Amid the post-election political warfare in America, Al Gore implored both parties “to do their part to lift up this discourse, to refrain from using inflammatory language, and to avoid statements that could make it harder for our country to come together once the counting is over. That is the direction I have given to my own campaign,” he said.
That, however, was patently untrue. Just days before the election, realizing he was slipping in the polls, Mr. Gore told a black audience in Memphis that the 2000 election was a contest between good and evil. “Deep within us,” he said, “we each have the capacity for good and evil. I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome. I feel it coming.”
He was taught that, no doubt, in church. Romans 12:21 says, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Certainly, we should overcome evil with good. But to imply that he is good while George W. Bush is evil—isn’t that a bit extreme? At the very least, it’s inflammatory language.
Later, that same day of campaigning, Gore warned another gathering of black Americans: “When my opponent, Governor Bush, says he’ll appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written—how some people [slaves] were considered three fifths of a human being.” He was implying that a vote for Bush would foster racial prejudice and signal approval of slavery.
The following day, the sister of James Byrd accompanied Gore at an outdoor rally in Philadelphia. As Gore stood by, she described the gruesome details of her brother’s murder in Texas at the hands of three white men and then said, “We have a governor of Texas who doesn’t think that’s a hate crime.” (Two of the three murderers have been sentenced to death, by the way.)
All of these statements constitute extreme, inflammatory language. They point to how desperate Mr. Gore was to win. He was willing to say anything to get elected. In the weeks that followed the election, he proved willing to do anything for a victory. He even pretended to be a peacemaker, telling the media that his campaign was morally above the bitter political rhetoric. In other words, his campaign was good. The other side—evil.
Respectfully, Al Gore is not a credible source to turn to for a proper explanation of good and evil.
The Bible is.
Judging by Fruits
Jesus Christ repeatedly taught His followers to judge by fruits (Matt. 7:16-20). A good tree produces good fruit, He said, and a corrupt tree produces evil fruit.
The Pharisees of Jesus’s day fancied themselves to be righteous. On the outside, they certainly seemed that way. They went to church regularly, prayed and fasted publicly, recited Scripture and always seemed to be the law’s staunchest defenders.
But Christ condemned their religion as rank hypocrisy. He branded their interpretation of good and evil as heretical.
Notice Matthew 12:33: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” In the next verse, addressing the Pharisees, Jesus said, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Now here, like Mr. Gore, Jesus labeled a particular group evil. But because He was without sin, we have no reason to doubt Christ concerning His explanation for good and evil. Christ labeled the Pharisees as such because they viewed themselves as righteous, but their words were evil! Jesus said you can tell a lot by a man’s words. If he has an evil heart, it will eventually make itself known verbally.
The Heart of Man
What about the heart of man, in general? Vice President Gore says we each have the capacity for good and evil—and that’s true. But it does not tell the whole story.
Jeremiah described man’s nature by saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). He even said man’s heart was so evil that God would curse the man who trusted in a man! (v. 5). That is not saying much for the supposed good we find in man’s heart.
The Apostle Paul described man’s heart similarly: “the carnal mind [man’s mind in its naturally created state] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).
Jesus Christ described it this way: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23). And the most stinging indictment against man’s innate evil lies in the fact that men killed the man who said that—the only genuinely good man who ever lived.
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-20). Jesus Christ was that light! But mankind has preferred to live in darkness. That’s why “religious” people killed Christ in the first century. That’s why they crucified most of the apostles and prophets of God as well (Luke 11:48-50). That’s why, soon after Christ’s crucifixion, even many of His followers turned to another gospel (Gal. 1:6). That’s why religion, ever since, has sought to water down, reverse and reject most all of Christ’s fundamental teachings. And that’s why, in this modern age, the god of science and secularism has come to reject God and His existence altogether.
Man prefers darkness over light.
These scriptures and many others say nothing about man’s capacity for good. To the contrary, the Bible repeatedly refers to man’s nature as being inherently evil.
Tree of Good and Evil
But what about Mr. Gore’s statement concerning man’s capacity for good and evil? It is true that man is capable of producing much good. But that, as I mentioned, is only part of the story.
U.S. News & World Report featured an article in October of 1999 titled “Is the Bible True?” On the cover was a portrayal of Adam and Eve, a serpent and a bright red apple. That is perhaps the most easily identified scene in Scripture. Everyone, it seems, is familiar with that account in Genesis. Yet how few there are who really understand the significance of what happened in the Garden of Eden.
Prior to creating man, God had set in motion an invisible yet inexorable law that, if obeyed, would cause every good result. God’s law, then, is what causes all that is good. Transgressing that law, on the other hand, is what causes evil.
After creating man in His own image and likeness, God then educated him in the way of life that would bring about everything that is good. He typified this law-abiding lifestyle by the tree of life. Another tree in the garden represented the way of life that would cause everything that is evil. And yet, God called it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Why? Because when Adam and Eve ate from that tree, they took to themselves the divine, godly prerogative of determining what is good and evil. Even Satan knew what this tree represented. He told Eve in Genesis 3:5, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” By rejecting the tree of life, Adam and Eve rejected God’s revelation of what was good and evil and instead decided for themselves right from wrong.
Man’s system of knowledge production has been predicated on that foundation ever since. That’s why, even as knowledge increases, so do problems and evils. The fruits of man’s 6,000 years of self-rule are there for all to see.
Confusing Liberal with Good
Vice President Gore’s explanation of good and evil is yet another vain, human attempt to decide what is right and wrong. In his mind, and in the minds of many other liberal thinkers, conservatives are the epitome of evil. They, liberals say, are dangerous radicals, harboring racist, homophobic and misogynist views. Liberals think that way because in their arrogance, as one commentator recently said, they have come to confuse liberal with good.
Conservatives, on the other hand, have come to view liberals as increasingly nihilistic and anti-God. And while conservative thinkers do uphold a more upright standard of Bible-based morals, still, God says the problem with our society is with man in general. Good and evil is not divided along political lines. While many Americans might think so, God does not!
The irrefutable Bible teaching is that God is good and man is evil.
Now, perhaps you are thinking about all the “good” things you have done or maybe all the “good” people of history who have made a difference—who made this world a “better place.” How can all those people be “evil”? How can I be considered “evil”?
Listen to what God says! “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6). Even what we like to consider good, according to our standard of judging right and wrong, God says is nothing but filthiness. Now it’s hard to argue with scriptural passages this plain and direct—especially when that truth is repeated throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New.
Prior to the Flood, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
Well after the Flood, King David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:2-3).
The Apostle Paul paraphrased this psalm in the book of Romans, saying, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:11-12).
By this point, you must be shaking your head. How could God be so critical? I didn’t know the Bible was this pessimistic. No wonder religion turns off so many people.
Listen! Man is in the predicament he is in—a society rife with corruption, division and strife at every level—because of man! Do not blame God for society’s present state. We have chosen our own course. And today, we are left with the fruits of that choice.
Cut Off From God
This is where so many religious groups get sidetracked. Traditional Christian teaching depicts God and Satan—i.e., good and evil—in a titanic struggle for human souls. To help in this ongoing war against the devil, people think, God sent Jesus to Earth to try to save as many souls as possible.
But if this is true, any clear-thinking Christian would have to admit that today, evil is overcoming good. Satan has deceived popular religions into accepting this lie because it makes him out to be mightier than God!
The real truth of the Bible reveals that man, since the days of Adam, and under the deceptive influence and sway of Satan, has chosen the way of evil. Furthermore, the Bible shows that God has allowed man to make that choice and to reap the fruits of what he has sown.
Let us return to the account in Genesis. Adam and Eve, in eating from the forbidden tree, chose to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Notice God’s response: “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen. 3:22-24). God responded to man’s choice by cutting him off from the tree that would have revealed His standard for right and wrong. Man has been cut off from God’s truth ever since.
That’s why, for 6,000 years, there have been so many disparate views of good vs. evil. Man has devised multifarious theories and ideas about right and wrong. Study the works of society’s most noted scholars and philosophers and you find repeated contradictions. Study the beliefs of major religions and, once again, you find division and confusion over the most basic questions of life.
God’s truth has been a mystery to this world, even among well-meaning clergymen, because this world has preferred darkness rather than light. How else do you explain ii Corinthians 4:4, which calls Satan the “god of this world”? How else do you explain Ephesians 2:2, which calls Satan the “prince of the power of the air”? How else do you explain Revelation 12:9, which says Satan has deceived “the whole world”?
This world is deceived. The works of this world have brought forth evil and despicable fruits. God says it will only get worse until the living Jesus Christ returns to Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords to stop evil in its tracks and overpower it with good.
None Good But God
Does this mean that religion is useless? Are we resigned to living in a world where evil prevails? Not at all! Not by any means!
From cover to cover, the Bible is filled with hope. And individually, despite the world’s slide into oblivion, you can make progress even now—if you will come out of the darkness and into the light. In Luke 6:45, Christ again admonished His disciples to judge by fruits: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”
Yet, in this exchange, Jesus broadened His definition of goodness to include much more than words. Continuing in verse 46, Jesus said, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Christ condemns beliefs that might sound religious, yet seek to disobey God’s laws. He likens these types of “Christians” to one who builds his house upon sand (v. 49). They might say all the right things—they may sound religious—but their actions prove they are hypocrites!
True religion combines belief in Christ with doing what Christ said. And doing what He said is summed up by obedience to God’s commandments. That’s what Jesus told the rich man who inquired about eternal life in Matthew 19: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (v. 16). Now read carefully, because Christ goes on to define genuine goodness. “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (v. 17).
What a response! Jesus was actually taken aback by someone calling Him good! Here was a man who abided by God’s laws perfectly and yet He asks, “Why do you call me good?”
Only God is good! And Jesus knew that the only goodness dwelling in His life came as a result of God’s power—of God living in Him by the Holy Spirit.
Humanly, apart from that Spirit, Jesus was nothing more than what Isaiah described—a fading leaf. But with God, Jesus epitomized goodness and was able to do good things!
All Things Are Possible
Continue reading that passage in Matthew 19. The rich man asked Jesus which commandments He was referring to. Christ went on to list several of the Ten Commandments. The man claimed to abide by these laws, but Christ knew better. He told the rich man to part with his possessions and to follow Him—something this man could not do!
Then Christ taught His disciples the lesson. They witnessed the exchange and were amazed, wondering how anyone could make it into God’s Kingdom. “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible [because of man’s Satan-influenced, carnal nature]; but with God all things are possible” (v. 26). In truth, God can bring goodness into your life, but you must do your part. Unlike that rich man, you must be willing to give up everything for God and then humbly follow Christ.
It does take courage to do that in a world overflowing with evil. In fact, only a miniscule few have. The prophets of the Old Testament did—even when all the children of Israel turned to evil and eventually went into captivity. The rest of the world at that time, of course, never knew God. Christ’s disciples, except Judas, gave up everything and followed the commandments of God. But nearly everyone else in their day did not. After His 3½-year ministry, Jesus Christ only had 120 disciples out of the tens of thousands He probably spoke before. The apostles of the New Testament raised up many small congregations of true Christians. Yet most of those believers turned to pagan religion by the end of the first century. The story is the same throughout the Middle Ages—God’s people have mostly been scattered and persecuted. Even today, there are only a handful of people who abide by the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture.
Worse and Worse
Yet, all of this is by design! God has purposed it to be this way. He isn’t losing the titanic struggle with Satan—He has already won.
When God cut off man from the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, He allotted man 6,000 years to go and devise his own systems of government, industry, finance and education—to build his own society. In allowing this, He wanted man to learn the lesson that human society without God’s laws will end in ruin. That’s what happened during the Flood. That’s what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. And that’s what is prophesied to happen in the latter days.
We have come near the end of that allotted time, and the paradox of man stands as compelling testimony of what God wants us to learn. With 6,000 years of experience to build on, man has produced marvelous wonders technologically. But in doing so, man has made a god out of science—he has worshiped the creation more than the Creator, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:25—and so evils have only increased.
That is what our modern society is noted for in Scripture—increasing amounts of evil. Notice what Paul wrote in ii Timothy 3:1-5: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness [it seems religious], but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” These types of evil are certainly not new to our society. But notice verse 13: “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
It just keeps getting worse.
Isaiah also prophesied of this modern-day phenomenon: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:20-21).
If we take an honest look at man’s society in this end time, through the lens of Scripture, we find that it is completely upside down!
That is the world we live in. One where politicians can arrogantly stand before crowds proclaiming the other party to be evil, while theirs, presumably, is good. One where nations take up arms against one another to solve disputes. A world where religious groups hate each other and will even murder in the name of God. One where husbands and wives cannot get along and will split apart at the first sign of trouble. One where children grow up disrespecting parents and despising all forms of authority and government. One where an increasing number of women view men as society’s primary evil; where minorities view the majority as evil, and vice versa.
A world where everyone has their own definition of evil and where no one will submit to God. Jesus was right, when He said in John 7:7, that the works of this entire world are evil.
Only when man wakes up to the fact that the problem with this world is not someone else, or some other group—but himself—will God start working with us. That is where goodness in human beings begins. It starts with turning to God in sincere and humble repentance, not only for what we have done, but for what we are—evil-minded human beings who are naturally hostile to God and His laws.
Only then can God begin converting the evil of your mind into good. Only then, by using the power of God’s Spirit, will you be able to overcome evil with good.