Everybody Behaves Badly

“Everybody behaves badly,” I said. “Give them the proper chance.”

The Sun Also Rises p. 181

Jake is referring to the difficulties of life bringing out what’s really inside a person. Because he’s a cynic, he expects the worst given “the proper chance,” that is, the right circumstances. Here, with Mike and Robert, it’s jealousy. Jake knows their behavior is contemptible, and he sees the right situation that revealed what their character is really like. 

But is his first statement true? Does everyone behave badly? Not all authors paint their characters that way. Doesn’t Harper Lee paint a different picture of Atticus?—no, Go Set a Watchman’s Atticus is not the same as To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus. Doesn’t Tolkien’s Faramir come out as honorable, despite being given numerous “proper chances”?

It is true that hard times reveal character. It’s also true that none of us are perfect. From God’s perspective, all of us do behave badly. Yet for the Christian, it should not be inevitable that given the proper chance we behave badly—at least not consistently badly. Honor and righteousness and excellence can and should be found. Faithfulness is not a pipe dream. We must not succumb to the defeated position of “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” However true that may be, it is not our goal; it is not what we are becoming by that same grace. No, God’s will is our sanctification. All Christians can and should bear Christ’s image if given the proper chance. 

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