The Morality of Good Guys and Bad Guys

Image credit: Jim Lepage

Image credit: Jim Lepage

Children are fascinating beings, if you stop a moment to consider them. They have an amazing sense of imagination, wonder, and trust. When an adult tells them something, they ask questions, but then usually quickly accept it as truth. But still, the questions continue.

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I was talking to my niece while we played with her Lego blocks and characters on the floor. She asked me about superheroes and fictional characters. Being an uncle who wants his niece to grow up with an accurate understanding of popular culture, of course I answered every question she posed. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, even Star Wars characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Darth Vader.

She asked why there are good guys and bad guys, what makes a bad guy bad, what a good guy does, if girls be superheroes, and everything else.

Those are great questions.

It’s amazing that something like superheroes can make so much sense to a child. Children want to believe there are strong and noble people looking out for the good of humanity, never doing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, reality is a bit more complicated and nuanced. People aren’t easily categorized as good guys or bad guys.

Good Guys / Bad Guys

The thing about good guys is that a believable character must have at least one or two flaws, or the audience won’t identify with that character. If a character in a film is too good and never makes any mistakes, the audience knows it’s not someone they can trust because that character isn’t like them. The character is perfect, when in reality, none of us are.

Likewise, bad guys aren’t all bad. Sometimes bad guys are good to their fellow bad guys, and sometimes bad guys do good things. This is more accurate to reality, because even the worst of people exhibit tiny points of light, goodness that slips between the cracks of their badness.

Enacting Good

It seems children inherently want to know about morality. They express interest in learning how the world works, what people are like, and how people fit into the world.

What if we took the curiosity of children mixed with the hope children have in the goodness of people? There’s something blessed about the way people can do things to express goodness to others. It’s as if God instills the inklings of what’s good and right within us, though our imperfect human nature often sabotages the instinct for good.

There’s a whole deeper, longer discussion we could have about the depravity of man and God’s grace being the driving force behind any good. Ultimately, it’s Jesus who gives us renewed life and forgiveness for our mistakes and failures. Theologically, we can credit substitutionary atonement and propitiation and a bunch of big seminary words to explain it, and sometimes I like having those discussions. But on a simpler level, let’s celebrate the good people do and the integrity with which they live.

Let’s live like good guys, helping those around us, honestly working through our imperfections, and aiding the world by putting good to action.

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What do you think? How do you see the good guy / bad guy dichotomy play out in reality?

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