The topic of good and evil can be hard for us to wrap our brains around. It is often one of the first arguments that unbelievers raise when thinking about Christianity. “If God is good, why is there evil in the world?”
It’s a legitimate question, and one that we as Jesus-followers also find ourselves struggling with. We’ll be addressing this question today, along with some other important questions that surround the issue.
The Lord continually helps us to understand and know Him more, so don’t despair if this is hard for you.
“We are living in a time when good is called evil and evil is called good. We need to be prepared for warfare.”
“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” Augustine
“Whenever you find a man who says he doesn’t believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.”
Author C.S. Lewis
“It is not only that sin consists in doing evil, but in not doing the good that we know.” Harry Ironside
“Good can exist without evil, whereas evil cannot exist without good.” Thomas Aquinas
What does good mean?
Let’s learn the real definition of good. We know that God is good. The Bible goes to great lengths to make this truth known to us. Psalm 136:1, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 119:68, Nahum 1:7, and Psalm 135:3 are just a few examples.
We can often get behind this. It’s easy to believe that goodness is a basic attribute of God. It’s harder for us to believe that God is always good and the only good. To the first point, 1 John 1:5 offers us some encouragement. It states, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
God’s ways and actions may not always make sense to us or fit what we would call “good,” but we can trust that His definition of good is better and He is always operating out of His perfect character. For the second point, we look to the words of Jesus.
In Mark 10, verse 18, we see Him interacting with a rich man. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” These ideas stretch our thinking, and require a lot of faith. I am praying for all of us, that our trust in God would be strengthened and that we would conclude what has been true all along: God is goodness defined.
What does evil mean?
When it comes to thinking about evil, I think that theologian A.W. Tozer puts it well. In his book, The Attributes of God, he says “all things as they move toward God are beautiful, and they are ugly as they move away from Him.”
Many of us tend to think that things are only evil when they hurt people. John Piper offers a different perspective to this human-centric view. In the video “Is Something Evil Only If It Harms Others?” he argues that all evil stems from finding superior satisfaction in anything but God.
The evil in hurting others is that they are made in the image of God and you are devaluing something He created. Evil is a God-issue, an offense against His perfect and Holy character. It’s seeing God and all His splendor and deciding that something else is better.
Piper points out that even the first sin worked out this way. Adam and Eve knew God but chose to seek satisfaction in the fruit anyway. Evil is any action, thought, or intention that values anything over God. When we define evil in this way, we can all agree with the biblical statement, “there is no one righteous, not even one.” However, we must not despair, as will be discussed later on.
What does the Bible say about good?
This is not an exhaustive list, just a good place to start!
“Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.” -Psalm 25:8
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” -1 Chronicles 16:34
“The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” -Psalm 92:15b
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” -Psalm 145:9
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” -James 1:17
Our Goodness (From the Spirit working within us, not our own strength!)
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” -Ephesians 2:8-10
Other Verses About Goodness
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” -Romans 12:9
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Romans 12:2
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” -Genesis 1:31
What does the Bible say about evil?
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” -Ephesians 6:12
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” -Genesis 50:20
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” -James 1:13
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” -Jeremiah 2:13
“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” -Psalm 5:4
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” -Matthew 15:19
“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” -Genesis 6:5
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” -1 John 5:19-20
The sacrifice of Christ
In the conversation about good and evil, the sacrifice of Christ is the most important thing to cling to. A lot of things in the material world and spiritual realm do not make sense to us.
The Lord reveals more and more to us through His word as we grow in maturity through the Spirit, but on this side of heaven, we will never understand in full. The one thing we have to remember when pondering life’s big questions is Jesus and what He did for us.
Even Paul says to the church in Corinth “And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthains 2:1-2) So what does the cross mean for us when it comes to good and evil?
When we see the evil in the world, we can be tempted to think that God doesn’t care for us. The cross shows us that this is not the case. Author Tim Keller puts it this way: “God hates evil and suffering. And we know that someday it’s all going to be over. He’s going to wipe away every tear. The reason why He hasn’t done it yet, we don’t know. But we do know this, it’s not because He doesn’t love us, or He would never have come and suffered. Jesus Christ, He came into this world, became human, got rid of His invulnerability, became mortal, and suffered with us so that someday He’d be able to end all suffering without ending us.” The cross shows God’s great love and mercy for His creation.
The cross also shows us that no man can boast. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Jesus had to come, He had to live a perfect life, and He had to sacrifice Himself on the cross as a propitiation for our sins. The evil deeds we committed and the evil intentions of our hearts were too great to be wiped away by anything except for the blood of Christ. Good vs. evil is not an “us vs. them” situation.
I think that Ephesians 2:1-7 (below) puts it best. We were all dead in our evil ways, but God in His great mercy called us near even when we were His enemies. The cross gives us hope that we can have a goodness coming not from ourselves, but from God. When you ponder the question of good and evil, let your thoughts always come back to Jesus.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” -Ephesians 2:1-7
If God created all things good, why does evil exist?
We will approach this question with humility. There is much debate in the Christian world concerning this topic, so I will encourage you to look to God’s word and solid teaching on your own as well. A lot of sources attempt to answer this question by focusing on free-will. The Bible does make it clear that we are responsible for our actions, but we must remember that God is sovereign over all things, even evil.
This is not an easy truth to understand, as there is a level of mystery here we may never be able to fully comprehend until we’re with Jesus. In his article, “How Did Evil Begin?,” John Piper offers his perspective: “This, to me, is one of the great mysteries of biblical teaching that I cannot explain—how God governs the will of sinful beings, yet, in doing so, does not sin, and does not take away their responsibility. I see that it is true, because the Bible teaches it, but how God does this remains a mystery.”
We know that the Lord does not delight in evil or suffering. As previously stated, Jesus suffered and died to save us from these very things. The Lord hates evil, but He has complete control over it and could completely eradicate it in a moment. So why doesn’t He? Why does it exist at all?
Once again, we look to the cross. Evil plays a role in the redemptive story God had planned before the world existed. The Lord’s aim has always been to love and care for His people. Piper puts it this way: “And we know it was a gracious purpose because God’s plan before the creation of the world was to show grace to unworthy sinners. Sin came into being as part of a plan to show grace to sinners. “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
The plan before creation was that Christ would be the Lamb slain for sinners—sinners whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). Christ slain for sinners was the plan before any human sinned.”
The mystery of the Gospel runs deep in both marvelous and perplexing ways. This saving of sinners is more beautiful and merciful than we could ever comprehend. It also confuses us in ways that can be very difficult to wrestle with. I am praying for you, that God would give you faith to trust Him with the things you don’t understand, and that you would grow in your knowledge and love for Him more and more each day.
Choosing good over evil
We know that God is sovereign over evil. However, we are still rightly held responsible for our actions. The forces of evil are still warring against our souls, and there is a heavenly battle being waged that the Lord will win and has already won.
In Scripture, God entreats us again and again to turn from evil and follow Him. He mourns the godlessness of people, and desires that they live a holy life. In Christ, we get to be a part of fighting against evil. We are not helpless in the war; we have been equipped with the armour of God.
Romans 6:13-14 says “And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace.” How exciting! We get to be weapons of righteousness in the hand of the Lord!
So how do we do this in real time? It doesn’t take mustering up our own goodness or living a perfect life; it takes relying on God and being conformed to the image of Christ. Going back to our definition of evil—finding superior satisfaction in anything but God—we see that turning away from evil requires a turning to something else, our Creator.
The number one most practical way to do this is repentance. This world needs Christians that are willing to see the sin in their own lives, confess it to the Lord and others, and turn away from it with the help of the Spirit. In pursuing good, we don’t want to be like the Pharisees that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 15:8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Sifting through our sins is heavy work, and we may be surprised to find the evil lurking in the corners of our lives. Thankfully, we’re not alone in this work, and we can continually look to Christ, who has already covered any sin you may uncover with His precious and holy blood. Remember the sweet promise of Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Commit to taking a step to carry this out.
A few suggestions would be to be in the Word regularly so you can see what Scripture has to say about sin and righteous living, to become accountability partners with another believer to confess sins to one another or focus on one area of life like purity or anger, to make confession a regular part of your prayer life, or to talk to a mentor about a sin you’ve been struggling with.
Turning from sin is hard, because we love our sin. We cling to it as one would an idol, though it can never really give us what we’re looking for. Thankfully, we know who can. We can actually enjoy God more than we enjoy sinning. God doesn’t expect us to turn from our sins to live a life devoid of happiness.
Instead, He knows that those things are killing our joy, and only He can give us true happiness. The Lord has called us to Himself as a groom calls to His bride: with a grand desire to spend our lives together, full of love and enjoyment. So how do we enjoy God more? I think the first step is making time for Him. No relationship can grow without quality time spent together.
I would encourage you to be in the Word and prayer daily, though that can look a bit different from person to person. However, it’s not about cold devotion. We are no better than the Pharisees if we make Bible reading something to check off a to-do list. Once again, it comes down to our hearts.
Not only should we carve out time for God, but we should also be constantly aware of our relationship with Him. If someone is married, they don’t only remember that they’re married when they’re with their wife. Rather, they should live every moment in such a way that shows they’re in a covenant with someone, think about her throughout the day, and be aware of her loving presence even when they’re apart.
When we became Christians, we became united with Christ. This doesn’t waver based on our feelings or performance. Jesus is just as much with you when you’re reading your Bible as He is when you are mean to your spouse. God loves us in real time. We can truly live our lives in Him. His promises are for us; He is moving in cosmic ways in your life at this very moment.
Enjoying God can take many forms. For me, I enjoy Him by relying on His power through prayer as I go throughout my day. I listen to worship music as I work on assignments, and cry to my Savior on long car rides when I have burdens that are weighing down my soul. I also enjoy Him by being in Christian community and doing life with other believers, being in the Word together or just having fun. I read the Bible in the morning and thank God for all of the blessings He’s given me. I take a walk and look at nature, and do my daily tasks aware of what Jesus has done for me. The Lord is loving you every single day. “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love.” Psalm 143:8
I’m praying for you, that you would enjoy God more and more and be truly captivated by His love for you. In doing so, you will be pursuing good and battling evil. Whether it’s by singing worship music in the shower or crying out to Him in the car, or anything in between, I hope you’re able to live your life in Christ, always aware of your union with Him.
Evil can be disguised as good
Turning from evil and pursuing good absolutely requires God’s help. Sometimes, we’re not even sure which is which. There have been times in my own life where I did and believed things that were not pleasing to the Lord, but I thought that I was serving Him through them. I am thankful that we are never alone in our fight against evil, because I would not stand a single chance on my own. Looking at the World, we can be overwhelmed by all of the chaos we see. God is aware and is in control of it all.
Looking at the first sin, we see the first example of evil being disguised as good. The Devil didn’t appear to Eve with horns and a pitch fork. Instead, he enticed her with an argument that seemed logical and fruit that looked desirable.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” – Genesis 3:1-6
The Bible says that Satan is the father of lies, and he has been lying from the beginning. He hasn’t stopped. Satan is still using the same tactics today. How many times have you tried to justify your sin with a logical argument? I know I have. The Devil is constantly trying to twist what God has told us and convince us that evil is good and good is evil. God is evil for withholding desirable fruit. It is good to take it because you want it. Just look at the present mindset of what a sexual relationship should look like.
We genuinely desire things that are outside of God’s plan for sex. Someone may struggle with pornography, be tempted to sleep with their girlfriend/boyfriend, cheat on their spouse, or experience same-sex attraction. Society would say to follow your truth; God would be cruel to keep the things you want from you. Some have gone so far as to say that God supports these things. The familiar taunt rings in our ears: “did God really say not to do that?” I will be the first to confess that I have struggled to resist this call. It’s okay to struggle with these things. The Lord’s compassion and mercy never runs dry.
However, we get into really dangerous territory when we call sin good. So how do we think clearly about good and evil when we’re constantly barraged with the Tempter’s schemes? First of all, be in the Word. Cling to what God has revealed to us. You may not understand why He calls some things sin, but that’s okay. Pray for understanding. Pray that He would help you see sin for what it is and reveal to you anything false that you are believing. I am grateful that one of Jesus’s roles in our lives is to protect us from the thieves and robbers who attempt to lead us astray (John 10). He will keep your faith firm. Cling to Him.
Morality requires a god
Although the world can often confuse us about what is good and what is evil, we should be encouraged that believers and nonbelievers alike are thinking about these things. Every person you meet will have some idea of right and wrong. The opinions will differ greatly, but morality is important to most people. Wars, social justice movements, charities, and careers are all set in motion by ideas about what the world should be like. If we were simply evolved creatures, morality wouldn’t matter to us. It would all be about survival and self-service. In a world without God, love and sacrifice would make no sense.
Most people entreat others to “be a good person” or “do the right thing.” If there is no god, what does that mean? Who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? Our definition of what is good changes so often and varies so much person to person, but most people would still insist there is a way to live a moral life. Where did we get this notion?
As Christians, we would argue that it was placed in our hearts by God. In our worldview, there is absolute truth and a clear distinction between good and evil. God’s standards don’t change, and neither does He. As previously stated, we may at times need help understanding how the Lord wants us to live, but one thing is certain: every person has some preconceived idea of right and wrong because they have an inborn knowledge of God. They feel the weight of their sins and the sin in the world one way or another.
The awesome thing is that we can offer hope in Jesus to these people. They have the right idea: we should live our lives a certain way. This is true, but they also need to know that every person falls short of moral living (Romans 3:23), and Jesus came to live a perfect life and die so that our evil deeds would be covered and we could have His goodness in us.
Morality is huge for evangelism. We are never starting at square one with people. Ask anyone and they will tell you that it doesn’t seem like the world should be this way. We would agree; it shouldn’t. That’s why Jesus came to save mankind. Talking about good and evil can be daunting, but we should enter conversations with humility and willingness, encouraged that we can talk about spiritual matters with unbelievers.
Justice is required
The good and hard news of the existence of good and evil is the requirement of justice. If there is a God who has established absolute morality, then there has to be some sort of consequence for evil. We expect this from our local law enforcements, our governments, and parents.
While we’re used to these forms of justice, we tend to shrink back at the thought of the justice of God. I would like to encourage you that it’s something not only to accept, but also to delight in.
Think of all of the ways that evil has touched your world. We’ve all been deeply impacted by our own sin, the sins of others, the fallen nature of the world, and evil spiritual forces. God accounts for every tear we’ve cried on account of these things; He sees all destruction felt on earth due to wickedness.
The chaotic nature of this year has made me yearn more than ever for the day that Jesus returns and eradicates evil forever. If we know Christ, we do not have to fear the justice of God. We are accounted for under the blood of His Son.
God could have laid down His moral perfection and let our trespasses slide; we could just exist in the state we are now forever. God could have destroyed us all on account of our wickedness long ago; He doesn’t need us. The amazing thing is that He both upheld His moral perfection by requiring justice, but also showed His great mercy and compassion by sending Jesus to receive the punishment for our evil in our place. The marvelous riches of the sacrifice of Christ have no end. What a holy, loving God we have. Someone had to pay the price for all of the evil committed by humanity. Jesus did!
Evil will come to an end.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” -Revelation 21:1-8
I wanted to write a really long paragraph describing how the Lord intends to end all evil. However, His words are much more meaningful than mine, and I don’t think I can add much to the beauty described here in Revelation 21. Take a moment to really take it in. You are a part of God’s redemptive story. If you are in Christ, you will be with Him forever. Cling to God and pursue good. Resist evil, and rely on the Lord to fight it. Don’t lose heart in the present evil age. Light and goodness win.
“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” -Romans 16:19-20