Pope Francis Says the Human Heart Is Good, But What Does the Bible Say?

By John Cloud | Posted June 24, 2024

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Pope Francis ruffled some feathers when he said, “We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.” Is the criticism he’s taking from other Christians warranted? What’s the problem with Francis’ optimistic view of human nature? Isn’t it better than the pessimistic view that we are all inherently evil? Many would say, “Yes.”

The pope’s sentiment isn’t anything new. Eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau agreed. In Emile, or On Education, Rousseau stated, “Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society’s fault.”

Alternatively, seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes believed humans are naturally corrupt. In his work Leviathan, Hobbes said, “The condition of man ... is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” He believed that the solution was the enforcement of law by a powerful sovereign.

Another take is that of John Locke, who taught that we are neither good nor bad but a “tabula rasa,” or blank slate at birth. So, who got it right? There’s only one way to find out. Follow the light. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Our Birth Nature

Undoubtedly, humans started off fundamentally good. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Sadly, that didn’t last. After disobeying God, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Ultimately, they were pointing the finger back at God. Sin had robbed them of their fundamental goodness, leaving the spirit of self-preservation in its place. We all inherit this broken condition. King David declared, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

A Dangerous Idea

In his recent interview, the pope admitted that we are all sinners. But then he contradicted that by saying we are “fundamentally good” and “the heart itself is good.” He might as well have said, “Follow your heart,” because if what he said is true, then we can trust our hearts and should follow them. Maybe Cinderella was right when she sang, “When you follow your heart, you'll shine bright as the sun.”

But then again, haven’t humans been following their hearts for thousands of years? Yet, history speaks of countless wars, mass enslavement, genocide, and other atrocities. Then, there is the reality that we all personally experience betrayal and harm at the hands of others. In fact, trusting their own judgment is what repeatedly led the Israelites away from God and into idolatry, even going so far as to commit child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:30, 31).

Additionally, perpetuating the false idea that we are basically good at heart dismantles the gospel, which teaches that Jesus came to save us from our sinfulness (Matthew 1:21). If all we needed to do was look within ourselves to find goodness, then there was no reason for Jesus to reveal what goodness and love looked like by dying for our sins on the cross. 

Don’t be fooled. History and the Bible alike testify: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Did you catch that last part? “Who can know it?” In other words, we are not capable of understanding our immense potential for evil. 

Finding Hope

Yes, Scripture portrays our fallen nature in a startling light. The apostle Paul concluded, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18). It can be uncomfortable admitting this about ourselves, but it is a necessary step before we can find hope. After crying out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24), Paul said, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25).

Paul didn’t find goodness within himself, and neither will we. Jesus said, “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). And Paul found hope in the goodness of God, even love, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

How to Be Good

It’s surprising that Pope Francis would say that we are “fundamentally good,” considering that the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin teaches the opposite. However, that doctrine itself goes too far, passing the parents’ guilt onto their children (see Ezekiel 18:20; Jeremiah 31:30). Though the Bible is clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

We aren’t born good, and we have all sinned, but God offers us a solution: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). We are invited to individually turn to God, confess our sins, and receive a new life.

God’s promise is: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).

The pope is wrong about our goodness. We have none to offer. Thomas Hobbes was closer to the truth by teaching that we are inherently evil. But his solution of an oppressive government isn’t the answer; the gospel is.

Watch Pastor Doug’s revival series, The New Heart.

John Cloud
John Cloud is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Arkansas. He is passionate about Bible study and family.

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