When a rich man approached Jesus and addressed him as “Good Master,” Jesus replied to him, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” (Matthew 19: 17 and Mark 10: 18). Here was Jesus, the Son of God in a human body, stating that no one but God is good; as God, that would include him. But he recognized that the man who was questioning him didn’t really believe that, but was merely addressing him as he would address any other scholar or teacher. Jesus makes the point, there, that no person can be called good, in comparison to God, who alone is intrinsically good (sinless, moral, holy, righteous, and perfect).
Of course, we all like to think of ourselves as basically good. We like to think that people we know are basically good. And by “good” we mean that we generally abide by the laws of the land (except, possibly, the speed limits), that we try to help others and don’t willfully harm others. This is at best a goodness defined as being something or acting in some way that is “beneficial” to society. But it falls short of the goodness of God (as to His essential nature). After all, some societies consider it “good” to blow oneself up and to, thereby, murder innocent children, women, and men at the same time.
Ravi Zacharias, a well-known Christian apologist and writer, often uses an example to illustrate the point. He says that in some cultures they love their neighbors, and in other cultures they eat their neighbors. “Which do you prefer?” he asks, to push home the point. Of course, we would all prefer the former. But those who live in the latter (and do the eating) most likely see their behavior as “good,” in the sense of being socially acceptable.
Thus, in our definition of “good” people, even though we can act in ways that are beneficial to others or are socially acceptable, we must conclude that, compared to God, we have no essential nature of “goodness.” We can’t measure up to God’s standard. Why? Because all people are born with a tendency to do wrong (sin), as part of our human nature. This is often referred to as “original sin,” which means that it originates in the human “heart,” or nature. It is part of what makes us human.
In high school, I starred in our junior class play, The Diary of Anne Frank. It always troubled me to read her line that said, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.” It bothered me because I had learned about original sin. It bothered me because I knew the Jewish (Old Testament) scripture that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” --Jeremiah 17:9, KJV.
In a dialogue between Dennis Prager and Ravi Zacharias, hosted by Biola University and accessed online, Prager, a well-known Jewish scholar and political commentator, said, “The most foolish and dangerous belief a person can have is that people are basically good.” His statement is supported by Scripture from both the Old and the New Testaments.
All we have to do is to look around at the crime rate in our country and at the horrific things that happen here and abroad, such as the genocide occurring in many hot spots in the world; we have to conclude that mankind (as to the “heart” of the collective human race and of individuals in particular) is not getting “better,” but is, in fact, getting worse.
So, why should we even try to behave well, or, as my mother used to say, “Mind your Ps and Qs.” (I never could figure out what words the “p” and the “q” stood for. Any suggestions out there?)
First of all, it is a good thing to help others, not hurt them; to love others, not hate them; and to follow the general principles of moral values. There is a source, higher than any society, which can guide us in our definition of “good” and in what it takes to be a “good” person.
Jeremiah 9: 23, 24 says it this way: “The LORD says, ‘Let not the wise glory (boast) in their wisdom; let not the mighty glory (boast) in their might (strength); and let not the rich glory (boast) in their wealth. But let the ones who glory (boast) do so in this: that they understand and know me, that I Am the LORD, exercising kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth. For in these things (kindness, justice, and righteousness) I delight,’ says the LORD.”
Kindness involves helping people and not hurting them; justice involves being fair and equitable in our treatment of others; and righteousness means abiding by what God says is right and holy. That’s what it takes to be “good,” and we can’t produce that on our own, as human beings marred by the sin nature that makes us human.
However, if we accept the new life which comes by faith in Jesus Christ and acknowledge that we need the Spirit of God to enable us to be a good person, even though we still are prone to do wrong things upon occasion, we will be able to live a life that is “good” (a life of kindness, justice, and righteousness).
But we cannot define “good” in a subjective way. If we do, we find that what we call “bad” is called “good” by someone else. Thus, we end up running around on a hamster wheel.
However, I think that we can all agree about the things which happen that are “bad.” And, since bad things happen to both good and bad people, let’s just drop the adjective on “people” and reduce our question to this: Why do bad things happen?
The next blog will discuss the first type of “bad” thing.
P.S. You can go to Ravi Zacharias’ you tube page ( www.youtube.com/rzimmedia) to watch his related videos, including one that features him answering a question about subjective morality, also found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=0218GkAGbnU.
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