If, as I suggested last week, good is that which lines up with or reflects God’s will and character, how do we handle “evil”? The obvious definition as the opposite of good is that evil is that which is contrary to the will and character of God, but if God wills only that which is good, and God willed that the universe and everything in it exist, how can evil also exist? Can anything exist that was not willed by God? Does evil actually even exist then? If it does, is evil actually good because it exists?
Again speaking to those who identify as “Christians”, I would say that the answer lies in the concept of free will. According to Christian beliefs, God created other beings in order to have fellowship with them, but fellowship would be hollow and meaningless indeed if a choice weren’t given. When God created angels and humans, they were good, because what God creates is good. However, instead of creating automatons that could have no real understanding of the consequences of His love or faithfulness or goodness or any of His divine character, He also gave them free will to choose fellowship or not — to choose to develop their own character in accordance with His. Unfortunately, some of the angels chose otherwise and led humans to do the same, resulting in evil — not created by God, but a result of our own choices. By choosing to define what was good in terms of themselves and their own desires, and not in reference to God (who, as you remember from my last post, is the very essence of goodness and therefore the standard against which anything “good” must be measured), they inevitably came into conflict with God’s will (which as you’ll also remember from my last post, should trump the will any beings He created since He is more important and powerful than they), and evil came into being. Interestingly enough, defining “good” in terms of themselves is the exact type of moral relativity I mentioned a couple of posts ago, meaning that a “Christian” God-based definition of good and evil is in complete opposition to the relativistic definition: Moral relativity is actually the cause and very defining characteristic of evil under the God-centered view!
I realize that a theologian could do far more justice to these arguments — and the interested reader may want to read up on Anselm and Thomas Aquinas and others — but I hope I’ve at least been able to get my thoughts across. Anyone who styles himself of herself a “Christian” really should be defining good as “that which lines up with or reflects God’s will and character” and evil as “that which is contrary to the will and character of God”. This definitely has profound implications for what things can be considered good and evil by a “Christian”; there are doubtless many things a “Christian” likes that should be classified as evil or dislikes that should be classified as good. Any “Christian” reader who does not subscribe to these definitions may want to reconsider his or her beliefs.
How then does a person who is not a “Christian” define good and evil? If such a person believes in the existence of any god, the foregoing arguments should provide enough support for also using the “Christian” definition, except that in the absence of special revelation from that god, there is the problem of determining what that god’s will and character are (Christians have the Bible for this). For the person who does not believe in the existence of any god, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m afraid there is no real definition for good and evil apart from the relativistic, individual-centric ones I’ve described previously. Without an absolute standard given by a higher power, a standard that transcends space and time, the definitions of “good” and “evil” are purely subjective and subject to change — they are both based purely on opinion, and no one really has a greater claim than anyone else. As I mentioned earlier, this moral relativism has allowed abortion to be considered “good” today, because that is the majority opinion, but tomorrow it could very well swing back the other way, and no one operating under this relativistic definition would have any grounds to object. Also, although abortion is considered “good” today in America, it is not so considered elsewhere, like in Chile, where it is illegal with no exceptions, but still, moral relativists have no leg to stand on should they protest — who are they that their opinion trumps others’ halfway around the globe? Really, without an objective transcendent definition, the relativity of opinion means there is nothing good or evil — you and I may think murder is evil, but the psychopathic killer doesn’t think so, and if there is no standard outside our opinions, who are we to contradict him? Without an eternal standard outside ourselves, we really have no basis at all for judging something “good” or “evil”. An atheist may dislike a Christian or Christian doctrine but has absolutely no justification for that opinion other than the fact that it is his or her opinion, and that also means the Christian is just as entitled his or her own doctrine and opinion.
If there be any reader that falls into this latter category, with definitions for “good” and “evil” rooted only in his or her own relative preferences, let me leave you with the warning that these definitions are extremely hazardous (as I think should be obvious from the above), an undeniable fact that interestingly lines up with my earlier assertion that moral relativism is itself the very cause of evil, and recommend consideration of a more absolute definition as provided by God, if for no other reason than to have a solid basis for moral judgments. Of course, that reader could always just choose to put his or her faith in Christ’s saving grace, and that would settle it 😉