To say the least, it was unusual for a Destroyer to be the flag ship of an admiral, but this was such a small group of ships that the Commodore chose the USS William V. Pratt. It was the ship I served on as a junior officer, and I was fortunate for the experience. I was a new Christian, and one night I found myself in a theological debate with the Commodore over the question: Is man basically good? The flag officer insisted that man was inherently wicked, but I held onto the belief that man was basically good. From my perspective, the cause of bad behavior was that people were hurt by life’s experiences which created a cycle of pain, but I contended that if a person was treated well and educated, they would grow beyond their experience and learn to respond in a better, healthier way.
The prevailing thought in 2020 American society holds the view I boldly debated with the Commodore. In that conversation so many years ago, neither one of us were able to sway the other person, yet I acknowledged he brought up a lot of good points that I had never considered. He was also a Christian with many years more experience than I had at that time, and I learned a lot from my conversations with him.
The reality is that men and women are all made in the Image of God. We were made for love and to do good things. We were created a little lower than the angels, but the Father’s plan has always been for us to become co-inheritors of His Kingdom. This is who we were made to be, but there is more to our reality. As Isaiah pointed out, all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. We were made for love and good deeds, but our hearts tend toward evil, and if our hearts tend toward evil, does that make us wicked?
No one likes to think of themselves as wicked, so Christians look to the New Testament writings and point to how we are “a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” We have been redeemed and remade… this is great news! So if our hearts are renewed, that means we no longer lean toward evil, right? Then why does Paul also write that he fails to the good he desires and instead does the evil he doesn’t want? Theologians have gone to great lengths to describe the difference between justification and sanctification, but it can quickly be summarized as this: we were made and re-made for good, but we aren’t there yet.
However, that does not mean that we are wicked. Yes, our tendency is to go astray, to please ourselves in all its myriad forms, to do only the good that we choose. We were made for good but choose to please ourselves instead. That is our old man fighting against the new man we’ve become. Yet for those who accept God’s grace and seek His presence, we are transformed from “glory to glory” while He works in us to live good and godly lives. We are changed as we spend time in His Presence, and we are empowered “to live and act according to His good pleasure.” Yet the wicked are those who commit the only unforgivable sin, the sin against the Spirit, which I believe is a continuous and intentional refusal to have a relationship with God beginning with an acceptance of His grace that acknowledges our selfish nature.
- We were made for good
- Our hearts tend toward evil
- Even after accepting Christ we continue to do bad things
- God changes us over time to live rightly
We were made for good but aren’t there yet, and the wicked who never accept God’s grace will never arrive.
A Practical Response
So what do we do with this information, and why does it even matter? As a follower of Christ, we need to acknowledge daily our need for Him, and as we walk with Him, He transforms us. We recognize the innate value of every person, and just as we receive the grace of God in our lives, we extend it to others. We build guardrails in our lives that anticipate everyone’s tendency toward selfishness while still looking for and cultivating the good that is in everyone. We even build guardrails in our own lives so that our eyes remain on “Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith”, just as we also build checks and balances into societal power structures to resist corruption.
If we build a system around false assumptions that system will fail, yet that is exactly what is happening worldwide. I had been taught that man is basically good and therefore as a new Christian, I had a hard time accepting what the Commodore tried to show me: I was made for good, but I wasn’t there yet.
The admiral shared an understanding of reality that greatly influenced the thinking of America’s founding fathers. They built a system of checks and balances to mitigate the risks of centralized power structures. They understood that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This system they envisioned, the great American experiment, was able to course correct over time to accomplish great things, including the abolition of slavery and the recognition of women’s rights. The system they designed was over time able to support the dream of Dr. Martin Luthor King, and I believe given the time and commitment, we could still see the full realization of that dream.
Everyone was created with certain “inalienable rights”. Even if a person refuses to accept the reality of God (or God I know Him to be), they are still created in His image and worthy of loving respect, kindness and consideration. The American system of government was established valuing the inherent worthiness of every individual while acknowledging the corruptibility of anyone.
Ironically, people are seeking to deconstruct our system of government as they seek to establish a global government, all with the underlying assumption that man is basically good. The deconstructionists say that we have evolved intellectually as a global society to the point where we can rise above the things that have held us back in the past. They say war is an evil that can be eliminated by getting rid of the things that cause it: e.g. - patriotism, borders and religion. But what would this world look like if the Allied nations had not gone to war against the Axis powers of WWII? Is it possible that the plurality of nations act as a natural deterrent to global totalitarianism?
And with respect to religion, what has happened historically when everyone is compelled to follow the same doctrine? When religious power structures are centralized, haven’t they also become corrupted and caused so many travesties? It’s not religion, but the corruption of religious power structures that should concern us! The answer is not to compel a secular religion that forbids all religious expression, but to encourage the open discourse among all belief systems. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another!”
There are many power structures: government, religion, financial, education, entertainment, etc. What happens to each of these as they become centralized? How many works of art have failed to be recognized because a centralized power structure has silenced innovative beauty in preference to pop art? How has knowledge been stunted because educational power systems have shut down healthy discourse?
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
We were made for good but aren’t there yet.
What guardrails need to be in place in our lives as individuals and within our society? “Pray for wisdom”, and do not doubt that God will grant it!
copyright ©2020 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)