  • KatR

    Your comment brought tears to my eyes, because I refuse, refuse to be the never ending striving for perfection person anymore, and I just as strongly feel that God doesn’t want anything but that.

  • WritingJoy

    This is a very rambling comment… just warning you now. :)

    I resonated with Heather’s statement, “I became compassionate once I saw myself the sinner that I really was, and saw that the whole of mankind is in the same boat as I am. And that they need Jesus.”

    When I think I’m better than I really am (which honestly is most of the time — pride is a huge weakness of mine), it is almost automatic for me to look down on and fail to show to compassion to the people around me who screw up. I jump to conclusions, read things that aren’t there, and assume the worst.

    When I run headlong into my personal sinfulness and weaknesses, suddenly I see how we’re all together in this state of whatever-it-is. I’m actually no better than anyone else. And I’m more able to extend kindness, forgiveness, patience, and mercy to others… somehow knowing we’re all in this together helps me. But I suspect that I’m only able to see that in myself and see others the same way by the grace of God opening my eyes to see myself truly.

    Also, I think you’re onto something when you say that being a sinner isn’t the same as being inherently or utterly/completely evil.

    I’ve grown up in circles that believe that Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden did something permanent to all humans born since. I’ve heard that “something permanent” labeled “inherent sinfulness” and sometimes “inherent evil”. However, I think evil is much too strong a word.

    I think (right now, that is, I’m definitely still in process and sorting things out too) that we’re born broken – with a weakness towards sin. And what is that weakness? When I am honest with myself, it is me-worship. I want the world to revolve around ME and everyone to do things MY way — ME on the throne. Maybe this is another way to say what Scott has referred to as “ruled by your passions” — letting my desires and dreams control me instead of God’s desires and plans for me.

    It seems to be that making ME my priority is the opposite of what Jesus calls us to do in the Golden Rule: love the Lord our God and love our neighbor the way we love ourselves. So Jesus says that God is supposed to be my highest priority, and one way to show that he is that priority is to love the people he has created… but not just a little bit. I’m supposed to love them the same way I love myself. OK… that’s a tough one!

    As a parent, I have most definitely seen this desire to be the center of the universe in my children. They go about world domination in different ways, and respond to being frustrated in their efforts at world domination in different ways, but they all show it. Isn’t that why a baby screams til he turns beet red when you insist on making him wait 2 seconds before feeding him so you can put something down? But, on the other hand, our children also show varying degrees of good qualities. So we are NOT born completely and utterly worthless, incapable of any good.

    I like how someone earlier put it: we are good but we are broken. And we are born broken because of Adam and Eve’s sin. I look forward to the day when we are made whole again.

    those are just a few ideas from where I’m at today.

    Very thought-provoking post and comments. I enjoyed reading all of it.

  • Freya

    Psalms 14:1-3 says,
    “There is no one righteous, not even one;
    there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.
    All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”
    and, the Apostle Paul teaches, “all have sinned and fallen short”–even the people who don’t know what sin is have sinned–it just blankets us.
    I believe that when you become a Christian, your core changes, 1 John 4:12-13 tells us, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” God’s Spirit lives and dwells in us, and fights our old man–works out our salvation until our end–but we’re still basically NOT good people. Christians have to work to give people the benefit of the doubt and be compassionate on sinners, not because sinners have some good in them (they are just wretched as we used to be) but because they are BLIND–and many don’t know they are blind.
    Jesus said to be as innocent as lambs and as shrewd as vipers. That doesn’t mean trust that the man running towards you with a knife is going to offer to carry your groceries, but do make every effort to first trust that the dog’s death was an accident–who knows what was going on with that guy!? The point is, God forgives even more horrific acts that are done everyday, because he knows we can’t live right without him.
    It is by God’s grace that we are changed and refined, and over time, we overcome certain sins and temptations, we mature and become more complete, more like Jesus–but only and always with his help.

  • Kacie

    Interesting. I’m reading a biography about Luther right now in order to more accurately understand the movement and reaction that was the Reformation. Right now it is describing the very beginning of his years as a professor after being a monk, and the very first traces we have of the thought process that eventually led to his controversial beliefs that were the founding of the Reformation.

    It starts somewhat like you describe your own thought process, but in other ways opposite. He was taught that human beings are basically good – that there is ALWAYS that spark of life that enables a human to reach God, and that humans must be committed to the sacraments and the Church paths that ultimately lead that spark to grow until you are good enough for heaven.

    And yet Luther, like you, confessed his sins constantly and wrestled deeply with guilt. His early notes on teaching the Psalm show him honestly saying he is angry with God for being fundamentally righteous, and that the word righteous in scripture always caught his attention and study. He found God’s righteousness to be impossible, because regardless of the good in humans or the good path they took, the righteousness of God seemed entirely unreachable, Luther still felt guilty, and he was angry and depressed by this.

    I’m still reading about the transformation of his thoughts, but it’s interesting that for Luther, the identification of humans as utterly bad and unable to reach God (I was surprised how Calvinist he sounded here) actually frees from the guilt, because it means that there is NOTHING we can do, and that the righteousness of God as portrayed in the scripture must therefore be a righteousness offered and given to man THOUGH man still does not deserve it and will never begin to approach God with pure motivations on his own accord.

    Anyways, basic old school theology there, but I found it interesting to compare your thought process here to the process Luther was going through in his early years. Some similar motivations but sort of the opposite path.

  • karla

    So what do you think about this?
    I believe that God loves us, because He created us to do that, didn’t He? Didn’t He create us to have relationship with Him? And aren’t we made in His image? But He also knew that for us to have relationship with Him, He had to give us choices that might take us away from Him. With that said, I sometimes feel like I have a difficult time being grateful for what He has done for us (providing Someone, His Son, to die for our sins), because He made us to have choice in the first place; knowing full well that it would be impossible for us to choose perfectly every time. Shouldn’t He love us like we are? Didn’t He make us this way? Should we be ashamed that we are wretched sinners when there is no other way for us to be? And should we be SO SOS SOSO overcome with thankfulness that the God who made us this way and allowed for free will/sin would also make a way for us to have relationship with Him? Wouldn’t any Father do that? I know there are lots of people who have jerks for fathers, but we are talking about God here. Wouldn’t a Perfect Loving Father naturally provide a way for His kids to not have to suffer eternal punishment? Are we all so surprised by that? I’m trying to figure out why everyone is so surprised that God would love us….

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    Wow. Already 36 comments! Sorry that this is a short week for me EE, I am spending most of my time trying to cram things into my day since I leave tomorrow for El Salvador.

    My fundamental belief the humanity is good is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, who despite what many modern Christians teach is our primary source of revelation. He is the lens through whom we come to the fullest understanding of what God is like and he is the the perfect example of humanity. If Christ is the perfect image of both God and Humanity, which is both attested to in the Bible and in the tradition of the Church Fathers, then we cannot believe anything but that we are created good. Jesus never sinned, he was all good and as the perfect example of what it means to be human, I take the stance that we are created to be like him.

    There are many who argue that because of the fall, sin has become an essential part of humanity. The Christian faith has always rejected this idea. If sin were an essential part of humanity there would be no need for Christ to bring salvation and healing into the world.

    I often ask people a simple question that illustrates the point. “When you sin, does it make you more human, or less human?” I have yet to find someone say more. Sin always has a negative effect on our lives and the lives of others which is why we should avoid it with the help of God.

    Anyway, I still stand by my original response which is we are created good AND we need Christ. I am with Tom in saying also that even had there been no fall we would have needed Christ.

    Thanks for opening the conversation again EE. I may not get to be part of much of it this week as I will be away from technology, but I hope it is a good dialogue.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Cool, you even had a little poem there at the end! :)

    But I have to disagree.

    I *do* believe I am worthy of God’s love. So are you. So are all of us. He created us for His love. Are my children worthy and/or deserving of my love? Yes! How much more does God loves us? Much, much more!

    I’m confused as to why folks think I’m going to an opposite extreme or placing another yoke of bondage upon myself? I’m really not. In fact, I’ve never felt more liberated!

    Still, I can appreciate your concern for me. Rest easy, friend. I’m not trying to “get it right” or earn God’s love. He has given it freely, yes?

    Now I finally believe it.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Brooke: I loved this description. Thank you for sharing it.

  • SaraJ

    Having grown up in Calvinist/fundamentalist circles, I completely understand what you’re mulling over, Elizabeth. God despised our sin and couldn’t look upon us unless Christ was there basically blocking His view of us. Wow, sure makes me want to run into God’s arms!

    I’ve never, ever managed to be MORE grateful for God’s grace in that He allowed such wretched, disgusting creatures to hide behind His Son so that we could avoid His wrath.

    If that sounds like an utterly wrong way to view God and His grace… well, now you understand why being called inherently evil and wicked brings such despair to those of us who were taught that.

    It was only when I learned that there are other ways to view sin and the Fall, such as that sin has injured us, made us sick, made us need God’s healing — it was only then that I realized that maybe God didn’t see me as black and evil. It was only then that I could hear my husband say affectionately, “You’re such a good person!” without instinctively replying, “No, I’m not. Nobody is a good person.”

    My conclusion lately is that the perspective I was taught as a child and young adult is not all wrong. But it’s not all right, either.

    Fr. Mathis, I appreciated your post very much.

  • Scott Morizot

    But creation is not something that happened in the past. Each of us continues to be a creation of God or you are conceding to the secular divide of the Deist God. The question is therefore not did God create some hypothetical past human being good or evil, but did God create you good or evil? Did God create me good or evil? Did God create my children good or evil? That’s why I set the categories the way I did.

    Part of this goes back to your earlier question. I don’t know your background within the context of Christianity, but every time I’ve heard people describe “post-fall” (whatever they might mean by that category) man as inherently evil or evil by nature, they are operating within some part of the framework of a comparatively recent (at least given the overall history of Christianity), specifically Protestant doctrine generally called “total depravity”.

    While there are variations on it, the basic theme is that at the fall, the image of God in man was not merely tarnished or cracked, but was instead completely obliterated. No man in recorded human history (except, I suppose Jesus — which means he did not assume our nature — but that’s a problem for another day) has since been created and born in God’s image.

    (There’s another problem in this idea since it abstracts the “image” of God into some abstract thing separate from the nature of man. The more precise language of the LXX says that mankind was created according to the image of God. In other words, it’s what we are, not something separate we carry inside us. That image is marred to the extent that we are marred, but you couldn’t obliterate the image in a human being without obliterating humanity itself.)

    Tied up in that idea is usually the idea that an “unregenerate” human being is incapable of truly doing anything whatsoever that is truly and really good. You’ll have seen some of the various expressions of that peculiar and demonstrably (at least to my satisfaction) false notion in some of the comments on this post.

    So the discussion here is basically whether human beings are created and born in the image of God with the potential to do both good and evil or created and born totally depraved with no innate capacity for good.

    Now, it’s only once we get past that barrier that we can really begin to discuss ourselves as sinners. There’s the issue of “original sin” which is a point on which I’m firmly somewhere within the spectrum of Orthodox belief and thus would differ with most Protestants and probably some Roman Catholics. (The modern — as in post-Vatican II — Roman Catholic statements about Original Sin I find tricksy enough that I’m unsure if I agree or disagree. The way they have backed off the idea of limbo for unbaptized infants leads me to believe I might agree more than disagree, but I’m not at all certain.)

    But this has become a complicated issue that truly has little to do with our recognition of ourselves as “sinners.” It’s also tied into what differing Christian groups mean when they use the term “salvation.” I use it in various ways, but ultimately I use it to mean union with God and with my fellow human beings without loss of personal identity. It’s hard sometimes to clearly hear what others mean, but there are obviously notes of other ideas about what being “saved” might mean in the different comments on this post.

    “Sin” as it is used in Scriptures fundamentally means “missing the mark.” If the “mark” is to ultimately be one with God and with each other in the same way the Son is one with the Father, which I believe it clearly is, then we miss the mark when we shape or form ourselves into the likeness of anything that is not God.

    Hmmm. And we have to step back again here. People often develop some abstract idea about what they think God is and then they say Jesus is God and cast him in that mold. Moreover, they say that whatever they imagine the image in which we were created also looks like the God they have imagined. From a Christian perspective, that’s backwards. As we see in Colossians, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So it’s more accurate to say that God is Jesus — that is that we understand God only in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover, since Jesus is the image of the invisible God, we are created according to the image of Jesus. Thus we read that our purpose is to be conformed to Christ, for only when that’s true can our cracked and tarnished image be said to be healed.

    If we do not simply pray for mercy and recognize ourselves as the chief of sinners, that means that we are in essence thinking God that we are not as other men (or women). However, before we can honestly do that, we also have to recognize our own active participation in the fall and in the sin of all human beings. We are not islands. We share a common nature and are thus complicit in the actions of all. It’s not about some sort of blame or legal debt. It’s a recognition that, contrary to our desire to be like Cain, we are in fact our brother’s keeper. When my brother or sister misses the mark, I share in the responsibility.

    Well, I tried to summarize a mountain of thought in a few paragraphs and probably failed miserably. But hopefully my poor efforts provided you some insight into the perspective and categories I am using when I write on this thread.

  • Scott Morizot

    I would say that God wants us to do the best that we can with the circumstances and situation we are given. He’s not after “perfection”. If he were, the Incarnation makes no sense at all. He wants us to be one with him, to love him, to participate in his life. But he loves us too much to force us to choose him. And if we desire instead to shape ourselves into beings who cannot endure His unveiled presence, light, and love, he’ll allow that as well.

    Love God as much as you are able on any day. Love your neighbor as best you can. If you can do that much, the rest will work itself out.

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    For some reason I referred to Scott as Tom in my previous comment. My apologies….tired today!

  • Scott Morizot

    I would say that children recognize early on that they are born into an unsafe and dangerous world. A baby cries not out of any sense of dominating the world, though, but simply because they are hungry and feel it as pain. The lessons pile quickly on each other. I find with toddlers and preschoolers, it’s more about trying to control the world around them in order to make it safe. They fail, of course, as we all do. But we all still try nonetheless.

    I will note that “adam” simply means human being. It is, perhaps, used as a proper name in Genesis 4, but not before then. In the first creation narrative, God creates mankind (adam) male and female. In the second creation narrative, God creates “man” from the dust of the ground and then splits the “adam” into male and female. (Say ‘splits the adam’ out loud several times. I can’t take credit for the joke, though. I got it from Scot McKnight.)

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Let me begin by saying (again!) that I adore your blog. As one who went to a Catholic school growing up and, at the same time, attended a fairly conservative Baptist church, many of your themes resonate with me. Regarding this particular post, I think we walk a slippery slope when we see ourselves in an overly positive light (or as “inherently good”). Personally, I tend to be more comfortable in my sin with this mindset and easily forget my need for a Savior. Jesus becomes the spiritual cherry on life’s sundae, and not much more. I also have trouble reconciling what God’s Word says (Psalm 14:1-3, Romans 5:10, 1 John 4:10, much of what Paul speaks about, among others) in thinking otherwise. On the flip side, I do recognize the danger of falling into a pattern of self-loathing and hatred when we continually focus on our evil nature and the sin in our life. That can obviously be dangerous and harmful, too. Bottom line, as Christians, those who claim Christ, He (and only He) makes us good through His shed blood on the cross. Not any one particular church or belief system or theology. It is important that we are mindful of our original sinful state long enough to know what we were rescued from BUT it’s equally important that we not dwell there, suppressing our freedom in Christ and bringing about spiritual depression. Like most things, we need to find a healthy balance. And to continually be focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

  • Scott Morizot

    Hmmm. I think I like Fr. Stephen Freeman’s phrase best. “Christ did not come to make bad men good; he came to make dead men live.” As with any summary, it can’t say everything, of course, and could be taken the wrong way. But it says much that needs to be said in an easy to remember form.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Thanks, Jessica. OK, several people have referenced Ps. 14:1-3. I think we need to look at the context of this passage.

    I’m no theologian and I’m not gonna get too technical. But it’s pretty clear from reading the WHOLE of Psalm 14 that it’s not a blanket condemnation of all humans.

    Psalm 14:1 is clearly referencing an atheist–someone who says “there is no God.” Verse 2 and following expound on this. However, is the Psalmist really saying that there are NO human beings who are good? No. If that were true, then vs. 5 makes no sense: “God is in the generation of the righteous.”

    If there is NOT ONE GOOD, then how is it possible there is a generation of the righteous?

    Very clearly throughout Scripture there WERE righteous men and women (Noah, etc.).

    I used to hinge my entire belief in “inherent evil” on Psalm 14 and Romans 3:10 (which is a quote of Ps. 14). I think maybe this was a Protestant thing–I would hang entire doctrines on a couple of verses rather than examining the whole counsel of Scripture and/or the writings of early Church fathers.

    I do agree, however, that there is a danger in seeing ourselves in an overly positive light. I loved your description: “Jesus as the cherry on the sundae.” I agree. We need to take our sin seriously.

    But there needs to be balance, etc. Thanks for chiming in. Great thoughts, Jessica!

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Sara: oh, man. I can relate! My husband tells me I’m such a good mom and wife and it is SO difficult for me to agree with him. I instinctively say: “No, I’m a terrible person” etc.

    And YES! How many times did we hear that God could not STAND to look at us in our evil, vile, disgusting sin! And then we were supposed to want to love Him? It made no sense!

    Thank you for sharing this. Loved your thoughts!

  • Elizabeth Esther

    Fr. M: if you get a chance, I would love to hear your thoughts on Psalm 14. See my comment to Jessica below. Am I reading that Psalm correctly?

    p.s. will be praying for your trip to El Salvador! Keep us updated!

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    I am not sure how this particular verse justifies the believe that all people are completely depraved.

    Psalm 14 begins,

    The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they are abominable in their habits; there is none, not even one, who does good.

    The psalmist is clearly speaking about those who deny God’s existence and the foolishness of this.

    It is a grave mistake to simply quote verses from the Bible out of context. The primary lens for understanding the Bible, both Old and New Testament is Christ.

    Without placing things in the context of the whole of both Scripture and Tradition we end up with all kind of “inspired” interpretations. It makes no sense to me that the Holy Spirit would guide us to division.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Isn’t it just a matter of semantics, though, Scott? What I mean when I say Christ makes us “good” is that we are reconciled through Him, not that he makes us a “good person.” Like Paul says, “I do what I know I shouldn’t and don’t do what I know I should” (ROUGH paraphrase, there). I’m still a bit of a train wreck, here on earth. BUT, I’m on a train headed towards eternal glory. That’s what is truly “good” :)

  • Scott Morizot

    Nope. Not a matter of semantics. Do you see the root of the problem Christ came to resolve as our moral failure or as our bondage to death? It seems to make a great deal of difference how you answer that question.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting post…reminds me of only a short while ago when I first read a debate of whether or not humans have a ‘sin nature’. I was raised to believe they did, but after the debate and the thoughts it raised, have concluded thus far that humans have a human nature yet it is very easy to sin. After all, Adam and Eve are not described as having been created with a sin nature, yet they sinned. So if they didn’t need a sin nature to sin, why do we? Long complicated thoughts stem from this topic, and verses get thrown back and forth with vehemence, so one is advised to google some of the links that do a great job of discussing the topic but as it relates to your question, EE, I think it highly possible that we are created simply human (that is, not evil, and even with some good qualities or potential) and have a very difficult time not going astray (like the sheep we are often likened to) when we aren’t functioning in a good relationship with Christ. We seem to be designed to need a ‘guide’ and lifegiver-Christ. We ‘miss the mark’ because it is so easy to do so when left to our own decisions. Is a driver ‘bad’ because he drives off the road? Or is he simply a driver who goofed for whatever reason? Is he ‘good’ when he stays on the road? Is Jesus-to drivers-somewhat akin to having satellite road guidance plus a mechanic, etc., all wrapped into one? Are we created good, or good with some neutral, or neutral, or bad, etc.? I am glad you are exploring this topic!

  • Scott Morizot

    I’m not Fr. M, but I’ll note that Psalm 14 (Psalm 13 LXX) is addressed to both Jews and Gentiles who say in their hearts, “There is no God.” It seems a stretch to turn that into some sort of general description of the ontological created state of humanity.

    I’ll also note that this Psalm is used during the ninth hour of Great and Holy Friday, the hour of Christ’s death, in the Orthodox observance. That tells me that this is also seen as a prefiguration of the rejection of Christ (and thus of God) that culminated in his death. Though I could be wrong, of course.

  • Jessica Johnson

    Our bondage to death, definitely. As a result of our separation from God.

    “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Romans 5:10

    “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” 1 Peter 3:18

    “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” Ephesians 2:13

    Even as Christians we will always have moral failures, right? So if Christ came to resolve those He didn’t accomplish it. But I may be misunderstanding your question. It’s been a long day… :)

  • Jessica Johnson


    And, yes, I 100% agree with you that it is irresponsible to pluck one verse out of context to support a stance on any particular issue. That’s why I cited multiple ones. I’ll have to look into Psalm 14. I’ve always thought it meant something different.

    Very interesting comment thread. I appreciate you making us think! :)

  • LizzyZ

    So sad! I came in too late in this conversation and now it’ll take me days to catch up to all the good comments! Since I’ve only read about 1/3 of them please forgive me if I repeat someone else.

    I was in college when it occurred to me that the phrase “mankind is inherently evil” is not found anywhere in Scripture. It is an interpretation by people with an agenda. Most often (in my experience) the agenda is to control you by fear or guilt or both.

    Here are some passages that jumped into my mind while reading your post:
    Genesis 1:13a “And God saw all that he had made and it was very good.”
    Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
    This passage infers that there was a time when not all thoughts were only evil all the time. It was a gradual process of people becoming slaves to their fleshly desires rather than to God’s desires. But even during that time there was a man who had DECIDED to stay true to God’s desires and his whole family, and consequently the human race, was saved through him. I also find it interesting that nothing is said about the righteousness of his sons or other members of his family.

    The verses I hear most often to support this point of view are Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23, and Isaiah 64:6 which you mentioned. But context clearly describes that they are referencing our lack of ability to conjure up justification for our sins. However, that is different than inherently evil. There is nothing in those verses that convinces me that God views us as inherently evil. Especially considering that the whole theme of the Bible is that we are redeemable. Whole chapters of the Bible are dedicated to reasoning with us to do the right thing, to decide to leave our slavery to sin and choose a new master: God. Slavery implies that we are not inherently evil, but compelled by an evil master to do evil. Very rarely in the Bible is someone actually called Evil. Only when they have made a reputation for themselves, when they have made years of decisions to do the wrong thing and hardened their hearts to their conscience, then they are called evil. Otherwise, it is their actions that are called “evil.” Have you read Mere Christianity? C.S. Lewis’s views on “inherent evil” are very interesting and probably my favorite part of the book. Though I don’t agree with some of his theology, I really appreciate his tact when addressing these sorts of issues.

  • velinka m.

    I had thought to share more after my clipped and short earlier comments, but after reading through a bunch of the comments, a number of my own thoughts were already covered.
    I do want to say, though, that I admire your courage to openly struggle through some painful and raw things that have happened in your life. Not to mention that your posed questions always give me pause to reflect and test what I actually believe.
    I may not comment often but I do enjoy reading.
    Thank you.

  • MelanieB


    I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to sound patronizing. I think I spent too many years teaching college kids maybe and that annoying teacher voice just slips in sometimes: the need to raise questions, steer the conversation with leading questions or just get all pedantic with points that don’t really have any bearing on the conversation everyone else is having. Ugh!

    Nor did I mean to imply that you were going to the other extreme. I do understand that you are questioning your previous assumptions and are not in danger of making that error. I suppose I’m just being pedantic because this is the discussion that always happens in my head when I see that question because my secular materialist students more frequently erred by holding that mankind is inherently good/there is no such thing as sin or evil/ we don’t need a savior.

    I know my point was really tangential to yours and I should probably have kept my ramblings to myself. This is what too little sleep and teething babies does to my brain.

  • MelanieB


    Yes, the idea that I reference is the result of the Enlightenment philosophers. In my experience teaching Humanities at a secular college more of my students were familiar with the philosophical strains of Enlightenment thinking than with the Christian idea of total depravity. I think in society in general the error of denying the fall and the existence of sin is more prevalent than the denial of inherent goodness.

    Although I agree that nothing in the assertion that mankind is inherently good necessarily denies the reality that we are born into a damaged world, still I have found that with my students the debate about inherent goodness and inherent evil of humanity tends to have students who side with the inherently good being the ones who don’t believe in sin. Thus I tend, perhaps to a fault, to want to make sure that I’m clear when I discuss the question to qualify the statement.

    I’d agree that when Christians discus mankind’s inherent good or evil it tends to be a veiled way of talking about our understanding of who God is, more about God than about us. I’m not so sure if that holds true in a secular discussion of the topic, however. At least not consciously or explictly. I suppose a materialist’s stance about mankind’s inherent goodness implies something about his lack of a belief in God.

  • MelanieB

    I don’t think the fall makes us “capable of bad”. As you say, the fact that our first parents were able to fall means they had the capacity to choose either good or evil. But what the fall does for us their descendants is it makes it harder for us to choose good. Our freedom to make a choice is damaged by concupiscence, the fact that our will is weakened so that evil is often more attractive to us than the good.

    I’d agree that the nature of creation tells us about the nature of the Creator. Just as any human work of art tells us about the person who made it, our understanding of creation says something about who we think God is.

  • Mel

    I do believe that we were created with the power to choose good or evil. That is evident in the Biblical account of the Fall. I did not intend to say that the Fall brought about the ablility to be evil. I’m saying that the fall has tainted us all with Adam’s original sin. (Romans 5:12-14 12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.)
    We are not born with a clean slate. That is NOT to say that we will all be Hitlers. I do not think that saying we are born with a capacity for evil is equal to saying we will all be utterly evil all the time. It is to say that our good is tainted with sin.
    My view on what ‘holy’ and ‘saved’ mean,is based on Scripture. I can not defend myself on this point without making assumtions on what you think is ‘burried in my perspective’. I’m not sure I understand what you think I believe, to be honest.
    As for your question regarding the fall and incarnation…it is hypothetical. The fact is, the fall did happen, and Christ did become flesh. This is Biblical. As for the ancient answer to this question…it is irrelevant. There is nothing in the Bible regarding ‘what if’. The Fall happened, God even ordained it to be and the Incarnation was not ‘plan B’ so to speak in the event that we would Fall. I can only base my belief on Scripture and not on ancient tradition.

  • Matthew Rowe

    Uff da! I’m new to blogoland and I’m not sure what is appropriate…so I don’t know if replying to your reply is acceptable or not… but here it goes anyway.

    I am wondering a few things about your response. Being created to have God’s love satisfy us more than everything in this world: I absolutely agree! But that doesn’t mean we’re deserving of it… or that we choose it all the time. If we did we wouldn’t need Jesus to forgive our sin and bring us to God, we could get there ourselves with our being “deserving” and “good enough”. It makes Jesus look very very satisfying.

    And what have your children done to deserve your love? Besides simply existing?

    I think in transferring that analogy to spiritual things the argument falls apart… Outside of having Jesus… no one is a child of God. We’re dead. Dead people don’t deserve anything. Dead people don’t love God. But when God breathes life into us… we still don’t deserve it… but that’s when we become his children… and that’s when his love for us is like yours for your children. Unconditional.

    (Eph. 2:1, John 1:12,13)

    I think the reason many see it as bondage is because your “liberation” is not rooted in seeing God in a new way… as glorious and merciful… as just and yearning that we find our utmost love in Him… and not in ourselves… and not in seeing yourself as good… as glorious… and good enough to be accepted by God. That will never fully satisfy you… not as much as undeserved grace in Jesus.

    I know my wandering heart (I’m not simply talking about outward morality… I know I’m capable of doing good works and doing evil works… I’m talking about the heart that delights in Jesus above everything else… and from there moves into action)

    I do resonate with SarahJ and your comments to her. I feel those same things too. When I see those types of feelings (ones I’ve had and have)… and see the type of pain you write with… I feel like Willie May in Tiger Rising (by Kate DiCamillo)… I just want to sit back with a cigarette and say, “I know you. I’ve known you for a long time. You hurt and pain at the hand of religion.” … I don’t smoke… but I might just do it if that situation arose… :)

    Plug for Kate DiCamillo: Uff da!

  • Mary Beth

    Allow me to insert my own 2 cents (and I feel sad for coming late to the party – I was sick yesterday and didn’t even make it to google reader…)

    I have shared before that I’ve struggled with several bouts of depression in my life. It wasn’t until I understood that I really WAS evil at the core, and that God sent his son for me anyway, that I started to see value in myself. “While we were still sinners, Christ died.” And if he adopted me into his family (Ephesians 1) and made me his princess – made me an heir with Christ, even while I was sinful… then what could I do but worship him and try to obey him.

    For me, I think that scripture supports the idea that we are all basically evil. but when Christ forgives us and saves us, he enables us to do good. Now, all my good is just thanking God for what He did for me.

    I realize this is one of those areas (in fact, probably the biggest area) that Catholics and Protestants differ, so I encourage you to keep seeking scripture and not just take my word for it, or anyone elses. And it seems from this post that you’re doing just that.

  • Larry

    I believe we are born inherantly good; as has been said above, in God’s image. But also born with free will, which is the ability to choose right from wrong, others over self. Temptation, the precurser of sin, comes from our awarness of our flesh, of “being of this world”.

  • Dianna

    Elizabeth, I think you know my theology by now and I definitely fall into the category of we are all totally depraved and but for the grace of God, I would do horrendous sins as well.

    However, in the above, I only agree with #1. My redeeming value is in Christ. He lived the life I couldn’t live, because I’m not good and I needed someone to obey the rules perfectly for me; he died for my sins and he rose again for me. Numbers 3-5 I have no experience with, because although some would consider me a fundamentalist (which I don’t), no church that I have ever been a part of teaches or lives out anything like that.

  • Jessie V.

    I’ve never commented before. But I love reading your blog- it’s encouraging to find other Christian moms who are realistic about their walk. I do disagree- I believe we are inherently evil, which is what makes the cross all the more remarkable. It’s not that we were “kinda” worth saving, that 1% of us was worth it, but that there was/is nothing in us that is desirable. It gives God more glory (which is the point of everything) that if I do good then it’s Him giving me grace and mercy- or else I have a right to boast in my own goodness, even if it’s a lousy 1%.

  • Elizabeth Esther

    If this is true, then why would Scripture tell us that “while we were yet sinning, Christ died”? I think the question here is: did Jesus love you even before you accepted Him as your Savior? Does God wait until we love Him before He loves us?

    What about all the verses about his everlasting love? What about Him loving us before the foundation of the world?

    The cross is remarkable not because WE were undeserving of it. The cross is remarkable because of HIS love. I think THAT is what gives God the glory.

    It was like there was no length to which He would not go for us. That’s how much He loved us. Obviously, there was something worth saving.

    And it was more than 1%.

  • colleen

    Great post and discussion. Thanks

  • Ann

    I’m not crazy!

    I was having this exact conversation with a friend of mine just last week!! I came to the same conclusion, btw.

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing it!!!

  • Nicole

    I linked to a blog post has some great stuff on the good/bad/corrupt debate. He makes some important distinctions between depravity and what he calls “worm theology” (the idea that we are no better than worms).

  • Aimee

    great comment! this really resonates with me.

  • Aimee

    The only thing that I wanted to say is I know that having been brainwashed with “people inherently evil” mindset, it really affects our view of children. I have been in Christian parenting circles that dehumanize children and always look at them through that lens of “they are evil…they are manipulating you”…and these people can’t/don’t truly enjoy their kids when they view them as evil! (And truthfully, I still struggle with not viewing my own children this way, b/c teaching like this runs deep) I started believing a few years ago that we are a mixture of both with propensity for both…it not only gave me a love/compassion/grace for my fellow man and made me feel “one with humanity”, but also it healed my mothering heart in many ways.

  • brooke

    “When you sin, does it make you more human, or less human?”

    There has to be some component we are missing in this. You see, before I came to the grace of Christ, I honestly didn’t care about Christ. But now I do. That has changed greatly.

    Before: I yelled at my parents. I was rude to others. I didn’t see value in every person. I looked to everyone else to show me what I should be. I was absolutely full of pride.

    After: I have some kind of amazing strength. I don’t always access it. But it’s amazing to watch the pride slowly work its way out, the yelling to decrease (even though the stresses are greater with five children), I am not nearly so dependent on the world around me to tell me what I should care about. I see value in others more and more. I am being transformed.

    I have been changed … and yet sin is still a part of me. And I know it to be sin. It was there before, it is there after. But yet I am still different.

    How does this answer the question? I guess it says to me, “Not more or less human … but STILL human.” I don’t know what it means … but that’s what it is.

  • brooke

    I think it has to contain both to be so remarkable, though I don’t think I can come up with the “proper” terms. He not only loved us enough to die for us, but did it while we still sinned. Where in the gospels does Jesus say that it is more remarkable to die for a bad person? I forget … but that’s what I mean.

    Amazing. And amazing that His beautiful grace covers my sins I will commit today. So humbling. So beautiful. So loving. So gracious. So life-changing.

    When I realized that (and I don’t mean treating grace cheaply) it changed my life.

  • Young Mom

    I love it when other people write about what I am thinking about! :) I just recently wrote about this mentality of humanity and the effect I think it has on the discipline of children.

  • Mary @ The Writer’s Block


    Forgive me for chiming in late. I am pressed for time at the moment and didn’t read all of the replies, so forgive me if I’m being repetitious, too.

    But (from what I read in the comments) no one addressed key Scriptures that directly spell out humanity’s state before God’s grace brings us to life.

    Humans are born evil. Our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). Romans 3:9-18 says no one is righteous, no one does good. Romans 5:10 calls humans enemies of God. Psalm 51:5 says that David was sinful from birth; sinful from the time his mother conceived him.

    I think there are some definitions that must be stated here. Sinful=evil. Why? Because sin is an affront to a holy God. Sin is evil. Sin is not holy or pure or righteous. There are no degrees of sin. Are we 80% “good” but have a “little sin” and therefore, the good outweighs the bad? No. APART FROM CHRIST, we are 100% sin.

    Now, when we belong to Christ, our sin is paid in full. We grow in grace. We are capable of good things. Even those not in Christ are capable of good things, BUT that is only because of God’s common grace, NOT because of some inherent goodness in the person. I believe it was Jonathan Edwards who said that we (humanity) are only being held away from hell by a thread. If God were to remove his common grace and his presence from our world, would it be sunshine and roses because of all the inherently good people roaming around? No.

    Yes, humans are created in God’s image and that is GOOD. Yes, our first parents were born holy and happy until the Fall. WHY did they fall? I don’t know. But when they fell, they plunged ALL of humanity into sin with them (Romans 5:12), which would require a PERFECT sacrifice for atonement and reconciliation.

    I believe that an understanding of humanity must first begin with a theology of God. I believe that God is all-perfect, all-love, all-good, all-righteous. Anything, any emotion, any act by a human is automatically NOT GOD’s. Therefore, it’s totally depraved. AND because of such, our salvation required the ultimate perfect, law-keeping, God-pleasing sacrifice. In the end–in my opinion–an elevated view of humans eventually cheapens the work of Christ. If we are a “little bit good,” then what says we can’t be a little bit better? And a little bit more? Taking that line of thinking, then, why couldn’t we reach a point to either make atonement for our own sin OR to stop sinning altogether?

    I suppose, compared to Hitler (or some other obviously EVIL character), most of us WOULD be considered basically good. But we are compared to God and his character and his standards (in the eternal sense of things). We are not God. We are evil. We aren’t as bad as we could be (we are all CAPABLE of grave atrocities), but we offend a holy God. There’s only two remedies for that offense: death ourselves or substitutionary death. Someone must atone for the sin (Christ): it’s me or Christ in my place.

    Finally, this view of my humanity does not depress me. It’s liberating! My salvation is never contingent on how good or how bad I am. It sends me to my knees in joy and gratitude! Again, God doesn’t NEED me! But he CHOSE me! He loves me. He protects me. He KNEW me from the foundation of the world and ordained all my days. Me!

    Elizabeth, I appreciate your post and your past experiences. I can’t imagine what you must have grown up in. I have always been among grace-centered Christians and have very little experiences with fundamentalism. So, I realize I come at this from a very different place.

    I wrote on this topic at my blog last fall. If you don’t mind, I’ll post the link here, in case you are interested to read more.

    I hope I haven’t rambled too much. I pray grace and peace for you and yours. ;) If you want to discuss further, I’m always eager.

    I always enjoy reading your blog.

  • velinka

    I didn’t really think about God’s love for us being in question….

    My understanding of our worth is that it comes from the fact that He has created us and we bear His image. That’s the awe and wonder of mankind. And at the same time, because of the fall of Adam, we inherit a spiritual deadness. And because of our “dead in our sin”-ness we desire all sorts of OTHER than God. And because of our heart desiring for anything BUT God, we then don’t deserve God’s supernatural work in our hearts.
    But God, who is rich in mercy and love and grace, who knew us and loved us before the foundation of the earth had a plan to save His children.
    I DO, then, think that the work on the cross is magnified to a greatness we can’t grasp BOTH because of His love AND because, while we were yet desiring after anything else but Him, He gave us a heart to desire Him and have the ability to turn to Him.
    I think I’m starting to understand,though, what many are meaning by our worth here. And I DO believe that as His image bearers we hold a value that the rest of creation does not.

  • Scott Morizot

    I’m catching up with this after the Saturday Evening Blog post, so you probably won’t catch my reply. That’s OK. The truth is, of all the things I’ve been over the course of my life, a materialist (of any sort) is not one of them. I have family and friends who are, so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the perspective. I’ve just never been inclined in that direction. Similarly, I’ve never been particularly captivated by the secular perspective (which is not the same as either materialist or atheist). But I’m not surprised it’s a common issue for many in our world.

  • Scott Morizot

    Mel, the question I posed is certainly not considered ‘hypothetical’ in patristic writings and it has never struck me as even vaguely hypothetical. It strikes right to the core of what we believe ‘salvation’ to be — what we believe God’s purpose for humanity has always been. And thus it’s a question that falls near the center of Christian faith.

  • Scott Morizot

    Exactly. I’ve seen more of that in the years since I’ve become more ‘Christian’ than I ever imagined I would — even from people who are dear to me. It breaks my heart.

    I’ve never viewed my children as ‘evil’ in any way. I instinctively reacted with utter revulsion to this idea when I encountered it. It makes me sad that some people really believe their children are ‘evil’ and consider that a Christian perspective.

  • Scott Morizot

    Mary, I specifically addressed some of the proof texts you mention that are pulled out of scripture in isolation to support the ‘total depravity’ perspective in my series on ‘original sin’ (which is a broader topic than total depravity) on my blog. You can assert that strange interpretation of the verses as much as you want. There’s nothing convincing in such assertions to anyone who doesn’t buy into that perspective — however convincing you find the interpretation you have accepted. In fact, the scriptural case for ‘total depravity’ is exceedingly weak.

  • Agnes

    I am not sure if I’ll be able to add very much here, everyone’s comments are so well said, but as a psychodynamically trained child therapist (Freudian – don’t hate me!), I believe that all people are born with the potential for both good and evil BEHAVIOUR. I don’t believe that we are ‘inherently’ either ‘good or bad’ and given the right (or wrong?) circumstances, I think we all have the potential to behave in both depraved and wonderful ways. That potential, to me, is what being born ‘sinful’ means. God is not capable of sinning – we are, so we need him. I’d even go as far as to say that I believe people who commit crimes are not inherently evil, although some of their deeds most certainly are. God created us as his priceless and precious treasures, regardless of our deeds and inner state, and if this were not so, why would he have loved us enough to die for us? HE thinks we’re worth dying for. He died for the criminals too.. our ‘goodness or badness’ is to me not as meaningful as God’s love.