I shared this illustration recently with someone in my city in a conversation, and then again relayed the same illustration to some friends who are pastors. They told me it was a helpful approach to talking to people who excuse sin claiming to be “good people”. So I’m sharing it here on the blog in the hopes that it might be helpful to you.
This kind of conversation takes on a lot of complexity when the person we are talking with has himself been the victim of severe mistreatment. People who have suffered evil at the hands of evil-doers need our compassion, and the crimes against them cry out for justice. I believe that justice ultimately will be meted out by our holy God and Judge. But I also believe that our Holy God is a Loving Saviour who has, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, invited us to find forgiveness for our own sin. I think it was R.C. Sproul who once said, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.”
Here’s the illustration I shared with my friends:
Someone might say, “How can you say I’m a sinner and need to repent when I’m a good person?” And a little common sense shows that we’re only “good people” when we compare our goodness to someone else’s badness. What if we compared our goodness to God’s?
If you and I witness Adolph Hitler being beaten on the street by a gang of hoodlums, we would probably take pictures and cheer them on. Adolph Hitler is a bad person, so when someone treats him badly it doesn’t seem like a bad thing.
But if we then witness the same gang beating and molesting an innocent 5-year old girl, we would stop taking pictures and call the police or rush in to protect her. A 5-year old girl is certainly an innocent, good person, so when someone treats her badly it seems very bad indeed.
But what if we have mistreated God? If God is as holy, righteous and deserving of our whole worship and love forever, as the Bible claims, then even merely ignoring Him, much less, rebelling against Him and even hating Him, is infinitely worse than mistreating the most innocent child. Since God’s goodness is, according to the Bible, infinitely more good than even the most deserving of His creatures, crimes against God suddenly appear to be hideously evil–even when committed by people who compare favourably to other worse people.