Evil in the Good Book


  • Question from CM, United Kingdom

    What is the Bible’s view of good and evil and how does it compare to that of today’s society (given that western values are supposed to have been built on Christianity) and is there still any common ground?

    The Bible’s view of good and evil is best summed up using the classic summary of the Mosaic Law, as found in Matthew chapter 22 verses 37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbour as yourself.” Goodness or righteousness, whichever term we prefer, is bound up in these distilled commandments. The centrality of God in the life of the believer is the means by which a human is declared to be good or not.

    As far as the metaphysical problem of why evil exists at all, the Bible gives us no answer. Human sin lies at the root cause of human pain and toil in the early chapters of Genesis – the explanations for pain in childbirth and the labour needed for human beings to eat are the main interests of the author of Genesis. In later tradition, the tempting serpent, often identified with Satan was blamed for the existence of evil. Yet in the Old Testament, moral evil was always related to transgressing divine commands. Natural evil (earthquakes and the like) were calamities that just happened and while God was sovereign over the whole world, he could not be called to account for things like that. It would seem that the Biblical authors had no trouble reconciling an all-powerful, good God with the existence of evil in the world. It is later generations who have wrestled with the ‘problem of evil’.

    In fact there are some difficult instances in the Old Testament where it would appear that God is the author of ‘evil’ events. In Isaiah chapter 45 and verse 7, Yahweh speaks through the prophet and claims: “I bring prosperity and create disaster”. This does not mean that God is amoral, or even immoral. Rather it asserts that God is in control of all events and can act in any way he chooses to bring about his purposes.

    As far as relating the Biblical concept of goodness (unyielding allegiance to God’s cause), there is obviously little common ground between modern culture and what the Bible thinks is good behaviour. Ironically, the good things in life: prosperity, peace, health, trustworthiness, fidelity, love and laughter are generally all things valued by our society. The Bible quite clearly teaches that the only way to truly grasp these good things, whether in this life or the next, is through submission to God and complete obedience to his commands. Our culture, like all human cultures before it, does not share the same outlook.

    I hope this answers your question, CM. Thanks for contributing to freelance theology.

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