Why Do People Do Bad Things?

THERE is one thing that few people will dispute: We are all imperfect and therefore make mistakes and do things that we come to regret. Still, does that explain the many bad deeds, both major and minor, that we see or hear about almost daily, either in person or in the media?

In spite of human imperfection, people generally acknowledge that there are moral boundaries that should never be crossed and that humans are capable of abstaining from evil acts. Most would also readily agree that there is a difference between inadvertent untruth and outright slander, between causing an accidental injury and committing premeditated murder. Still, shocking deeds are often perpetrated by seemingly ordinary people in the neighborhood. Why? Why do people do bad things?

 The Bible sheds light on this subject. It accurately identifies key reasons why people act in ways that they know to be bad. Consider what it says.

“Mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.”​ECCLESIASTES 7:7.

The Bible acknowledges that at times people feel driven by force of circumstance to do what they otherwise would not do. Some may even commit criminal acts in an effort to bring about what they perceive as solutions to hardships and injustices. “In many cases,” says the book Urban Terrorism, “the primary motivation for a terrorist is a genuine frustration with seemingly intractable political, social, and economic forces.”

“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”​1 TIMOTHY 6:10, AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION.

The old adage, Every man has his price, implies that even good people are willing to violate the rules of decency and morality when enough money is involved. Some who appear amiable and kind under normal circumstances seem to undergo a personality change when money is at stake, transforming themselves into obnoxious and hostile characters. Think of the many crimes that are rooted in greed​—blackmail, extortion, fraud, kidnapping, and even murder.

“Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.”​ECCLESIASTES 8:11.

That scripture points out the human tendency to think that one can get away with anything when those in authority are not watching. This is true of people speeding on the highway, cheating on exams, embezzling public funds, and worse. When enforcement is lax or when fear of getting caught is absent, people who are normally law-abiding may feel emboldened to do what they otherwise would not do. “The ease with which criminals get away unpunished,” observes the magazine Arguments and Facts, “seems to inspire ordinary citizens to commit the most brutal of crimes.”

“Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.”​JAMES 1:14, 15.

All humans are susceptible to wrong thinking. Every day, we are bombarded with countless suggestions and temptations to do wrong. Back in Bible times, Christians were told: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Even so, the outcome depends on the choice one makes​—to dismiss the bad thought quickly or to entertain it and allow it to grow. The scripture above from the inspired letter of James warns that if one allows the wrong desire to “become fertile,” bad actions are sure to follow.

 “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”​PROVERBS 13:20.

There is no minimizing the influence​—for good or for bad—​that our associates can have on us. So often, people do what they have no intention of doing​—all because of peer pressure or, as many say, because they fell into bad company, with disastrous results. In Bible language, “stupid ones” refers, not to those who lack intelligence, but to those who ignore the wise counsel from God’s Word. Young or old, if we do not choose our friends and associates wisely, that is, by the good standards from the Bible, we can expect that we will “fare badly.”

These and many other verses in the Bible succinctly explain why people​—perhaps otherwise ordinary people—​do bad, even shocking, things. While it is helpful to understand the forces that move people to do terrible things, is there hope of a change for the better? Yes, for the Bible not only explains why people commit evil acts but also promises that such acts will be no more. What are these promises? Will all the bad things in the world really come to an end? The next article provides the answers.