The Crowded Middle: Addendum

A reader, Ron, who commented on "The Crowded Middle" at, brought up an important issue:

I think I know where you're going with this but I'm not sure what a "good man" is seeing as how the Lord has pointed out that there is no "good" in men.
After reviewing the rest of his comments (which were very good, check them out), I decided I had better clarify.

What follows is the substance of my response: essentially a commentary on the article. It addresses the issue Ron raised and rewords my thoughts on "The Crowded Middle."

Thanks Ron for the comment! I appreciate your bringing up the definition issue within the rather broad subject of morality — i.e. that God's "good" is very different from our own. I assure you I didn't forget it. ;)

I wasn't trying to make that differentiation here, though that is a very important issue, because I thought it to be implicit (and to keep the essay as brief as possible). In light of the conscience that we all bear (though with increasingly less motivating influence the more twisted an individual becomes), everyone has a sense of what "good" is — our vision is blurrier than God's, but we generally "get the picture." I am here contrasting the "evil" kind of man in the worst sense (whom I think all sane humanity would recognize given a decent showing, even if some may side with him) and the "good" kind of man in the best sense (whom all sane humanity would also recognize, even if some people might pervert or ignore it's interpretation). Implicit in that contrast is that the "good" kind of man of which I am speaking in the first paragraph — the "ideal" you might say — is the man who is made good by God (in the sense of justification) and is continuing to develop in good by God's definition (in the sense of sanctification). There can be no other kind of "best" man.

In the second paragraph, I discuss "the crowded middle," in which I purposely focus on simple morality. Obviously, I'm not saying there isn't a difference between "good" and "bad." Instead, without clarifying what definition I'm using for "good," I intended the reader to interpret it for themselves, because this paragraph applies to all definitions of "good." This is because it only addresses the general categories of people's actions, without attempting to be specific. So, generally, I expected the common meaning of "good" and "evil" to come to people's minds.

If the common criminal (or the more-or-less average person who commonly crosses the morally-questionable line) really cares about the way people perceive him, then he will to some degree "listen" to his conscience, if for no other reason than the preservation of his reputation, because he knows his conscience is similar to theirs — it tells him "This is too wrong, even for you" and that is precisely what others would think. So, he is kept from evil even worse still and its condemnation and we are kept from its presence and effect.

If the "decent" guy really cares about people's judgments of him, he won't want to do anything that jeopardizes his social standing. So, he wouldn't be likely to do any of the radical acts of goodness that goodness might compel him to do (because, let's face it: extreme goodness is usually radical even to people we consider "good folks"). His mother and father would think it's crazy. His co-workers would laugh at him and "talk." Many would question his motives or sanity. He wants to be like everyone else, and thereby win their approval. (Who didn't learned this in high school? It doesn't stop when you graduate.) Some of these people are Christians and some are not, but it doesn't seem to matter much to those who are, and it won't matter practically until they are willing to, as you said, "lay their lives down" and begin to develop in the way of Christ which is infinitely better morally (and in every other way).

So, both groups of people maintain a fairly close resemblance to one another (so much so that, compared to men of great evil, they are all considered rather normal). They stick pretty tight to the middle line — the "bleh." This is the pull of peer pressure in all society. In regard to Evil, society's pull is beneficial: we don't live in the presence of wickedness nearly as gross and prevalent as we would otherwise and the people who would do those unspeakable acts of wickedness don't, which, of course, is better for them as well. In regard to Good, society's pull is degenerative: hardly a soul pushes the frontlines of virtue, nearly everyone is content merely eating, drinking, and being merry, and scarcely can we find even a Christian who reminds us of Jesus. Furthermore, history has shown that morality within societies inevitably decays, which means that the baseline — the "normal" around which both the (subjectively) "slightly" bad and "slightly" good orbit — slinks gradually closer to the Evil side of the spectrum until the society's eventual collapse. This should all the more urge us to know God, to live loved and love in kind, to embody His goodness, His grace, and His liberty in increasingly radical, abnormal ways.

....I always appreciate a swift reply prompting me to clarify! Thank you!

If you haven't already, read the original article, if you like.

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