Just over a century ago the Wright brothers got the first airplane off the ground. Could they have ever imagined that someday men would stand on the moon?
Medical science has made enormous strides in dealing with human diseases and injuries. In economically advanced nations we take for granted the automobile, television, electricity, air travel and computers.
In spite of all this scientific wonder, the last century witnessed the evil of Auschwitz, communist totalitarianism, the rise of terrorism in the name of religion and the use of technology as a tool of despotism.
Christianity rightly claims that each person has value and is a special creation of the Creator. Then why do people commit heinous crimes? Did God create people evil?
Over the millennia many thinking people have struggled with this dilemma. There's a wonder and beauty to human life, but there is also a terrible evil that plagues mankind.
When we look at what makes us different from animals, the gulf is enormous. Prairie dogs burrow, human beings construct skyscrapers. Sparrows chirp simple musical notes, human beings compose symphonies. Horses learn to answer what is two plus two by pounding a hoof four times, human beings calculate the distance between galaxies in light years.
At the same time, prairie dogs, sparrows and horses don't manufacture nerve gas and use it to murder their own kind. The irony is that our uniqueness of consciousness, creativity and ability to think in abstracts are the same abilities that give us the capability for unimaginable evil.
Did God plan to make people evil?
The biblical account of creation shows that the first human beings originally displayed no evil thoughts or actions. They lived in harmony with their Creator and with each other.
The Bible reveals that human beings were made in the image and likeness of God. This is why we have the ability to love, to reason and to feel and express complex emotions.
God also gave us something else. Along with reasoning—and the capacity to look at facts and come to conclusions—comes the power to choose. We make hundreds of reasoned choices each day. We decide what to wear and pick what we'll have for lunch. We determine which projects get priority. We also choose which thoughts we'll consider and which ones we'll discard, how we'll deal with our emotions and what actions we'll take in treating others.
In this way human beings have the capacity to choose between good and evil. We can choose to control our anger or we can choose to burn down our neighbor's house in revenge. The issue of choice is a complex human activity, but freedom of choice explains why human beings can be both good and evil.
Why would anyone choose evil?
We are born with a few inherent instincts. One is self-preservation. If we didn't have a will to survive, the entire race would've died off millennia ago. We also want to avoid unpleasant experiences. No one wants to feel physical pain or the discomfort of being cold or hungry. No one wants to feel emotionally rejected or made to feel worthless by others. We also want to feel good. We desire to please our five senses.
The instinct for self-preservation, need for food and shelter, and desire to please the senses aren't evil. But how we choose to fulfill those desires can be good or evil.
It really comes down to how much we're motivated by selfishness. It's hard to accept that all the evil in the world comes down to something so simple. Selfishness is the root of evil.
Because of the intensity of our instinct for self-preservation and our desire for fulfillment of the senses, each person tends to see himself or herself as the center of the universe. Yet the more a person is motivated by unbridled selfishness, the more hurtful his or her choices will be.
It's easy to see evil in people like Saddam Hussein, who on a national scale exerted selfishness on others through force and violence. It's much more difficult to come to grips with the selfishness that lies within each of us.
The more we focus on our selfish desires, the less we are able to recognize or understand our own faults and to experience concern for the welfare of others. The more a person is controlled by selfishness, the more that person shifts responsibility for his or her actions to others.
The introduction of evil
In our supposedly enlightened society we've relegated Satan to the status of myth. According to the Bible, however, Satan the devil most assuredly is a real being. He is a created angel who rebelled against God and became His—and mankind's—adversary.
When Satan chose to reject God, his character became the opposite of the Creator's. Where God's focus is love and peace, Satan's is hate and violence. Where God is outward in His concern for others, the devil is inward and selfish in every thought and action.
In the Genesis account, Satan tempts Eve with the forbidden fruit. Genesis 3:6 says that Eve "saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise . . ." Eve was motivated by three human drives that have the capacity to produce evil.
She was motivated by the fact that the fruit was "good for food"—appealing to her need for self-preservation. It "was pleasant to the eyes"—pleasing to the senses. And it was "desirable to make one wise." Human beings are designed with a wonderful sense of curiosity—a desire to know and acquire understanding.
Eve knew God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of this particular tree. Satan lied and told her that God was holding back something good. Her natural, morally neutral tendencies were now twisted into selfishness. Eve now wanted to satisfy her self-centered need for pleasure and intellectual superiority. Adam was motivated by the same selfishness. Once they disobeyed God, they immediately began to experience life on Satan's level.
Their human nature became a mixture of good and evil. The evil in them, and in all of us, is a reflection of the devil's evil nature and is the opposite of what God intended for us.
Biblical clarification of human nature
The apostle John, writing near the end of the first century, writes about three human motivations—"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). John sees the evil in human beings as rooted in the motivations of self-preservation, fulfillment of the five senses and this need to feel superior to others. This is just another way of stating Eve's motivations as recorded in Genesis.
We find another revealing passage in chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. There he describes Satan as "the prince of the power of the air" (verse 2).
Paul recognized Satan's ability to "broadcast" attitudes of anger, hatred, greed and lust—influencing human beings with all the negative, destructive aspects of his nature. Human minds are like radios that are tuned into his thoughts and emotions. Satan appeals to our desire for self-preservation and self-fulfillment, and every person takes on some of his nature.
Can a person change?
Much of human history is bleak. Sadly, all too often it is a chronicle of man's inhumanity to man, war, crime, racism and waste of human life.
Many people spend their lives making money and never have enough. Others have countless sexual encounters only to end up feeling empty and dying from a sexually transmitted disease. The world is dotted with grand cathedrals and megachurches where people go to be entertained and feel good about themselves, but their nature of lust and greed stays the same. Unless human nature is changed, religion is nothing more than a show.
People can undergo behavioral modification, but changing their essential nature requires an added spiritual dimension. Only God can change the core of our being. The central message of Jesus Christ is that wayward human beings can be forgiven of their sins and can have their nature changed.
The apostle Paul writes to members of the Church in Ephesians 2:1-3: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."
Paul says that these Christians were going through a dramatic change of life and were no longer "by nature children of wrath." In verse 10 Paul explains that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Human beings are the only physical creatures still unfinished. Dogs are dogs. Birds are birds. They are complete creations that can only adapt to a new environment in limited ways. On the other hand, human beings are searching for meaning. We can and do grow emotionally, mentally and socially.
One of the most incredible concepts revealed in the Bible is that salvation is creation. Although it is the foundational first step in our salvation, the Messiah didn't come to earth just to die for the forgiveness of sins. God's forgiveness opens the door for human beings to have a relationship with their Creator and begin the growth process to become what God intended us to be.
The world of violence, poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, drive-by shootings and broken marriages isn't the world God created for us. We've done this to ourselves, with Satan's help. It will never get better until each of us is willing to recognize the evil of our own selfishness.
Remember that self-preservation, desire to fulfill the senses and curiosity to acquire knowledge aren't evil. But these aspects of our nature have been twisted into self-centeredness. The driving force in so much of what people say and do is in the pursuit of things, feeling good and claiming superiority to others.
What we're missing
The great irony is that selfishness is amazingly self-destructive. The more we obsess on satisfying self through possessions, status, sex or any other purely physical means, the more unsatisfied we become. Human beings can never experience real happiness without dealing with the spiritual side of our nature.
Once Satan awakens selfishness in us, we are unable to fully control our own desires and emotions. We need help from outside ourselves. We can never come into a close relationship with the Creator until we recognize our moral helplessness.
There's a fascinating passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where the apostle Paul writes about the uniqueness of the human spirit. Today we would call this spirit the mind, which is the capacity for conscious thought and emotions. Paul then makes a remarkable statement in verse 11: "For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God."
God wants to transform our corrupted nature into divine nature. When we repent and sincerely want to change, God takes a "piece" of Himself, His Spirit—His unselfish nature, His mind, His pure love—and places that inside our minds to change how we think and feel.
Baptism symbolizes major change
It is a travesty that in so much of Christianity today baptism has become an unimportant and often-ignored doctrine. Yet Jesus clearly commanded His followers to be baptized as a symbol of God's washing away of their sins. Paul also explained that baptism represented putting to death the old man and being raised to a new life, empowered to become like Christ through the help of God's Spirit (Romans 6, 8).
Another New Testament symbol that has been all but forgotten is the laying on of hands. In the early Church a person was baptized and then the elders of the Church laid hands on him or her so that through them God would then place His Holy Spirit within the newly baptized persons (Acts 8:17). The New Testament is filled with instructions about how a Spirit-led Christian then becomes a "new man" (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
Many people profess Christ, but afterwards remain the same person. The "come to Jesus just as you are" message may have appeal, but if a person truly accepts Christ then he knows he must make changes to become a "new man." Corrupted human nature is unfit to spend eternity in God's Kingdom. This physical life is the preparation ground for eternity.
All of us experience good and evil, and in the process we become a mixture of good and evil. We can be saved from the evil only by what God is doing through Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for our sins and as the model for our character. We Christians struggle with selfishness as long as we possess elements of human nature, but if we submit to God's creative process then we can literally be His children forever in His Kingdom.
The hardest thing to admit
The notorious gangster Al Capone once said: "I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man."
People who are totally controlled by their own selfishness don't realize that their actions are morally wrong. They believe they deserve to please their senses no matter what the cost is to others. The reality is that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
But God didn't create the evil world we live in. Nor did He create the devil, the unrealized and unseen evil influence that affects us all. God is the only solution to our problems. The sickness of selfishness lies within mankind and can only be solved through a miraculous change in human nature.
But that change can begin with you! If you're tired of the struggle for meaning and purpose, then it's time you asked God to start His creative process of salvation within you.
Jesus Christ promised His disciples that He was leaving to prepare a place for them, but that He would return to establish His Father's Kingdom on earth. This is a call to those who wish to be citizens of that Kingdom. God wants you to be His child. Are you willing to come to Him as your Father? GN