One thing at which the world excels these days is virtue signaling and in general decrying anything we believe is evil and wrong. And some of us see evil and wrongdoing everywhere.
Because this practice is currently white hot, it’s a given that whenever I talk to a non-Christian about our faith, they’ll bring up the problem of evil as a reason why they don’t believe in God. After some back and forth, the discussion reaches this point:
Me: So, you’re saying that if God exists He should rid the world of evil?
Me: What if He starts with you?
It’s my observation that while people see evil everywhere and in nearly everyone (else), they usually don’t see it in themselves. In some ways I can’t blame them because secular psychology and society in general do a great job of convincing them any wrong they do is not their fault and there’s really nothing bad inside the man or woman in the mirror.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
What’s to blame?
The famed psychologist Abraham Maslow once stated: “As far as I know we just don't have any intrinsic instincts for evil.” Agreeing with him is Carl Rogers who asserted, “I do not find that…evil is inherent in human nature.”
But if evil isn’t part of our basic character, then how do we account for all the moral evil we see? The 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau who heavily influenced the French Revolution and birth of the Leftist movement said that each human being is born an ‘innocent savage’ but is then corrupted by society. Society and not people, said, Rousseau is responsible for evil.
Amazingly, the fact that societies are composed of people escaped Rousseau’s reasoning.
Others postulate that evil is a sickness, a mental abnormality that is a malfunction in the brain, which leads to bad behavior. There’s little question that a healthy amount of mental illness exists today and that such disorders can result in evil acts. For example, in her book My Life Among the Serial Killers, Dr. Helen Morrison says this of the murderers with which she has dealt: "He is a serial killer when he is a fetus, even as soon as sperm meets egg to create the genes of a new person.”
Is this always the case? No. For instance, when Morrison was asked to examine the famous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, she admitted after her autopsy that Gacy’s brain was perfectly normal – no defects, no abnormalities, no excuses.
The same was true of Adolf Eichmann, the German Nazi officer who was one of the primary instigators, organizers, and executioners of the Holocaust. Of Eichmann, Thomas Merton wrote, “One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. . . . And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.”
Some mental health professionals recognize this and arrive at a conclusion that is the opposite of Maslow and Rogers. In his book, People of the Lie, The Hope for Healing Human Evil, the well-known psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says: “That children generally lie and steal and cheat is routinely observable. The fact that sometimes they grow up to become truly honest adults is what seems the more remarkable. Laziness is more the rule than diligence. If we seriously think about it, it probably makes more sense to assume this is a naturally evil world that has somehow been mysteriously ‘contaminated’ by goodness, rather than the other way around.”
Peck’s comment is not only an insightful observation, it also just happens to be biblically spot on.
Who’s to blame?
Peck’s position on human nature was shared by theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer who called it “man’s dilemma” – the fact that we can perform acts of kindness on one hand and yet also be responsible for terrible atrocities on the other.
Mary Shelley (who was not a Christian) answers this problem in her novel Frankenstein. At one point in the book, the monster confronts doctor Frankenstein and tells him that when he was brought into the world, he didn’t understand why people needed government and the police, but as he observed people and read history, he turned away in horror at what man was capable of. People could be kind, but also evil. The creation tells the doctor that the conclusion it has come to is, ‘you were created in the image of a perfect being, and you’ve fallen away from it.’
The Bible says exactly that about our nature. Created perfectly in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), humanity sinned and then began replicating themselves in their own fallen image (Gen. 5:3). Other verses in Scripture underline this fact:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
“The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecc. 9:3).
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22).
Jesus Himself explicitly pronounced humankind evil when He said, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:9-11, emphasis mine).
Jesus’ statement on the universality of sin may be why theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked, “The doctrine of original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.”
I’m to Blame
Many years ago, a newspaper sent out an inquiry to famous authors, asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” G. K. Chesterton was one of the writers surveyed and his now famous and simple response was:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
Chesterton had the courage and humility to acknowledge that it’s the evil we don’t ever talk about – the kind that’s in each one of us – which is at the root of humanity’s woes. This is why the cure Jesus provides for every person is to be born again (John 3). And what is the clear implication of His command? That we must have not been born right the first time.
This is why an honest assessment of our own inclination towards evil plus a pursuit of personal holiness is something that should be front-and-center for all of us each and every day.
So, if you ever find yourself raging against the supposed evil of another and wishing that God would remove all evil from the world, please remember to check yourself by asking: What if He starts with me?
Robin Schumacher is a software executive and Christian apologist who has written many apologetic articles, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at various apologetic events. He holds a Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament.