Today marks one month that I’ve been writing a daily blog post about whatever seemed to have happened each day. It’s been more than challenging, more than healthy, and I have really learned a lot about paying attention to my life. In the process, I have ruffled some people’s feathers, reconnected with old friends, written some things that are provocative, and have been pretty much pleased with how this has changed how I go about my day to day life.
Today, my friend Mandy posted a quote on Facebook from a recent blog I wrote, which you can read here. I was relaying an interaction I had had with a Sister at the Franciscan retreat center we stayed at last weekend, and I wrote, “St. Francis believed that the incarnation of Jesus in this world was always the plan, from the beginning of creation. That God had always planned to come and live with his good creation. When sin entered, we forgot how good we were and literally stooped down, unable to see the world and only focusing on ourselves. Jesus came to lift our heads and to remind us of how good we are.” Mandy was unfortunately bombarded with responses to this quote regarding the end of the quote, namely, that “Jesus came to lift our heads and remind us of how good we are.”
Are humans good, or evil? Does Jesus remind us of how good we are, or how evil we are and incapable of good?
I think these are important questions. There are two main ways of viewing humanity and creation. One way is to interpret all of life through the lens of Genesis 3: Through Adam and Eve’s sin, we, who were born after them, took on sin and death and evil. This seems to have plenty of biblical precedence, seeing as the story of Scripture seems at least 50% about human sinfulness, evil, and the need for a Savior to rid the world, and us, of sin, death, and evil. This Savior is Jesus, and the only ones who are no longer identified as evil are those who have trusted in Him as Savior. In this view, everyone who is not “saved” is mostly if not fully evil and incapable of good.
The other view is interpreted through the lens of Genesis 1: God created man and woman in His image, and He, after seeing man and woman, said humans are “very good”. In this view, all humans have the image of God in them, something good that is incapable of being destroyed completely by sin, death, and evil. From Genesis 3 onward, we forgot that we are all fellow image-bearers of God, and spend our time failing at bearing that image of God in the world. Jesus, the ultimate image of God in human form, came to redeem what God has put into all of us, namely His goodness and His image. In this way, Jesus became the ultimate example for all humans of what it looks like to be truly human, truly good.
I find it to be difficult to rationalize the first viewpoint, that all humans, as a result of sin, are no longer good. No longer capable of good outside of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through Jesus. Those that hold firm to this view often claim that no non-Christian can do anything truly good for anyone else. They say, that though someone’s actions may appear to be good, they are tainted by selfish motives and sin. They would claim that when my friend Joe acts out of love for his mother, his brother, his father, his friends, or his girlfriend, he is not being truly loving or good, because he has not been “cleansed” by Jesus’ blood.
In contrast, taking the same example, isn’t it possible that the very fact that Joe is able to act out of love for his family or his friends evidence that he is a fellow image-bearer of God? That there truly is something good in him trying desperately to express itself?
This is not to say that there is not evil in this world, or that sin doesn’t play a role in everyone’s daily existence. It would be ludicrous to make such a claim. We are all sinful, we have all fallen short of the “glory”, or full presence, of God on earth here and now. But, what if we, as followers of Jesus, the truest human example of God, chose instead to affirm the goodness that comes out in our friends as evidence that they also are image-bearers of God? What if we didn’t look only for evidence that our friends are sinful/evil, but for evidence that they have a spark of the divine in them?
I heard a woman the other day talking to her friend at the restaurant about how she wished there was a news outlet that was solely focused on reporting “good news”. She was tired of all of the bad news, all of the evidence that there is evil present and active in this world. She was thirsting for the media to report the evidence of the image of God in all of us. I think she is not alone.
What if we were to go about the hard work of sharing the good news of Jesus by pointing out the good in our friends, and calling them into a life that reflects fully that good image of God by trusting that Jesus can work in them to draw all of that goodness out in the best way possible? What if we didn’t focus on all of the areas that our friends are evil, sinful, depraved, whatever, but instead encouraged them to seek out the truly good way of Jesus and find that real life exists only in Him?