The Hard Ask: Blaming evil on society

My friends think that people are fundamentally good and that society is to blame for evil. What can I say to them?

Before we think about the best way to answer this, let us see what the Bible has to say on this matter so that we can get our thinking in line with God’s.

  1. The problem is internal. The Lord Jesus says “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7: 20-23).
  2. A person’s sin and its punishment affect more than the person who has committed it. Exodus 20:4b says “… for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations for those who love me and keep my commandments”. If we wonder why this is so, it is because one of the ways God punishes sin is by letting people do as their sinful hearts desire (Rom 1:18-32). He allows them to continue in their evil deeds and this affects other people as well.
  3. People are made in the image of God as well as being sinful (Gen 1:26; Rom 3:10-18). In all of us is the capacity for great good and great wrong.
  4. To say that a person is sinful is not to say that everything they do, all the time, is evil. It is a statement about their relationship to God. They do not recognize God as their God. They are rebellious to God’s right to rule over them. This does affect our behaviour because, generally speaking, we replace God with ourselves and so want others to serve us.
  5. It is possible to be both good and religious and not be right with God, like the praying Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:9-14).
  6. People who have had clearer revelation of God will be judged with greater severity than those who have been shown less. Jesus proclaims woe and harsh judgement for cities that have seen miracles and not repented (Matt 11:20-24).
  7. We are responsible for the decisions we make. Ezekiel 18:1-4 makes this clear by declaring that “the soul who sins is the one who will die”.
  8. Only God can pass judgment. Given 2, 3 and 6 above, and the fact that God judges the secrets of our hearts as well as our actions, then judgement is God’s alone. The situation is too complex. God will know who is to blame and for what. Is this why the Apostle Paul will not even judge himself (1 Cor 4:1-5)?

How would I go about framing an answer?

  1. It is worth pointing out that all is not well in the world.
  2. I would want to ask, “If we are basically good, why do we organize ourselves (society) in ways that are evil?” People make society and its standards.
  3. Show them the statement of the Lord Jesus in Mark 7 (from point 1 above) and ask them if that is not true in their experience. Do they know evil in their own hearts? Ask them if they would like to read the rest of this Gospel.
  4. Make the distinction between being sinful and being totally evil (see 4 above).
  5. In the old debate about hereditary and environment (nurture versus nature), the Christian should assert that both affect us. We have inherited a sinful nature and we live in a sinful world. Both affect us.
  6. Don’t stop praying for them.

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