Theology Thursday: Breaking Bad or Just Plain Bad?

Breaking Bad or Just Plain Bad? Posted on September 26, 2019  in  [ Theology & Ministry ]

Is humanity basically good or basically evil? This question has been debated down through the centuries. Those in the basically good camp point to outside forces as being the main culprit for the wrong that we do. The show, Breaking Bad, portrays this well. Breaking Bad is about Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) who is a struggling high school chemistry teacher recently diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. Desperate to find a way to secure his family’s financial future before he dies, he turns to a life of crime by creating and selling methamphetamines.

Breaking Bad and similar shows argue that one’s unlucky breaks, societal inequalities or other outside factors cause basically good people to break bad. If only these negative outside forces could be fixed through education, through government, through science or even through religion then our world would be a better place. Goodwill conquers evil.

Christianity certainly advocates for a moral and just society (Isaiah 1:17, Luke 6:31, James 2:14-17). Christianity also says that no amount of education, government intervention, scientific discovery or religious rituals will solve our problems. Why? Because Christianity sees humanity as basically evil and not basically good. In other words, Christianity does not say that humanity is breaking bad; instead, it holds that our very human nature is just plain bad to begin with. This is what is meant by the theological concept of depravity.

Depravity basically means that each and every one of us have been separated from God due to our sinful nature. It also says that due to the original sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12), humanity is fundamentally flawed and our natural inclination is to gravitate towards what is corrupt, perverse and evil. Depravity also implies that because of our sinful state, we can do nothing to earn God’s favor and to be seen as righteous in God’s eyes. In short, there is no way to save ourselves from the mess that we created.

Scripture is full of passages that demonstrate that each and every one of us is just plain bad. Here are just a sampling:     

  • "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins"" (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
  • "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way …" (Isaiah 53:6).
  • "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • "As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10-11).
  • "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
  • "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8)

Discussing our depravity is not popular. No one likes to hear that they are just plain bad. However, it is essential to recognize the total and utter hopeless situation we are in. We are swimming in a sea of depravity and no matter how hard we try, we cannot stay afloat for long. We need a lifeboat to come along and pull us out of the sea. Romans 5:6 provides a beautiful picture of our powerlessness and the saving grace of Jesus coming along at just the right moment. It says,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

Increasingly Hollywood and much of our culture are preaching that humanity is basically good. However, Scripture says otherwise. It is important to recognize that humanity needs to be transformed from within through God’s saving grace, in order for goodness to triumph over evil.   

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Scott Hovater, PhD

Faculty Manager, College of Theology

Scott Hovater, PhD, grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent 16 years as a college professor in Taiwan before becoming the manager of online faculty for the College of Theology. He has a degree in TESOL, an MA in intercultural studies, an MA in educational psychology and a PhD in educational studies. He and his wife, Jenny, have 2 children.

Learn more about Scott Hovater, PhD

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