Are People Good? Or Bad? Yes!

“He chose poorly.”

In the Creation story of Genesis 1-3, humans enter life in the Garden of Eden, aka Paradise. Then, something happened.

Like all good stories, this story describes the scene, introduces the characters, sets the stage, and then, something happens that defines the rest of the story. The stage is the Garden of Eden, aka Paradise. The characters are the man and woman “created in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:27). Because they walk with their Creator “in the cool of the evening” (Gen 3:8), they have an intimate connection with him. The stage is set with the instruction to not eat of a particular tree in the Garden. And then, Something Happens. Being created in God’s likeness, they have free will. They are presented with a choice, and, as the Grail Knight observed to Indiana Jones about Walter Donovan, “He chose poorly”.

Subsequently, the ugly rejection that we call “sin” ended their intimate contact with God, thus losing supernatural goodness and obscuring their natural goodness. Note that we retain a natural capacity for goodness, such as altruism and kindness and humility that is obscured but not destroyed. That natural goodness is more visible in some and less so in others. Appearances can be deceiving; a dour and grumpy appearance may hide a generous soul and a pleasant and cheerful face may hide a manipulative, devious soul.

This natural goodness works fine for some and even many situations, but there are those impossible tasks that we must perform, those unbearable burdens that need to be borne, the most unlovable who need to be loved. In those cases, we need the supernatural gift called “grace” that goes beyond the natural, to be able to forgive those unforgivable offenses, to tackle the impossible tasks, to shoulder the unbearable burden, to love the most unlovable. Our natural goodness is indeed good, but it is easily overwhelmed and needs the divine assistance of grace.

Are humans good? Yes. Are humans bad? Yes. The Genesis account suggests that the goodness is more fundamental to our creation and that the bad came later. While we can “get by” with a natural goodness, we are destined for so much more. It takes a deeply humbled spirit to embrace the supernatural goodness that is needed for our fullest flourishing.

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I am a retired family physician from rural Iowa and have an MA in Theology from Franciscan University at Stubenville, OH. While my native language is evangelical Protestant, I am fluent in traditional Catholic as well.

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