Given the dangerous examples of relative definitions of “good” and “evil” that I discussed last time, how can we define “good” and “evil” in any sort of useful way? To anyone who identifies himself or herself as a “Christian”, I would suggest the following answer. [If any reader does not so identify himself or herself, please bear with me a moment—what follows may be interesting anyway.] St. Anselm defined God as id quo maius cogitari non potest, or roughly, “that being greater than which nothing can be conceived”, which seems a pretty good definition — after all, if there were something greater than God, wouldn’t that something in fact be God and the original “God” is just a lesser creature, despite being “godlike” in comparison to us? If there exists such a being at the top of the spiritual food chain, if you will, (and let us assume one does for the remainder of this train of thought, since I’m addressing so-called Christians) we can deduce a couple of important points:
- God must be the “ultimate cause” or “uncaused cause” of everything — if God had been caused by some other being or force, that being or force must be greater than God (since it had the power to cause God’s existence), which by our definition cannot exist. This further implies that God created the entire universe, whether directly or indirectly, because all causes, even the cause of the universe, must eventually trace back to the first, ultimate, uncaused cause.
- God must be unchangeable — if God can be changed, whatever force or being changes Him must be greater than Him because it has power over God; again, by definition there can be no such force or being.
(Christians will note that the Bible also attests to these points about God, that is, that He is eternal and unchangeable.) If God is the cause of every being that exists in the universe, it should go without saying that God is more important than every other being and that His wishes and purposes are superior to those of every other being — humans included. Lesser beings, with their wants and desires, only exist because God willed that they exist, so He is perfectly within His right to deny those wants and desires that conflict with His higher-priority wishes. As difficult as it may be to swallow, He is also well within His right even to go so far as to will that the existence of any lesser being come to an end. We may not like that, but that wouldn’t change the truth of it any more than a child’s hatred of vegetables changes the fact they’re good for him or her. It is here that we begin to see a potential definition for “good” starting to take shape — God’s will, being of prime importance over our own, could be called “good”.
Fortunately, God’s will is not arbitrary — it is what it is because He is unchangeable. An unchangeable God would not, for example, will that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” one day and will that “Thou shalt commit adultery” the next, nor would an unchangeable God select one of these at random to become his permanent will. An unchangeable God who wills that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” does so because it is part of his nature; faithfulness is an integral part of His unchangeable character. God’s will, therefore, is anything that aligns with His character, and I think that gives Christians a workable definition of “good”: Good is that which lines up with or reflects God’s will and character.
The definition of “evil” should be easy to guess, then, but how do we explain it’s existence?