What is evil? Most people would agree that evil is inherent in the "seven deadly sins": pride, deceit, murder, scheming, malice, betrayal, and backbiting (Holy Bible 559; Prov. 6:16-19). It must be noted, however, that these sins, taken at their most basic stage, all narrow down to one trait: selfishness. Every sin is performed in order to either please one- self, protect oneself, or further oneself (Hume 206). The seeds of selfishness and self-interest are present in humans from birth; therefore the potential to do and be evil lies within the reach of every human being. Human nature itself must be evil in order for it to be capable of performing evil.
The Bible uses the term "heart" to describe human nature. In this paper, these words will be interchangeable. According to the Judeo-Christian viewpoint, human nature is base and wicked. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart as being "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked..." (Holy Bible 678; Jer. 17:9). In the gospel of Mark, Jesus states that "from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts,... wickedness,... pride, foolishness" (886; Mark 7:21-22). The bibli- cal stance is that humanity is naturally, lamentably evil.
According to an old platitude, "actions speak louder than words." This is essentially true in deter- mining human nature. Since the "heart" in question is not really the blood-pumping organ but a theoreti- cal, immaterial idea about the psyche of human- kind, it is difficult to factually prove anything about it. So the only observable traits of human nature are the actions and attitudes that human beings display.
What actions have humans displayed throughout history that reveal their hearts? While it is arguable that much good has been done on the earth and has, in a sense, pulled humanity back from the brink, much more evil has been committed. Wars and injustice have been a reality on this small planet for thousands of years. People have been hurt, maimed, and killed by others who only think of themselves (Aulson). A closer look at individuals shows that human nature is indeed wicked. The actions of peo- ple like Hitler, Stalin, and Nero show that something was fundamentally wrong in their hearts for them to be able to perform such actions.
A person with a good nature literally cannot perform evil deeds. Evil must be present in the
nature of humankind to allow them to commit atroc- ities. Does this mean that some people are evil and some good and that their natures are arbitrarily set by some jokester in the sky? No, everyone starts on equal footing. It is a long-held belief that "all men are created equal" and all women as well. What a human becomes depends on what he or she does with the materials at hand. It is up to a person to be responsible for his or her own actions and rise above the evil in him/herself.
Some people do, in fact, live responsibly and do not murder or steal or do anything that breaks the law, yet their evil nature is still present and at work in little ways. Real love, kindness, and selflessness do exist in the world and benefit many. However, most relationships are started to benefit the individualand not on the premise of doing good to the other person (Hume 207). These relationships can evolve into something true and meaningful, but in the beginning, humans look out for themselves.
Self-preservation is only a variation on the theme of selfishness and self-interest. Most people would not balk at committing a sin if it meant that it would save themselves, their family, or their posses- sions from trouble or harm. For example, someone will lie to keep themselves out of trouble. However, sometimes the self-preservation instinct is what drives a person to do good. Humans will obey the law if only to keep out of jail (206). The moral implications are, as it were, left to the philosophers.
The philosophers tend to argue back and forth if evil is ever present or brought on by circumstance (Brociner par. 10). Some people say that human nature is good, yet becomes corrupt because of "extenuating" circumstances. Then why is it that an infant thinks only of itself and its own comfort? Why is it that one of the first words out of a tod- dler's mouth is "Mine!"? Either a corrupting influ- ence has reached that child insanely quickly, or it is acting upon its natural instincts. No one has to teach a child to be hateful and mean. Nor do they need to be taught how to lie and manipulate. These things come naturally to them (Aulson). Children do, how- ever, have to be taught how to share and play nice.
Programs have been enacted to bring justice and fairness to society, but they have failed because of human failings. Every Utopian society, every social- ist dream has fallen short of perfection because they are all balanced precariously on the idea that hu- mans can live together in peace without any greed or discord erupting. This overly optimistic view of the altruism of human beings has sounded the death knell for many bright ideas for society. Leftists and socialists are starting to doubt if humans can do any- thing good (Brociner par. 12-15).
Humanity cannot by its own means cure itself of evil (Mitchell). Perhaps a few strong people can live justly and try to do good to all, but they cannot stop their natural instincts and they cannot help unintentional offenses. People try anonymous pro- grams and self-help classes, with little success (Aulson). Twelve-step programs have become a joke in society because people realize that humans cannot change themselves. Humans need to have their very natures changed before they can alter their behavior.
People try to reach the highest Good, or God, by themselves and fail miserably time and time again. "Religion is man's attempt to reach God" (Aulson), but ceremonial, empty religion is the result of their self-righteous, proud efforts. Humanity must realize that it is finite and incapable of reaching God. The evil in humans is what repels them from attaining the highest Good. God cannot allow evil in his presence, so every finite, grasping attempt to somehow earn goodness is a failure. So the prospect of changing human nature looks pretty bleak.
However, God would not really be good if He had not provided a means of redemption for the helpless human creature. Only God can change a person's nature because He is the only infinite being and the only One, ideally, who is totally good. What has God done to reach humanity? He has sent His Son to change human nature, to "take the stony heart out... and give... a heart of flesh" (Holy Bible734; Eze. 11:19). "Jesus is God's attempt to reach man" (Aulson). "The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God" (Lewis 50). God's plan was to have His Son take the place of humans in receiving punishment for their evil so they could join Him as beings with a good heart (Mitchell).
Someone might ask why Jesus is different from others since He was a man and therefore had the same nature as the rest of humanity. In Hebrew belief, the sinful nature of humanity was hereditarily passed down through the man. Jesus was virgin- born. In other words, this belief did not apply because He had no physical father (Mitchell). This does not mean that God "raped" a virgin. In a sense God is present in every conception and wears the "glove" of human history and human nature that is instilled into the new life. In the instance of Jesus's conception, God took off that glove and instilled His divine nature into the human fetus (Lewis 57-8). So Jesus was fully God and fully human and perfectly sinless (Mitchell). Who better then, to teach ever- failing humans how to attain perfection? He is the only human who has been able to get through life with all of its temptations without sinning once. Corrupt humans have already found it impossible to help each other or themselves. Only the incorrupt "God-man" (Mitchell) can replace a human being's nature.
Now, as followers of Christ will agree, this is an ongoing process, and not an instantaneous change (Aulson). Some things do change automatically, one of them being the viewpoint from which the redeemed person looks at life. Drug addicts have also reported an instant freedom from that bondage. However, the more subtle changes happen from day to day and require the creation to be open and mal- leable to the Creator. Decisions that the human makes day in and day out shape his or her new nature, whether it is Christ-like or like the old, self- ish nature.
Fortunately for humans, God will not rest until His creation is perfect. He requires the whole of a person, not just the bad parts, but the good parts also. He then takes the corrupted human nature and throws it away and starts to meticulously shape a new nature into something like Himself (Lewis 179). However long He takes depends on if the per- son is open and willing to change, but He is deter- mined to do it. What results is a freedom from rely- ing on self and a change from the evil nature of humanity to the divine nature of God.
Aulson, Peter. Pastor of Potter's House Christian Fellowship Center. Personal interview. 3 Nov. 2001.
Brociner, Ken. "Utopianism, human nature, and the left."Dissent 48.1 (Winter 2001): 89-92. [FirstSearch].
Holy Bible. New King James Version. 1979. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Hume, David. Hume's Ethical Writings. Ed. Alasdair Macintyre. Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1965.
Lewis, C. S. The Joyful Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1977.
Mitchell, Gary. Professor of Philosophy and Religion, personal interview. 21 Nov. 2001.
Selena Wolfe received her Associate’s of Liberal Arts from Clovis Community College [New Mexico] in May of 2002.