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Bible Answers: The debate between being ‘good’ and ‘bad’

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“Is man basically ’good’ or basically ‘bad’?”

The short answer is “yes!” However, I suggest that we change the terms. “Good” and “bad” are quite subjective in meaning, depending on the current usage in the culture. Scripture offers a bit more precise, and also more complex perspective.

First, biblically speaking, man is inherently valuable. He has intrinsic worth and dignity. Created in the “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26f), he is only “a little lower than the angels” (or “gods”, Ps. 8:4f). This is to say, God has good intentions for mankind. He sees humans differently from other creatures. He has given man a unique role in creation. He is the object of God’s love, affection, and redemptive work (Rom. 8:38-39). Humans are capable of making good decisions, doing great things, and acting with love and respect.

On the other hand, humans are inclined toward evil (Gen. 6:6; 8:21). This is obvious to any observer of history — humans tend to seek power, to manipulate others for selfish purposes, and to disregard the value of fellow persons. The Psalmist was convinced that humans, especially those who deny God and make themselves “god” instead, usually act in opposition to “good” (14:1-3). Jesus observed that evil intentions arise from within man (Mt. 15:19). Paul concurred — he described his own internal struggle (Rom. 7:14-24) and provided lengthy lists of works of “the flesh” (Gal. 5:16ff, et al.)

So, the answer is “both/and.” Man is of great, even infinite, worth, loved by God and capable of doing good. At his (our) core, however, is a self-centeredness that ultimately separates him (us) from God (Rom. 3:23). Jesus loved and reached out to all kinds of people knowing that the reason He came was to rescue a broken race from itself.