Humans have wrestled with questions of good and evil since time immemorial without reaching any universally satisfactory conclusion. For Christians, all goodness flows from God's inherent character, and evil is refusing to submit to His authority and love and serve Him. The problem of evil's existence is a stickier issue, causing much debate among Christian scholars, theologians and philosophers. But Christian beliefs define the source of determining what is good and what is evil, describe human nature and provide Christians with tools for combating evil with good.
Who Defines Good?
Many Bible verses affirm the Christian belief that, "God is good and His love endures forever." (Psalm 100:5) Beth Davies-Stofka, Ph.D., an online teacher of religious studies at Front Range Community College in Colorado, explains: "Christianity believes in a benevolent God who created the universe and all things in it…God's plan for creation is rooted in divine goodness." So in the Christian worldview, all that is good comes from God and all that He does is good because He cannot contradict His inherent nature.
What is Evil?
Evil is generally divided into categories of natural evil, such as natural disasters, diseases or birth defects; and moral evil or human action that results in pain and suffering for others, such as genocide, war, cruelty, exploitation and abuse. Many Christians hold that moral evil stems from rebellion against God, which results in injustice, vanity, pride, dishonesty, aggression, violence, greed and more. The belief in Adam and Eve's original sin offers a widespread Christian explanation for how suffering and death were introduced to the world through their disobedience to God, asserts Cynthia Stewart, Ph.D., author of "The Catholic Church: A Brief Popular History."
Because of Adam and Eve's fall into sin, Christian tradition holds the belief touted by St. Augustine that humans are born in a state of sinfulness, unrelated to anything they have yet done, already contaminated with the long-lasting and far-reaching consequences of the original sin. Because of this sin, human beings are separated from God and in need of a Savior to bridge the gap and provide a way for salvation. Humans' sinful nature wars with their desire for God and according to BBC Religions, explains the "tendency for human beings to 'give in' when tempted by the prevailing evils of the society around them, rather than standing up for good." As the Apostle Paul laments: "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:14-15)
The Problem of Evil
Many scholars and theologians over the course of history have tried to explain or justify the existence of evil and suffering in light of God's goodness. Christian explanations for evil usually include discussion on the role of free will and human choice, God's corrective discipline and call to repentance, and God's ability to see the big picture better than humans and turn even apparent evil into that which accomplishes His good purposes. Dr. Davies-Stofka elucidates: "'Free' will is not free if we can only choose the good, so God does not prevent us from choosing evil. Suffering is the price we pay for this freedom to choose." Another Christian viewpoint is that although God cannot cause evil and suffering, He may allow it to happen to bring a person to a state of recognition of her need for His salvation and drive her to repentance; or to test her faith in order to make it grow stronger.
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