Several years ago I read an article in which the author made the statement that “every child [since Adam] has come into the world inclined to do not the right thing, but the wrong thing.” That statement earned a letter from a reader who said he believed that “if we were created in God’s image, then we must be born inherently good. As human beings, it is our lifelong mission to develop and express that goodness- as the old song says, to let that light within us shine.”
I certainly won’t dispute that it’s the lifelong mission of every human being to develop and express goodness. Paul said that God created us to do good works (see Ephesians 2:10). We are supposed to let our light shine!
However, I must disagree with the conclusion that every human being is born inherently good and all we have to do is develop and express that goodness. My first reason is practical. When I look at the world around me I see a lot of good, but I also see a horrible amount of evil. It’s everywhere! (In case you hadn’t heard, watch the nightly news.) This leads me to conclude that we humans are a combination of good and evil, and each of us has characteristics of both in our lives.
My second reason for disagreeing with the premise that developing the good within us will solve the problem of evil is that the Bible disagrees with it. Paul said that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; “there is no one righteous, not even one”; “all have turned away… there is no-one who does good” (Romans 3:23, 10, 12). Evil is a universal problem. We’re all infected with it.
It’s true that all human beings are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26, 27). However, that image has been marred. We don’t become sinners the first time we choose to disobey God or our parents. We’re sinners from the moment we’re born. We have depraved minds (see Romans 1:28). We’re “filled with every kind of wickedness” (verse 29). In fact, King David, in the Bible, said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Sin is built into our very nature. I have yet to see a parent who had to explain to his children how to do wrong. They already know.
Of course it’s the duty of parents to guide their children into doing good! And to a certain extent that goodness is built into each of us from birth. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s absolutely no goodness in any of us. However, the cure for the problem of the evil that resides within us isn’t simply to cultivate the good that also resides there, because evil is more powerful. Eventually, evil will win in the minds and hearts of those who fail to take the proper steps to counteract it.
So what are those “proper steps”?
According to the Bible, the problem of evil can be cured only by a transformation of the mind and heart. “Do not conform any longer to the [evil] pattern of this world,” Paul said, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Jesus spoke of this transformation as a “new birth.” He said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
It’s a spiritual thing. When Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, the incredulous Pharisee said, “You mean I have to enter the second time into my mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus said, “No, no, Nicodemus. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6).
This transformation makes no sense to those who’ve never experienced it. Paul said that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
So what happens to those who’ve experienced this transformation? Paul listed qualities such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and selfcontrol that will be seen in the life of a genuine Christian. He called these “fruits of the Spirit,” because they can be obtained only through the work of God’s Spirit on the heart (see Galatians 5:22, 23).
Parents need to cultivate every bit of the goodness that resides naturally in their children’s hearts. They also need to discipline their children lovingly and firmly in order to weed out, insofar as possible, the evil that also resides naturally in their hearts.
But they must understand that spiritual transformation is the only permanent solution to the problem of evil, both in parents’ own hearts and in the hearts of their children. Therefore, parents need to become personally acquainted with Jesus themselves, and they need to lead their children to know Him as their Saviour.
That’s the most important job a parent- and everyone else-has!