The Bible’s Viewpoint
What Makes Us Good or Evil?
THE pages of history are filled with accounts of hatred and bloodshed. Yet, from the ruins of tragedy often arise extraordinary acts of human kindness and self-sacrifice. Why does one person become a cold-blooded killer and another become a warmhearted humanitarian? Why do animalistic traits sometimes surface in human behavior?
Imperfection and Conscience
The Bible frankly states: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21, Revised Standard) Thus, children are bent toward mischief. (Proverbs 22:15) From birth, all of us are inclined to do wrong. (Psalm 51:5) To do good requires effort, like rowing upstream against the current.
Nevertheless, we are also endowed with a conscience. This inborn sense of right and wrong influences most of us to act within the bounds of human decency. For this reason, even those with no moral training may be known for their benevolence. (Romans 2:14, 15) However, as noted above, our inclination toward wrongdoing can cause a conflict to arise within us. What else may influence us in our struggle between good and evil?
The chameleon changes color to match its environment. Similarly, those who make criminals their companions are more likely to adopt criminal characteristics. The Bible warns: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.” (Exodus 23:2) On the other hand, frequent association with those who are honest, just, and morally upright promotes the doing of good.—Proverbs 13:20.
However, we cannot consider ourselves safe from the influence of evil just because we do not personally associate with those who are involved in wrongdoing. Because of our imperfection, evil may lurk in the recesses of our mind, waiting for an opportunity to assert itself. (Genesis 4:7) Furthermore, evil may reach into our home through the media. Video games, television programs, and movies often glorify violence and acts of vengeance. Even regular doses of world or local news may desensitize us to the evils of human suffering and anguish.
What is the root cause of this tainted environment? The Bible answers: “The whole world is in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19, RS) This “evil one,” Satan the Devil, is exposed in the Scriptures as a liar and a manslayer. (John 8:44) He propagates evil through the influence of his world.
With all these factors shaping our attitudes and actions, some may reason that they are not to blame for their evil acts. What, though, is the reality? Just as a steering wheel controls the direction of a car and a rudder controls the direction of a ship, the mind controls the body.
Good or Evil—The Choice Is Yours
Every deliberate act, good or evil, is preceded by a thought. Sowing positive and virtuous thoughts reaps good fruitage. Conversely, if seeds of selfish desire are allowed to germinate in the mind, a bumper crop of evil is likely to result. (Luke 6:43-45; James 1:14, 15) Thus, it could be said that man is as good or as evil as he chooses to be.
Happily, the Bible indicates that goodness can be learned. (Isaiah 1:16, 17) Love is the compelling force to do what is good, since “love does not work evil to one’s neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) When we cultivate love for people, it is unthinkable for us to act in an evil way toward anyone.
That is what Ray, from Pennsylvania, U.S.A., learned. Taught to fight at an early age, he quickly earned the nickname Punch. He also struggled with a quick temper. With the application of Bible principles, however, he gradually made changes. But this was not always easy. At times, he felt the way the Bible writer Paul did: “When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me.” (Romans 7:21) Now, after years of determined effort, Ray is able to ‘conquer the evil with the good.’—Romans 12:21.
Why is it worth the effort to “walk in the way of good people”? (Proverbs 2:20-22) Because good will ultimately triumph over evil. The Bible states: “Evildoers themselves will be cut off . . . Just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more . . . But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:9-11) God will remove all traces of evil. What a glorious future awaits those who work diligently to practice good!
HAVE YOU WONDERED?
● Who is responsible for our actions?—James 1:14.
● Is it possible to change our course?—Isaiah 1:16, 17.
[Pictures on page 21]
Man is as good or as evil as he chooses to be