We live in an age of conflict, division, suspicion and cynicism. We have trained ourselves to assume the worst of others. And the result of this inherent assumption is that we have stalled out forward progress on important issues of justice, philanthropy, and even Christian mission. So I think it’s time for people, and especially Christians, to recapture a sense of wonder for the goodness of humanity. We need to start focusing on the beauty within people who are created in God’s image.
Yes, people are sinful and broken. We’re imperfect and we fall short. But we’re also brimming with potential for generosity, virtue, and selfless service. We’re walking contradictions.
Christians have often been reticent to embrace the idea that humanity possesses intrinsic goodness, because of our dedication to the gospel message of grace. After all, how will people know that they need grace unless we convincingly tell them how bad they are?
However, I don’t think we need to become theologically lax or foolishly naive in order to cultivate a positive mindset about our fellow humans. And we actually stand to gain a lot.
Here are 3 compelling reasons for Christians to start focusing more on the goodness of humanity.
1. It’s where our story begins and ends.
From the first pages of scripture, we’re told about the goodness of humanity. In fact, it’s our defining feature.
In the creation account, God refers to everything he creates as good. And when he creates humanity, which is the capstone of his creative work, he refers to man and woman as very good—created in God’s own image to be the crown jewel of all creation.
What’s more is that when we look at the final pages of scripture, what we see is the goodness of humanity completely restored. Every tear is wiped away. Injustice and violence cease to exist. Humanity is completely restored in relationship with God as we eternally glorify Jesus together. Humanity’s ultimate destiny is to experience the very goodness for which we were created at the beginning of the story.
As we look at all the pages in between God’s original and ultimate vision for humanity, we learn that it’s a long and winding road to get there. Sin and violence have become an indelible part of the human experience, as has our disconnection from God. It’s only in the person of Jesus that we can find redemption and restoration.
But the story of the bible isn’t centered on the wickedness of humanity. The story of the bible is that God created us as good beings who were meant to live in everlasting union with him. And though we fell into a state of rebellion and wickedness, he still loved us enough to send his Son to become one of us, die for us, and invite us into the power of his resurrection. The story of the bible is how God is providing a way for us to step into the goodness of humanity that we were always created for.The story of the bible isn't centered on the wickedness of humanity. The story of the bible is that God created us as good beings who were meant to live in everlasting union with him. Click To Tweet
2. It makes our message more compelling to nonbelievers.
When you tell a nonbeliever that they’re a wretched sinner in desperate need of a Savior, it’s jarring. And while it’s true, it’s not the only thing that’s true about them.
In evangelical circles, we’re incredibly focused on one doctrine known as total depravity, which teaches us that there is no part of us that hasn’t been corrupted by sin. Paul says in Romans 7:18 that he knows “that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
Total depravity became an emphasis for theologians during the Reformation. At the time, many Christians thought that they could earn their way to heaven through almsgiving and good works. So key to the reformer’s message was the idea that earning your way to heaven wasn’t possible. You could never be good enough.
But for as necessary as it was to correct the error of its time, when total depravity becomes our totalizing conception of what it means to be human, we miss much of God’s own vision for humanity. And even nonbelievers sense that.
When we look at advancements of medicine, the pursuit of justice, and the general betterment of society, many of those efforts are led by people who don’t even believe in God. So it can hardly be said that there’s nothing good about fallen humanity apart from Jesus. We aspire to great virtue.
The problem is that we’re never able to get there. We’ve never fully attained the ideals we strive for. And we never could. In the second part of Romans 7:18, Paul says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
But in Jesus, not only can our sins be forgiven, but we can also begin to step closer to truth, justice, and virtue—with the hope that we will eventually get there by God’s grace and his redeeming power.
That’s a story that nonbelievers will more likely find compelling, because they see its truth in their own hearts.In Jesus, not only can our sins be forgiven, but we can also begin to step closer to truth, justice, and virtue--with the hope that we will eventually get there by God's grace and his redeeming power. Click To Tweet
3. Because of Jesus, all the good work we do in this life is eternally meaningful.
In many parts of the Church, we tend to present the gospel as a sort of “hand stamp for heaven.” We think of salvation as something for when we die—kind of like fire insurance.
We also emphasize the fact that this world won’t last forever, it’s not our home, and we’re just passing through. Since humanity is totally depraved, this world will never get any better, and it’s all going to be burned away at the second coming.
As a result, we don’t often see how God wants to work through us to bring large scale redemption in the here and now. So long as we have our faith in Jesus and our daily quiet time, we’re prepared for what’s to come.
But Paul presents an entirely different perspective when he looks to the eternal future. Instead of turning inward as we wait for what comes after we die, we’re called to be mobilized.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
(1 Corinthians 15:58)
As we look through the generations, we see periods of time where things get better. Then they get worse in the next generation, only to get better again. Sometimes one aspect of society is morally taking one step forward while other aspects are taking two steps back.
But the promise of God is this. If you’re a part of moving goodness forward in your own generation, your efforts are never wasted. Even if the generation that comes after you seeks to undo what you did, your good work has echoed into eternity.
You just need the belief that God has the ability to work through human hearts in the here and now.If you're part of moving goodness forward in your own generation, your efforts are never wasted. Click To Tweet
We become the stories we tell about ourselves.
No one should be more Team Human than the Church. And while we often say that we browbeat humanity out of love, it doesn’t necessarily always come across that way. Perhaps it would be more effective to, as Abraham Lincoln put it, appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”
I’m not saying we should deny or minimize humanity’s propensity for sin and wickedness. But maybe we could afford to be a little less cynical. To see what we were always meant to be, and to draw others to that vision. Not by our own efforts, but by the grace that Jesus has given us, and the power of redemption it has granted.
OTHER RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT
If you enjoyed this article, these books might be useful resources to you.
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- On the Human Condition by Saint Basil the Great
- God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation by Nonna Verna Harrison