Are people born good? Or bad? Or some of each? Are some people born with more good or bad than others? Truthful answers to these questions are extremely important for healthy living.
I’ve read many books by Brene Brown and one recently brought up the subject of inherent goodness which I wish to address here. Brene Brown describes herself as a researcher and story teller, and has become a popular TED Talks speaker on topics of shame and vulnerability. I have benefited from her discoveries and have been recommending her books and material to clients I see in my counseling and speaking. Shame is a huge problem in stealing our self-worth and robbing our ability to experience love and belonging in relationships. Dr. Brown does a great job in helping people identify sources of shame and encouraging vulnerability to expose secrets so that shame no longer has a place to hide (and destroy our relationships).
However, in her recent audio book called Rising Strong as Spiritual Practice, Brene Brown expresses views on spirituality that conflict with the Truth of the Bible.
In order to talk about inherent goodness we must be clear on some basic assumptions. The term “good” used in describing self-worth and value as a human being, must be distinguished from “good” in a sense of a person’s moral character (as compared to bad/ evil character). Another element of defining “good” is how we see God in relation to mankind, and whether we are comparing man to God or man to man. Man’s inherent goodness lies with man’s inherent value as a creation of God. Everything God creates is good. Mankind was created good (see the story in Genesis). But after the creation, the “inherent” part of goodness changed dramatically because of some very bad choices on man’s part.
In the book Brene says people possess 3 inherent (inborn) qualities: lovability, creativity, and divinity. She makes a good point that our beliefs about who we are as people, directly affect our relationships with other people. Beliefs rooted in shame will damage our relationships. If we believe we are unlovable, we will treat either ourselves or others without proper love and respect. If we believe we are not creative, we hold that belief as a result of either others not affirming and valuing our work, or our self-perceived standards of perfection (perfectionism) are way too high. But divinity does not fit in the same category as lovability and creativity. Divinity is not part of human nature. In fact a belief that people are inherent “holy,” (as Brene states) is about as far from the truth and as unholy as it gets. People are human beings. God is a divine being. God’s divinity sets him apart as “holy.” From the beginning, God created man with lovability and creativity, but divinity is reserved for God himself. In fact, the origin of shame is rooted in man trying to make himself divine, and man rebelling against God’s supreme authority. Evil entered the world through this shameful rebellion. But worse yet, the problem of shame became a legacy inherent evil passed down to every generation of human beings (see the story in Genesis 3).
God created a world in which only He is the Judge of good and evil (tree of “life” as it is called in Genesis). At mankind’s creation, God forbade man from partaking in judgment between good and evil. Part of what made God holy (set apart from man) is this ability to judge between good and evil. As the “all good” Creator, God can judge between good and evil without being touched by evil. But man does not have this ability. When man demanded to have this ability (eating from the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” as it is called in Genesis), man committed the first sin. Our attempt to be Judge (instead of allowing God to be Judge), made us forever contemptable to God’s holy and righteous supreme authority. Jesus Christ offers our only hope of escape from this mess WE created of HIS good creation.
It is evil to demand to take God’s rightful place as supreme Judge, whether in thoughts, attitudes, words, or deeds. Mankind brought shame into the world with the original selfish act of defying God’s command (not to take part in demanding to be the Judge). When Adam and Eve claimed to have the right to decide for themselves good from evil, this challenge of God’s supreme authority (holiness), created the original sin. This rebellion against the goodness of God’s nature, created the inherent evil born into the nature of all persons born into the human race. Every human since that time is born into the slavery of shame. Our only hope of redemption from this evil is to believe in what Jesus Christ has done to save us from our wretched condition (see John 3; Romans 3; Isaiah 53:1-6; 61:1-3).
Mankind was created inherently good, but the corruption of sin now extends to every person making us inherently evil. Because we are created in the “image of God,” and since God is all good, we still bear resemblences of good. But sin killed our spirit. A dead spirit can’t be good. That’s why we need Jesus who makes our spirit alive. If we know Jesus, the Jesus in us makes us good, but without Jesus, our best efforts will never be enough to make us a “good” person (by God’s definition). Even if we seem good enough by man’s definition, in reality, we’re no better or worse off than any other person (as far as our right standing with God). Again, only Jesus makes that difference. So, we ARE good enough to be a human, but being the best human we can be, doesn’t make us divine. All humans are born equal in this regard.
If we believe we are holy, we not only devalue the holiness of God, but we deny our need for the salvation of Jesus Christ. A belief that man is inherently good, is in direct conflict with a Christian world-view. Because of man’s sin and shame, Father God sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die, resurrect, and ascend back to the Father to save all who believe (from their sin and shame). Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The Bible clearly teaches, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is our exclusive redeemer from the sin and shame problem introduced by the first humans on earth.
That may not be a politically correct assertion, but it is the Truth. A person who lives their life by this Truth finds the best (and only eternally lasting) freedom from shame that exists. What one believes DOES matter. Truth matters. If what one believes does not line up with the truth, there are eternal consequences. The danger with believing in the inherent goodness of people is that it prevents people from believing the truth that they need a Savior for shame-free living. Relying only on people is not the complete answer. Vulnerability with people may be a significant step, but vulnerability with God (and relying on what Jesus has already accomplished) is the ultimate solution.
What I have discovered in my own life is that being honest with God is often a first step to being completely honest with other people. God is way more trustworthy than any human being. Coming to Father God with my fears, unloving thoughts, lonely feelings, and whatever else shame trys to trap me in, is heard and already acted on in my favor by what Jesus has done. May I encourage the reader to read the gospel of John to deepen your understanding of the relationship Jesus had with Father God, and how Jesus brings us into that same relationship as sons and daughters of God. Whether a person is a new follower of Jesus or a seasoned Christian, there is always more of the burden of shame Jesus can carry for us (see Matthew 11:28,29).
Brene Brown’s insights on shame may empower us to be more honest (vulnerable) about our shame condition. However, her views about how spirituality enters into the mix (at least the views expressed in the above mentioned book) need to be sorted out as misguiding. I am not writing to shame Brene Brown as a person. However, I believe she is guilty of misrepresenting true spirituality (from the world-view of a Jesus-follower). My aim is to alert people (especially Jesus-followers) to the extreme dangers of falsely believing that people are born good (without a need for Jesus to clean out the inherent bad/ evil). I encourage the reader to read some of my other articles that share more detail on allowing God to transform your life from the inside out.
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry