Why are so many people so bad? Why are we ourselves inclined to do bad things? Newspapers may answer that it is because there are not enough police, or it is because people are poor, or because people are badly brought up or have not been taught how to behave. None of these answers provides a convincing explanation.
In the time of Jesus, Jewish philosophers said everyone is born with an inclination to behave badly and an inclination to behave well. Paul’s letter to the Galatians shows that he shared this view of human nature. He called the inclination to do bad things ‘the flesh’ but he is using this word metaphorically. By ‘flesh’ he doesn’t mean our skin but rather what the New English Bible calls our ‘lower nature’. Paul calls our inclination to do good ‘the spirit’ but he does not mean God the Holy Spirit but rather our ‘higher nature’.
The Letter to the Galatians gives a long list of the works of the flesh and the works of the spirit. We should notice that the works of the flesh are not just sexual sins or things like drunkenness or violence but also hatred, quarrelling, angry outbursts and selfish ambition. These are outcomes of giving in to the impulses of our lower nature.
What are these impulses? Some are instinctive
Such as the sex drive, the need for food, the drive to dominate or to self-protection. Some impulses may be the consequences of upbringing or social culture such as telling untruths, self- assertion and the need for approval. When some impulses are controlled, they need not have bad outcomes.
On the other hand, we have impulses of the spirit to do good. Their outcome says St Paul are Love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the characteristics of those we call saints.
So humans are divided people, partly inclined to do good, partly inclined to do bad. How can this be since God the Creator in the beginning made all things good and made human beings in the image and likeness of God? Christian theologians say that it is a consequence of our first ancestors having deliberately disobeyed the Creator God. The Fall of Adam, as it is called, led to the tendency in every human being to fall away from God. All have sinned and fall short of the kingdom of God. Jesus alone is without sin and through God’s intervention in the immaculate conception of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, she and her son were spared the consequences of Adam’s fall.
Another factor should be added. The Church teaches that in the dawn of the Creation when God created invisible spirits we call angels, some defied God and chose evil. Satan and demonic powers strive to encourage the human race to oppose God and chose evil and harmful ways. By his resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ has overcome the forces of evil and protected us against their power.
God alone could deliver the human race from original sin contracted by descent from Adam. God achieved this through the obedience of his only Son our Saviour Jesus Christ who is the Word of God and yet totally human. By the sacrament of Holy Baptism we have been delivered from the taint of original sin and all our previous sins are forgiven. When we confess our culpable sins committed after our Baptism and are truly sorry, God for the sake of his son Jesus Christ forgives us and lovingly accepts us as his dear children.
Yet we still have inclinations to behave badly. We need to allow our spirit , our higher nature, to become stronger. The Lord Jesus has made it possible in his body the Church. The association and example of those who believe and follow Christ encourages us to live a good life. In the fellowship of the Church we receive the blessings of the sacraments and hear the Gospel. The Holy Spirit transforms us and makes us ready to enter eternal life. We are embraced in union with God the Most Holy Trinity to whom be praise, glory, and thanksgiving for evermore. Amen
Crispin Harrison CR