As I watched American Idol last night (ummm . . . the wife made me), I was encouraged by the example that the organization provided concerning the needs of humanity. This week they raised overï¿½sixty-million dollars for relief for those less fortunate around the world who are in desperate need of food, clothes, and medical attention. The important thing to note is that American Idol is not a Christian organization. Yet the most popular show on TV focused on those in need all week. They evidenced the Christian virtue of love in a way that few Christian organizations ever have or could. Taking advantage of their twenty-million plusï¿½viewer base, the message of the need to help the poor was displayed dramatically as they extended their usual thirty-minute show to two hours.
As Christians, this may confuse us. Why? Because unbelievers are not supposed toï¿½value human dignity and the Christian idea of self-sacrificial love. What are we to make of this? I see four options for the Christian:
1. Christians must have been behind it. This option would suggest that only Christians with a biblical worldview, redeemed by the Spirit of God, can exercise self-sacrificing love. Therefore, the decision makers of American Idol must be Christian.
2. If Christians were not behind it, whomever was ultimately responsible for this week’s charity did this out of selfish ambition and the love they expressed was not really true. This is the typical option that I find in my circles.ï¿½There must have been money involved somewhere influencing all the decisions.
3. These people were attempting to work their way to heaven. This option wouldï¿½see these good deeds asï¿½a hopeless attempt to place theirï¿½resume before God. Rather than recognizing their depraved condition and calling on God for mercy, they see these acts as making them righteous in the site of God.
4. This was not really a good thing. The money should be invested in sending missionaries with the Gospel. As important as food, clothing, and medicine is, it only effects the temporal well-being of a person. We must concentrate on feeding them true bread, the Gospel, which brings eternal health. Those who would choose this option would say that the “social gospel” of temporal well-being is not pleasing in the site of God.
5. Unbelievers can actually do good. This is the most radical for the conservative Christian. This option rejects that we necessarily have to choose one of the previous options. This option would recognize that while people are indeed depraved, separated from God, they can still do good because they still have the image of God residing in them. While they cannot let go of the inherent antagonism that they have for God, they can recognize human dignity and display characteristics of their Creator, even if they reject His authority in their lives.
While I recognize the possibility of the first four, I am inclined (hopeful?)ï¿½to believe that the last might very well be the case. If it were so, it would seem that the acts of unbelievers can be used to teach the church a lesson. What is this lesson? I guess I would say that giving people a glass of water may sometimes be just as pleasing to God as giving them a tract.
The primary difficulty with optionï¿½five is certain biblical passages that suggest that the unredeemed cannot do any good at all. Notice Romans 3:12. Paul is making his case against all of humanity, arguing for the universal need of the Gospel based upon universal depravity:
Romans 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (ESV)
“No one does good, not even one.” The NET Bible translates the word “good” here as “kindness” which seems to be a more accurate nuance of the Greek chrestotes. (crhsto,thj). Thisï¿½causes more trouble for the current interpretive stance that I would like to take. Applied to the humanitarian efforts of those behind American Idol, this could mean that no matter how things look, they are not really doing good in any sense.
However, I don’t think that we should take Paul’s statements here in first part of Romans as unqualified absolutes concerning the ability of unredeemed humanity to do good in any sense. I believe that Paul is indeed placing a universal indictment upon all mankind, but I believe that this indictment of depravity is, as I said above, with respect to their recognition and relationship with God. In this sense, no one does good in acting in concert with the purest form of motivation, a love for and modeling of God. Those among the unredeemed do good with their fists of antagonismï¿½in the air toward God. Unredeemed mothers love and care for their children with fists in the air toward God. Friends come to the aid of friends with their fists in the air toward God. Fathers go to work to care for their family with their fists in the air toward God. In the case of American Idol’s benevolence, if they are unredeemed, they may do good, but they do this good with their fists in the air toward God. The efforts of all these people can evidence the “good” that God proclaimed upon creation (Gen. 1:31). Inï¿½this sense, we would say that God’s common grace allows all people to do good, even if they do so while remaining antagonistic toward God.
Something to think about.