Last night we spent some time getting our heads around how the scriptures discuss the ideas of good and evil. This is connected to our study from a few weeks ago on true maturity, for which we read Hebrews 5:12-14 and saw that true maturity involves developing the ability to correctly distinguish between good and evil by using our experiences to let God teach us how he evaluates things.
If that’s so, it seems it raises three questions for which we must search the scriptures for answers:
- What is Good, and what is evil?
- How can we learn the difference between the two?
- Once we learn the answers to these questions, what should be our relationship to good and evil?
Here are the notes from last night:
Part 1: What is Good? What is Evil?
First, see Deuteronomy 30:15-19. This passage is key for this discussion. Notice especially these two pairings:
- v.15 Life & Good v. Death & Evil
- v.19 Life & Blessing v. Death & Cursing
This gives us a contrasting of two trios: Good/Life/Blessing and Evil/Death/Cursing.
Now see Psalm 34:8-16. Notice the similar themes. If you want to see life, seek the good.
So we can arrive at a preliminary definition for “good”: In the world of human experience, good is that which promotes and preserves life and everything associated with it.
Now see Jesus teaching in Matthew 19:16-17. Notice a similar paring of good and life, this time in the form of good things and eternal life. Jesus takes the time to point out an interesting fact: No one is ultimately good but God. (Note: this statement is not absolute, Jesus called other people good. Mt 12:35, 5:45)
With this we can get a fuller definition for “good”: Good is the basic quality of who God is, as the giver, promoter, sustainer, of life, and the one who makes life pleasurable, free, beautiful, and productive. Who God is defines good—that is, who he is in his personal qualities. These qualities reach us in the way he relates to everything he has made, especially in how his goodness reaches us as humans. This would make “evil” the opposite of those qualities God displays. Evil is everything that separates from created beings God, leading to breakdown in life, and ultimately, death.
Part 2: How do we learn to distinguish between the two?
The Problem: Our Senses Are Messed Up
See Isaiah 5:18-21. Notice a dual problem. First, our ability to distinguish between good and evil is impaired. It’s messed up just enough that a lot of times we make mistakes, and we’re easily fooled into mistaking good for evil and evil for good. Not only that, but as Isaiah points out, even the understanding we do have can be corrupted by people who intentionally obscure the difference between good and evil (see also Malachi 2:14-17, and Proverbs 14:12).
The Solution: Seek God. Specifically, let him tell you what promotes life.
See again Deuteronomy 30:11-19 and Romans 10:1-11. The ultimate “Good” and the ultimate “command” is to acknowledge Jesus is your rightful authority (“Lord”). Once we do that, how do we learn to know which things are good for a follower of Christ? We’re going to do the same thing the people of God have always had to do—we’re going to let God’s word teach us what things lead towards life and what things lead towards death.
Practically, we must learn to read the bible humbly, with prayer and other believers. As we read we ask God to use the stories, commands, and truths contained in it to show the difference between what things will promote and preserve life and what things will destroy life—especially what things will promote and destroy your life and the life of those around you. For this discussion, notice also John 17:3. Eternal Life is to know God.
The Full Story: Like so many things in life, the issue is all relational. Whatever breaks down my relationship with God leads to separating me from the source of life. So I let him tell me how to draw to close to him, how to “stay connected to him” and then I will be eternally in relationship with him, and therefore eternally connected to all that promotes life.
But we need to be careful here! Because of the culture we live in, we need to fight the temptation to assume we know what promotes life, and to think that if we just have positive feelings towards God, then we can trust our instincts about what’s good for us and what’s not. There’s too many pitfalls, lies, and confusing situations for us to ever put this thing on cruise control. We need to keep God’s instructions from scripture flowing through our minds so we keep getting fresh exposure to his thoughts. We need to develop a reflex of asking God about every decision—is this a way I should take or not? Is this a path I should go down? Is this thing good or bad to bring in to my life? Will this lead me closer to you, or further away from you? (See 1 Ki 3:9)
Part 3: What Should be a person’s relationship to Good and evil?
1. Those who know God become smart about what is good and how to do it, but not smart about how to do evil.
For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.
My people are foolish, They have not known Me. They are silly children, And they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge.”
2. Those who know God learn to hate evil and stay away from it, but they love good—they chase it, and keep it close to themselves.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:15
See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
3 John 1:11
Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.
Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the LORD God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.
3. Those who know God learn never to fall into the temptation of seeking to use evil to further God’s purposes. You can’t really defeat evil just by bringing in a stronger evil.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
4. Those who know God learn to constantly remember that ultimately good is that which triumphs, and that which lasts. So they become people who use their lives to do things which are eternal, and they don’t despair when others do things which are evil. In other words, those who know God actively use their lives to do good things.
The evil will bow before the good, And the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For “He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”