I was once taught that all stories have something in common: they have good guys and they have bad guys. To this day I question whether this statement is really true, but one thing I do know is that every Disney movie I grew up watching was consistent with this statement.
The film writers drew clear lines in the sand to show us which characters were good and which characters were evil. Cinderella was good; her step mother was evil. Snow White was good; the queen was evil. Aladdin was good; Jafar was evil. And to make it easier to delineate between the good and evil characters, the film writers adorned the good characters in bright colors and adorned the evil characters in dark colors.
Is real life like these children’s movies? Is it clear which people are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys? Or have we merely been living in a fantasy world for all these years, believing that real life is a mirror of Disney cartoon movies with clear distinctions between good guys and bad guys? Let’s take a deeper look.
What Makes a Person Evil?
On the whole, it seems we typically view humanity as being good. So when tragedies such as the recent Las Vegas shooting, 9/11, or the massacre of six million Jews occur, we instantly jump to placing the people responsible for these events in a separate category from the rest of humanity; we place them in a category called “evil.”
What is it about these people that make them evil? The commonality between all the people I mentioned above is that they are responsible for killing “innocent” people. In other words, the people who were killed did nothing to their killers which deserved being killed by their killers.
The people in Las Vegas didn’t personally do anything evil to the shooter. The people on the airplanes and in the World Trade Centers didn’t personally do anything to the people who hijacked the two airplanes that were flown into the buildings. The Jews who were killed in the Holocaust didn’t personally do anything to Adolf Hitler.
If this is the way we define evil, then we need to take another look at a few people throughout history who Americans commonly call “good.” Let’s take a look at Winston Churchill. Although rarely recorded in our history books, following World War 2, Winston Churchill deliberately starved six to seven million “innocent” people in India in what is known as the Indian Holocaust. Does this put Winston Churchill in the category of evil people?
How about Franklin D. Roosevelt? He was responsible for dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima which collectively killed upwards of 246,000 people, most of whom were “innocent” civilians. The residents of those two cities didn’t do anything to FDR to warrant death. Does this put FDR in the category of evil people?
Or how about our American ancestors who killed thousands upon thousands of “innocent” native Americans? The natives were here first and did absolutely nothing to European settlers to deserve being killed, enslaved, or evicted from their lands. Does this put our ancestors in the category of evil people?
If this is the way we define an evil person, then we have no choice but to place all these other people, people who we generally see as good people, into the evil category as well.
Are We Evil?
How about us? Are we evil as well? Most of us haven’t killed “innocent” people, so if this is the way we define evil, then we could place ourselves in the good category.
Many people will stop here in their evaluation of this topic. However, when I consider the practical implications of this conclusion, I find myself being far from satisfied with it. Some of these people who we’ve placed in the category of evil have done some really good things. Winston Churchill helped lead Great Britain through World War 2. FDR helped lead America out of the worst depression in its history. Our American ancestors blazed the trails so that we could have everything we have today. Even Adolf Hitler didn’t have any extramarital affairs, didn’t smoke, and only drank alcohol on occasion, all things which the people of that day would’ve considered good things.
I’m not satisfied with making the claim that these people are all evil and the rest of us are all good similar to the way Disney movies make distinctions between good and evil characters. I’m not even satisfied with claiming that these people are mostly evil and the rest of us are mostly good similar to the way our culture tends to categorize people. I think there’s a more realistic answer out there.
If you were to take a look at my résumé, you’d see that I’ve never killed “innocent” people. You’d see that I’ve never had an extramarital affair. You’d see that I’ve never had slaves working for me. But you’d see that I’ve made hateful comments about people. You’d see that I’ve lusted after other women in my heart. And you’d see that I’ve used positional power for my personal gain. Do these actions make me evil?
Answering this question requires us to determine what makes someone good. In our culture, we seem to, by default, place everyone in the good category until their actions are bad enough to place them in the evil category. So we start with a definition of evil and conclude that most people don’t meet that definition, leading us to place them in the good category. We define good as not doing evil things. But does simply abstaining from evil actions make someone good?
I realize some of you may not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but I believe there is substantial evidence proving that it is the Word of God. Therefore, I’m going to use the Bible to answer this question. According to the biblical writers, there’s not a single person who is good.
What do they mean by this? Do they mean that no one does good deeds? Not exactly. What they mean is that God is the standard of good and no one measures up to that standard. This standard isn’t a measure of our actions or even the motives behind our actions, but rather, it is a measure of what the biblical writers call our heart conditions. Do our hearts look like God’s heart? If the answer to this question is “yes,” then we are “good.” But if the answer to this question is “no,” then we are “evil.” This is the clear black and white line we can draw in the sand to separate good people from evil people.
When I look at my résumé, I don’t see as many bad actions as I see on Adolf Hitler’s résumé. Does that make me inherently any less evil than Adolf Hitler? Not at all because evil isn’t determined by my actions; it’s determined by my heart condition. Do you see my implicit claim? I’m claiming that my heart is inherently just as evil as Adolf Hitler’s heart.
Some of you may bulk at this claim and instead, claim that I’ve been thinking about this for so long that I’ve become delusional. I don’t merely think about this stuff in a vacuum apart from reality; I live reality every single day of my life. I personally know people who are mentally stable and sane who have done some pretty bad stuff. No, they haven’t been responsible for the death of six million Jews, but given the opportunity to have same amount of power as Adolf Hitler, they may have done something similar.
Furthermore, if I had the same power as Adolf Hitler, I may have done something similar. If I had the same life experiences as the Las Vegas shooter, I may have done the same thing as him. If I had the same life experiences as the 9/11 plane hijackers, I may have done the same thing as them. If I had the same life experiences as the Columbine high school shooters, I may have done the same thing as them.
I think our biggest error, Christians included, is that we’re holding onto an unrealistic view of our heart conditions. We think we’re born with good hearts which can become corrupted throughout our lives. But is this really true?
According to the biblical writers, we are born with evil hearts. This means every person who has ever lived has been born with an evil heart. Furthermore, it means that every child has an evil heart. My life observations are consistent with this claim.
We consider it bad for someone not to share something they have with someone else. Yet, I’ve never observed a child who willingly shared everything he or she had with other kids at all times. When two children get together, what normally happens is that they play nicely for a while, but then at some point, both of them want to play with the same toy at the exact same time and a fight ensues. Where did they learn this behavior? Did they learn it at daycare? Did they learn it from their parents? Or was it instinctive? It seems pretty instinctive to me.
I realize the Bible’s claims are not very popular and they’re certainly not going to make me popular among the masses. If they’re false, then I guess I’m just another one of those Bible teaching lunatics. But if the Bible is right, then it has some huge implications for how we live our lives.
What If It’s True?
If it’s true that our hearts are inherently evil, then we have a host of other questions to deal with. I don’t have time to go overly in depth into any of them, but I want to briefly address a few of them.
How do we fix the condition of our hearts? If you’re like me, then the way you’ll instinctively respond is to try to make yourself into a better person. Maybe if you can change some of your outward behaviors then your heart will change too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. We can discipline ourselves to behave just about any way we want, but we can’t discipline our way into changing our hearts. The only way our heart can change is if God changes it. If you want your heart to change, ask God to change your heart. As he is changing your heart, a change in your outward behaviors will naturally follow.
How do we love evil people? It’s easy to love people who are deserving of our love. But how do we love people who hurt us? Or for that matter, how do we love people when we believe they have evil hearts, even if we’ve never met them? We can love them because God first loved us. As I discussed in my article last week, God doesn’t love us because of something we did to earn his love; God loves us because he chooses to love us. We are inherently nothing more than worthless evil people, but God chooses to love us despite our extreme inadequacies. In the same way, we can love other people, not because they do anything to earn it, but because we choose to love them like God loves them.
How do we avoid getting depressed? Honestly, the thought that every person has an evil heart can be extremely depressing. Because this is what I believe, I can’t help but see every person I interact with, including myself, as having an inherently evil heart. Yet, I’m not depressed about it. How? Because my hope is in God rather than in humanity. The rest of the world has to overlook the daily reminders that evil exists in order to continue finding hope. But those of us who are disciples of Jesus don’t have to overlook evil in order to have hope in our God. First of all, he doesn’t have any evil in him, so we don’t have to overlook any deficiencies in order to hope in him. And second, he is in control of everything and everybody, meaning that he can still make good happen despite our evil hearts.
How do we avoid being paranoid that everyone is out to get us? If we believe everyone around us has evil hearts, then we may naturally draw the conclusion that they’re plotting ways to hurt us. Although some people might actually be plotting ways to hurt us, most of them aren’t. Most people are so focused on getting their own needs met that they don’t have time to try to get their needs met while they concurrently try to deprive you of your needs. Instead, I think most people are so singularly focused on getting their own needs met that they don’t even think or care about the effects their actions have on the people around them.
Furthermore, God seems to give this world what theologians call common grace. Common grace is what allows humanity to live at peace with one another (since peace is a fruit of the Spirit, it’s impossible to have it without God). I think tragedies such as the Las Vegas shooting, 9/11, and the Holocaust are a result of God not pouring out his common grace. But even in the midst of those events, God is still in control.
How can we trust other people? We can’t trust other people completely. Other people are going to hurt us over and over and over again, no matter how good of people they may seem to be. That’s part of being human. The only being in the entire universe who we can trust completely is God. But that doesn’t justify living in isolation of other people in order to avoid the pain that comes from someone breaking our trust. As disciples of Jesus, we are not only called, but desire to be in relationships with other humans. We’re called to be transparent in these relationships, even if we enter every relationship knowing we’re going to get hurt.
So what’s my conclusion? My conclusion is that answering this question isn’t as simple as placing most people in the good category and a few of history’s murderers in the evil category. Instead, all of us need to be placed in the evil category because none of us measure up to God’s standard of good. If this is the conclusion we draw, it doesn’t have to lead us into a depressed state, but rather, it can lead us into a place where we display much more grace and mercy towards other people because we realize we are no better than them.
Lastly, if you’re one of those people who likes to skip to the end to read my conclusions, I encourage you to go back and read the entire article to understand my logical reasoning for how I drew this conclusion. This is a very sensitive topic and I would hate for you to misunderstand what I’m saying simply because you only read one paragraph of this article.
 Gideon Polya, “Churchill’s Crimes from Indian Holocaust to Palestinian Genocide,” MWC News, January 23, 2009, accessed December 28, 2016, http://www.countercurrents.org/polya230109.htm.
 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3, Romans 3:10-12.
 …for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. – Genesis 8:21
 See Matthew 5:43-48.