Speaking as a pastor, goodness is much more fascinating than evil.
I know that evil gets more press, especially during this election season. Astonishingly, opinion pollsters are asking people which candidate is ‘evil.’
Though ‘theology by opinion poll’ may raise some eyebrows, calling out evil where we see it is important. Once that has been done however, evil loses what marginal fascination it ever held for me.
Because it’s basically flat. Moronic. Composed of a filthy braid of individual sins and systemic corruption, in the final analysis it has all the charm of flat soda pop.
Goodness is far more compelling. Contra popular misunderstandings of the Fall in Genesis 3, goodness did not flower into existence in the Garden of Eden only to be poisoned by the honeyed words of an apple-wielding snake. Instead it was there from the beginning – just like God.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food…’ God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Gen 1:31)
Long before the snake (literal or metaphorical) informed Eve that humankind had outgrown the Garden, God had pronounced humanity good. Good, but not innocent.
There is a difference.
There can be great danger in believing we were ever innocent. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite details the risks in her book, Dreaming of Eden:
“The greatest security threat we face in the world is from the rise of conservative religions that promise an escape to Eden or heaven or a version of paradise.”
Although conservative Christians dream of a Rapture while Islamic suicide bombers are promised a straight shot to paradise, the delusion is the same: We are innocent. They are not.
Truth is, we were never innocent. But we can be good.
As Dr. Thistlethwaite notes, “Real goodness is the cultivation of wisdom about the fact that people really aren’t innocent, and we have a lot of responsibility for our own problems.”
The way back to Eden is barred forever, but our fundamental goodness remains. Sometimes we just can’t see it – after all, humanity’s story is one of creation and destruction. It’s easy to believe destruction has gained the upper hand.
However, for every police officer who guns down a black boy, there is an officer who doesn’t shoot. For every abuser, there is a person who stops the cycle. For every person who chooses hate, there is a person who chooses love.
Every second of every minute of every day.
If you run our story all the way backwards what you are left with, is our goodness. Legacy and birthright both, goodness is woven into our DNA from the beginning.
This video illustrates how powerful that can be:
Long before the garden, there was goodness.
I think there still is, and I think there’s still time.