“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving;”
-1 Timothy 4:4
THE GOODNESS OF HUMANKIND
On a distant trip away from home, we went to church on a rainy Sunday. A new church we had never been to before. When we walked in it was wonderfully decorated, similar to other new age churches we had visited. The music was riveting and inspiring. The people friendly and open. It portrayed a community that cared for others and their neighbors. I was hopeful for a wonderful sermon that would provide insight and new thoughts.
It wasn’t to be. The sermon was about the total depravity of humankind. The pastor at one point to prove his case used his children as examples of this depravity. He said, “If you don’t believe me, take my three kids for the weekend and you will see.” A few giggles were heard, but my wife and myself raised our eyebrows. This wasn’t our experience raising four wonderful young women. We saw something different. We saw them grow into caring people desiring to be good. We saw them struggle at times with responsibility. We saw them at times do things they weren’t proud of. But always returning to the inner goodness that existed in their hearts.
The sermon was a stark contrast to what the people of the church demonstrated. The minister propelled by a common theological view had missed what surrounded him. The goodness of his flock.
I have heard this Augustinian view of the total depravity of humankind many times during my seven years at theological school. A predominate theory about humankind. One I never fully accepted. My classmates would at times declare I was a universalist. Many times, I would swim upstream against this strongly rooted current. While I do believe there is at times a sinful nature in humankind, I do not believe it is the predominate attribute. I have seen too much to fully accept the total depravity of humankind.
I see in my neighbors, family and quiet acquaintances the image of God. In the first book and first chapter of the Bible a wonderful statement exists:
So God created humankind[a] in his image,
in the image of God he created them;[b]
male and female he created them. (Genesis [1:27])
I have seen this many times in life. I have seen neighbors helping neighbors. I have seen homeless people give away their last dollar to help out a friend. I have seen the loving look of a mother at the birth of a child. I have seen parents trudge off to work every day to support their families. I have seen first responders drop everything to answer a call for help. I have seen people respond to calls for help during natural disasters. I have seen so much more.
Surely, I know evil exists. Surely I know we all can act depraved at times. I cannot explain why this happens. But I do know evil only has momentary gains. God and humankind will always rise up. Depravity exists, but it isn’t total. There is an ember of goodness that burns in all people. Some have been born into bad circumstances. Some have been pushed the wrong way in life. Some have never been heard. The essence of humanity is good, born with the inheritance of being made in the image of God.
In today’s verse, Timothy reminds us that what God creates is good. We all have the choice of what we see. We can live in darkness or thrive amongst the goodness that abounds. It is our choice.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Photo by Ian Baldwin