Fred Rogers: Look for the Helpers

Donald Miller, at Storyline:

There are a few very loud theologians who want us to believe the heart of man is evil, as is spoken of poetically in Scripture. But they are often wrong (and emasculating) in the way they interpret and teach this idea. They use it as a method to devalue and so control people.

The real idea is that apart from God, true purity does not reside in us. Without His light shining through us, we are dark inside. But we often take this too far, devaluing the true goodness that is, while earthly, in every human being. We all reflect the goodness of our Maker, whether we know that Maker or not. When we shine a light on the courage and bravery, kindness and altruism displayed by every human being, we say to the world, “See that goodness inside of you? That comes from your Father. You got that from your Father,” and as such invite people to know their God.

It would be tempting at times like this to focus on the negative, the terrible. It would be tempting at times like this to shine a light on what Satan has done and what Satan is doing. But we shouldn’t. We should shine a light on what God has done, who God has made brave and courageous, and what God is doing in the world.

Fred Rogers (a Presbyterian minister turned children’s show host) once said, “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping,” and once again he has been proven right.

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  • PJ Anderson

    For out of the heart come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Matthew 15:19

    The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

    You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires Ephesians 4:22

    The testimony if Scripture is that we are evil and our hearts are wicked. Those say otherwise, and consider themselves believers, should show us, from Scripture, where the heart is good.

  • Joe Canner

    PJ #1: The point is not what Scripture says, but what is empirically true. Since there are clearly people in this world who do good things (at least sometimes) even though they don’t acknowledge God, we must conclude (as Miller does) that Scripture is speaking poetically and hyperbolically. This is not at all to deny that man needs God or to say that the gospel is useless, just that it is unnecessary and demeaning to use this hyperbolic language when addressing our audiences.

  • Teri Law

    Hello. I am studying your book Blue Parakeet right now in my “Understanding the Bible” class at Bethel University. Your book led me to your blog. I posted this photo with the same saying on my Facebook page today. I was so happy to find it here. (I have been validated by Scott McKnight!!) But its such an important point. There are always helpers. We have a chance every day to be angels and so often people are. More than we know. I try to tell my children to look at the beauty of their day. Todays teens are surrounded by ugly and negative images and stories, at school, on their video games, on chat lines, in texts. It’s a negative world for them. But Mr. Rogers (I had a crush on him as a child…so funny to me now) But he is so right, look for the helpers, find the beauty. Its right there.

  • Recommended on this topic: George MacDonald, The Truth in Jesus, ed. Michael Phillips

  • Thank you Scot for sharing this and Dan for writing it.

    I think we’d all agree humans are capable of great evil and great good.
    On our own we can do evil.
    With God we can do great good.

    I think this post gets at the point of our main, our core, identity as children of God, as followers of Jesus.

    God created us very good and he created us to walk with him in the garden.
    We fell from that state and because of Jesus’ person and work, we can, again, walk with him.

    I am a sinner and a saint.
    Yet, I think God called us to be grounded in the love of God as a child of God capable of good in participation with Christ.

    We can participate in this way of life (kingdom living / eternal living) when we arrange our life and activities around the way of Christ.

    If people get stuck in seeing themselves (self-concept) as a sinner I don’t think they are freed up to do all that Jesus commanded.

    Yet, when people recognize that they cannot do any good apart from God, yet, see themselves as children of God capable of great good, I think and have seen people (self included) be freed to love God and love our neighbors as ourselvse.

    I look forward to the dialogue.
    All so we can know and do the will of God 24/7 with the mind of Christ.

  • “when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts,”
    Romans 2:14,15

  • PJ #1

    Scot- please correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember that the “excellent or praiseworthy” things of Phil 4:8 are things of the world. This would be impossible if there were no good at all in any heart.

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

  • Phil Miller

    PJ, #1
    None of those verses say that all humans are as evil as they can possibly be, nor do they deny that humans were created in the image of God. Though that image is damaged by our fallenness, we shouldn’t deny it. We need to be careful of falling into the trap of what Richard Foster calls “worm theology”.

  • Scot, did you ever see the movie “Hero” with Dustin Hoffman? Yeah, today would be a good day to watch it….

    Spent the day reading … okay, sobbing through … Tim Madigan’s book, “I’m Proud of You: My friendship with Fred Rogers.”. Definitely a must-read… .

    I will probably write a post about it tomorrow. We need to spend waaay more time looking for — and seeing — the goodness of our Father in each other … and a whole lot less on the few who wreak havoc in this world.

    Be blessed….

  • “emasculating”? I agree with the point Miller is making here, but when theologians misrepresent human depravity they are not just misrepresenting the masculine, but all of humanity. Miller sets women apart in a really bizarre way. Obviously, as a woman, I’m not being “emasculated” by bad theology, but it impacts me just as it impacts Miller. Femininity is being implicated in this passage for no good reason.

  • Percival

    Human depravity is one of the most misunderstood and abused doctrines out there. Properly understood it has to do with the inclination of our hearts and the extent of the penetration of evil into our lives; everything is tainted. However, it does not mean that people are evil. It does not mean that we are incapable of good. And it does not mean we have no value to God, or that He cannot stand to have us around.

    In addition, some people take total depravity with them into who they are in Christ. A pet peeve and a great grieve of mine is that some Christians, who are a new creation, continue to describe themselves as “sinners”. Friends, this is not who we are. It describes what we sometimes do, but we should not take this as our identity. It’s telling God that He is wrong. God says you are a holy one, but we insist that His grace cannot go that far so we refute Him by looking back at our old identity as our true self. The Bible never refers to followers of Christ as sinners, despite the misinterpretations of Romans 7 and Paul’s testimony that he was the worst of sinners. There is a difference between being humble and refuting God’s testimony about what He has done in us.

  • If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone – the new has come.
    Thank you, Abba.

  • PJ Anderson

    Mankind, both men and women, are born as fallen creatures who are in desperate need of salvation. The overwhelming testimony of Scripture in both word and survey of deeds reinforces this concept. So my challenge stands: show us a passage where it says mankind, apart from Christ, is purely good in their hearts.

    #2 Joe – Are we really going to simply say that whereevver Scripture says there is evil in a person or that a person has a deceitful heart, an inherently evil heart, that it is simply using hyperbole? I don’t doubt that people, even unredeemed people, can have good actions and even do some kind of moral good. However, our base nature is divided from God because of the sinfulness of our hearts, the brokenness of our beings, the shattered image of our creator which is only reconstituted through faith in Christ.

    What do we do with Ephesians 2:1-3; 4:8? Genesis 6:5? Romans 5:12-14? 1 John 1:8-10? Ecclesiastes 9:3; 7:20? and we can certainly keep going…

    #7 Tricia – I don’t know if this is exactly addressed to me, but I would point out that Paul’s use of the word “aldephio” at the start of Phil 4:3 indicates he is speaking specific to the redeemed sisters and brothers at Philadelphia. Good things do come from the redeemed, that is where believers are to look.

    #8 Phil – Men and women are woefully broken and the original Imago Dei has been shattered by sin. It is only reconstituted through regeneration which is found in grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Our hearts are full of sin from birth and set us apart from God.

    Again, I repropose my challenge, anyone who disagrees is welcome to post Scripture showing where mankind’s hearts are good and full of life outside of Christ. I welcome the conversation. 🙂

  • Phil Miller

    #8 Phil – Men and women are woefully broken and the original Imago Dei has been shattered by sin. It is only reconstituted through regeneration which is found in grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Our hearts are full of sin from birth and set us apart from God.

    I think you’re making too much of Miller’s little article. He’s not saying that people are capable of saving themselves. All he’s saying is that everyone is capable of doing both good and evil. This shouldn’t really be controversial.

  • PJ Anderson

    Interesting, I don’t think I’m making a mountain of out a molehill here. Notice how Don phases it:

    There are a few very loud theologians who want us to believe the heart of man is evil, as is spoken of poetically in Scripture. But they are often wrong (and emasculating) in the way they interpret and teach this idea. They use it as a method to devalue and so control people.

    So basically he’s saying my position, which is shared by the majority of theologians throughout the Church age, is doing violence to men, destroying their salvation, is a fascist (controlling) theology that is wrong, dangerous, and corrupting to teach to our children.

    I guess its okay for him to classify me as such but not its not okay for me to call his statement into question and ask for actual Scriptural support. The opening paragraph of the article quoted here is highly offensive to those of us who hold a traditional, evangelical view of anthropology. Again, show me where the Bible supports his statement.

    (sorry if the italics don’t work…this forum doesn’t like my iPad.) 🙂

  • Phil Miller

    Donald Miller was (I’m not sure if he still is) part of the Imago Dei Community in Portland, and it is more or less Reformed in its theology. I also don’t how you’re equating Miller’s use of “a few very loud theologians” to a “majority of theologians throughout the Church age”.

    I do think you’re making a mountain of a molehill.