By the nature of the work, some occupations have a continuous, negative impact on society.
Think of the unscrupulous payday lenders who exploit vulnerable working people with abusive interest rates, which the Bible soundly condemns, or manipulative phone scammers who rob the gullible and often elderly of their limited financial resources.
In such a role, one can perform their job well but never do it for good. Simply no virtue exists in some forms of work that are exploitative and often dishonest.
On the other hand, there are jobs aplenty in which people have great opportunities to do very helpful, even heroic things.
Think of the all the dedicated frontline workers who’ve tackled – and continue to tackle – the devastation of COVID-19 at the risk of their own well-being for more than a year.
In general, however, people rather than professions have principles and values.
There are good cops and bad cops. Good pastors and bad pastors. Good teachers and bad teachers. Good judges and bad judges.
Most often, people, not roles, determine whether someone is good or bad.
We rightly honor those who serve and have served in the military, protecting our nation from enemies even at the cost of one’s life.
Yet abuse exists within military ranks, and nearly one in five of the Capitol insurrectionists on Jan. 6, attacking the democratic process of the nation they swore to defend – were military veterans.
Ministers are often sacrificial in giving their time and gifts to helping families through life’s most trying experiences. Their weekly sermons can reset our priorities and moral compasses on the Way of Christ.
Yet evidence abounds of ministers who misuse their authority and access, heaping undeserved guilt and shame in the name of God on those who should be affirmed and loved. Even worse are ministers who severely abuse those within their influence and care.
Many law enforcement personnel risk their lives daily to protect society from harm. Yet, police brutality – based on racial stereotypes or plain-old ingrained racism – is a reality we now see face to face.
One can only imagine the scale of abuse that has long occurred – and was institutionally covered up – before each of us carried a video camera in our pockets and could post recordings widely. Racial injustice within law enforcement isn’t new; it just made its way into brighter spotlights in recent years.
A common, deflective response – in order to ignore reality and avoid serious introspection and accountability – is to claim the presence of merely “a few bad apples.” The metaphor comes up short by not continuing the adage that explains how such presence rots the whole bunch.
Comedian Chris Rock, a most insightful observer of life, pushed back on the idea that the presence of a “few bad apples” should be shrugged off. Some professions, he noted, shouldn’t tolerate a single bad apple.
He wondered aloud how the public would respond if the executive of a major airline said, “Most of our pilots like to land. But we just got some bad apples that like to crash in the mountains.”
It is wise to realize, and instructive to acknowledge, that no profession is good unless filled by consistently good people. Making widely generalized assessments of good and bad roles is often inaccurate and unhelpful, and usually more of an excuse than a call for accountability.
This is the case whether talking about truck drivers, medical personnel, attorneys, soldiers, politicians – or opinion columnists. And for those much-needed internal assessments, it is important to begin with our own capacities for being good or bad.
The poetic story of Adam and Eve reminds us we are all bad apples with a bent toward self-interest, self-service and self-preservation. Yet the story of grace, which flows throughout the biblical story and culminates in the revelation of God in Jesus, calls us to experiences of grace and faithfulness.
Yet we are never free of the pull toward what many of us grew up hearing – though perhaps too restrictively – called sin. We might even remember someone pointing out that “I” is always at the center of sin.
While “sin” was often defined as some narrow, legalist behavioral code – rather than its more apparent expressions of self-absorption – we likely got the point. That is, we must be on guard against our most selfish and destructive tendencies.
Holy Week reminds us of the results of giving into our “bad-appleness.” Yet, the gospels remind us of the rest of story unfolding on the horizon: that our self-adsorption, which can rot us to the core, is not our best self.
And that grace can free us to find the goodness within as reflected in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.