I'm currently doing a Beth Moore Bible Study titled "When Godly People Do Unglodly Things" so this subject has been on my mind lately. Perhaps I'm stretching things a bit, but recently I've read several books that caused me to think about this subject in very practical terms. The following books all seemed to deal with this issue to some degree, although the characters weren't necessarily "Godly," they all considered themselves to be "Good" people.
In "A Child Called It" by David Pelzer, David's mother would not feed him for days so he stole food from school. Did that make him a bad person since it is wrong to steal?
In "Perfect Match" by Jodi Picoult, the little boy dealt with this very issue, thinking that he was a bad person because bad things seemed to happen when he said or did certain things. His mother, who was a prosecutor of child molesters, actually killed a priest in court in front of a bunch of people. When she was in jail, the father explained to the boy that his mother did something bad and wouldn't be home for awhile. The boy later asked her if she was a bad person because she did something bad and she said "no." When it came out that a Priest molested her son, she told the boy that he was a bad person. I found it quite interesting how she judged the Priest as being a bad person but herself as still being a good person. (By the way, this is a good book and I recommend it highly. I love the twists it takes along the way.)
Another book I read recently that made me question if the people were good or bad was "A Gang Leader For A Day." It was a fascinating book about the inner workings of gangs in a low-income housing project in Chicago and how the community viewed them and related to them. A sociology student went to do some research to find out how it feels to be black and poor by hanging out with a gang leader who befriended him. Although the gang leader ran a smooth cocaine "business," he also provided protection for the sociologist and others in the community. When people needed a ride to the hospital because the ambulance wouldn't come in that neighborhood, it was the gang members who would take care of getting them to the hospital.
It was also the gang who used some of their money to throw neighborhood parties for the people in the project and buy clothes and food for some of the people. They provided money to their family to live in a better neighborhood. The "good" college student doing the research found himself in some sticky situations involving looking the other way while the gang beat up people, assisting in an assault at one point and personally knowing who the drug dealers were and who was making the cocaine without ever turning anyone in to the cops. Did that make the student as "bad" as the gang? I found myself asking this question. Mothers would do about anything to provide food for their children and try to keep them safe. When it comes to survival under horrendous conditions, these books certainly made me question what I would do if in their place. (Another great book that I recommend highly.)
The Bible warns us in Galatians 6:1 to "Take heed, lest we fall." In all these instances the conclusion I come to based on my own understanding of scripture is that people do bad things but that doesn't make them bad people. God loves all people even though he knew we would do bad things. In Isaiah Bible tells us "the heart is deceitful and desparately wicked." All people do bad things at some time or other. Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The way I see it, there are generally only two types of people in the world--the forgiven and the unforgiven.
The forgiven are those who have trusted in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to pay the punishment for all their sin and his resurrection and have confessed they have sinned and put their faith in Jesus to be their personal Savior. (See Romans 5:8 "But God commendeth his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." and Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The unforgiven are those who have not yet put their faith in Jesus as their personal Savior and asked his forgiveness. No one is a "good enough" person to enter heaven on his/her own merits. We all need Jesus! (Ephesians 2:8 & 9 "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, not of works, lest anyone should boast.")
In which category are you? Turn away from sin and yield yourselves to Jesus today (Acts 16:31: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved--you and your household!"
--Karen Arlettaz Zemek, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry"
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