Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Are most people good at heart?

My answer to this question would tend to be "yes." At least for those who are truly Christians. I guess it's just difficult for me to believe that anyone who is a Christian would have intentions other than for good toward another Christian. Maybe that's why I tend to answer in this way.

Think about the mass atrocities associated with the tsunami: How many people from how many countries around the world have pledged and donated their support, both physically and monitarily? Millions! I'm not saying that everyone is like that, but it does show that people are naturally concerned about the human condition, no matter where the problem lies.

I also know that a number of religions stress service to others as a means of salvation, so maybe those people have alterior motives for helping people: they want their salvation even if they could care less about helping someone else.

Of course, there are some people who just have nasty attitudes in their dealings with others. There was one time at work (and I've only been there since Nov. 2) when I was figuring up how much a lady owed for her announcement, and she thought I was taking too long, so she took the paper away from me and did it herself. There was another lady who tried to manipulate me into placing her announcement onto a page that was already very tightly packed by saying a prayer over my counter! When she finished, she said, "Okay, now it's a done deal. It has to go in now!" I was wondering who made her capable of forcing the hand of God!

Regardless, I believe that these people had good intentions to begin with. The first lady was probably in a hurry, and I don't figure numbers very quickly in my head. The second one was under the (false) impression that if she picked up a form two weeks before she wanted to have her announcement run that she could come in on the day I was preparing to print the pages to negatives, and she could still get it on the page. I told her I didn't have room for it, and that's when she did her little "O Lordy" thing.

There was a discussion at our church last night about the difference between power and authority. Power often arises out of ignorance: people wanting something so badly that they'll stop at nothing to get it, even if it means mass murder (Hitler and the haulocaust, for example). Authority is earned, and put in place to keep peace and order. It has a system by which to enforce rules made for the greater good of a group of people. Power often despises authority.

Aparently, there was recently a famous football player who walked off the field at a time when his teammates could have really used his skill. Two seconds remained in the game and there was a slim possibility, but still a possibility, that his team could win. He had power, but he used it in the wrong way. He could have used it to help his team win the game, but he turned his back on them, despising his coach who had authority over him at the same time. (I didn't see this, myself, because I can't stand to watch most sporting events, especially football. I only watch the Superbowl for the commercials and performances during the breaks in action.)

Some people make it really difficult for me to defend my position. If you know anything about how vicious high school girls can be, even to adults, you'd know what I was talking about just that much better. (And I still get confused for a kid sometimes because I'm only 5 feet tall. It's only when I start talking that people realize I'm much older.)

So what do you think? Are most people good at heart? How do you respond to those who appear not to be? Do you show them what being a Christian means, or do you return evil for evil? I prefer to do the former. And don't ask "What would Jesus do?" because we're not Jesus, and we can't tell a non-fruit-bearing tree to shrivel up and die, or the lame to walk or the sick to be well or the demons to go out of a man and into a heard of wild pigs. Ask what you should do as a Christian. And most of all, pray for people, including yourself.


Bob Waters said...
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Bob Waters said...

Erica, I reacted at first to your question with a bit of shock both at the fact that you asked it, and at your answer. I really don't think this is just a question of terminology; I think you may have had the kind of mental hiccup I myself have at times. Anyway, I decided to rephrase my first reaction. Here goes:

Many people- Christian and non-Christian alike- have "good intentions." But as a good Lutheran like you should know, only One has ever been "good at heart."

Bonhoeffer points out that the farther we progress along the pathway to sanctification the more discouraged we become at the condition of our own hearts. Spiritually, the worst possible sign a person could exhibit would be to look at one's own heart, or at one's own behavior, and be happy with what one sees!

Nor do Christians assess their spiritual condition by what they do. We assess it by looking at Jesus. We live by forgiveness; we differ from those who are not Christians not in being in any sense "better," but only by living in constant awareness of our forgiveness. We live by grace, and Jesus is the only righteousness we have.

Also, a bit of advice: beware of the distinction between "true" Christians and other kinds! Pietism has done a great many people a lot of spiritual damage by that distinction. The moment we decide that there are "true" Christians and other kinds, there is always the mortal danger that we may decide that we are among the "true" ones. The moment we do that, we're implicitly thanking God that we are not as others are.

And the whole point of being a Christian, of course, is precisely that we *are* as others are- but that we can afford to admit it, because we know that, for Jesus' sake, we are forgiven. Through that knowledge- through the Gospel, not through the Law- the Holy Spirit leads us along the path of sanctification. But as Bonhoeffer observes, God is gracious enough to blind us to our own progress, lest we become proud and ruin it.

We can all stand to have our behavior- and the condition of our hearts- challenged by the Law. But not with any notion that any of us can pass the challenge-
or can this side of Heaven.

studentmarine said...


interesting post. I was just wondering how you marry your confessional Lutheran doctrine with your apparently not so confessional view of the human heart. We have clearly from scripture and from Luther that the human heart is totally dark without grace. And that even in grace, we still do not have "truly good intentions" that originate from within ourselves...

Secondly, the distinction between "true christians" and other christians is very dangerous. Pietism is a trap that will destroy Christian faith, because it leads to one of two things: hypocracy or apostacy. See, if you believe there are "true" Christians, as apposed to the rest of us, then you have to make qualitative judgements about people based on their works (Romish). But we know that all people are totally sinful, and so the only qualitative judgement we can honestly make is that we are totally sinful. If one knows this, but still believes in making such distinctions, eventually one will despair and apostacize; I've seen it happen.

The second possibilty, and most often occurring I might add, is to decieve oneself into believing that one is actually getting better, and that one is better than his brother. This is clearly against scripture and all of our confessions.

The truth is, that all of us are totally bad at heart. But in Christ, we are perfectly Holy. In the same way that he created the world by the power of His Word, so he cleanses us from sin, and makes us Holy. This He does by grace, without any merit or worthiness in us... You might check out "The Bondage of the Will" by Dr. Martin Luther for more information on this topic..

Mrs. T. Swede said...

Thank you both for those comments. I do agree with you. You've caused me to reconsider my position on this topic. Thank you.