Hello everyone! I wrote this paper for a theology class, but it was in some ways inspired by discussions on this site. This topic has been debated since the earliest days of Christianity, and if books such as Job are any indication people have been wondering about it for as long as there have been people. It was a blessing to investigate this question, so I hope you will also become intrigued by this topic. I highly encourage reading about it from writers who hold different views, I only present three here.
The Goodness of God
This summer my church had a vacation bible school. Each year the VBS has a different theme: this one was God’s goodness. At our activity stations we sometimes have shouting matches of which crews of kids can yell the loudest: “God is good!” While I have always liked the little phrase that we use as the theme, this one was a favorite. It had a kind of subtle power to it. Affirming God’s goodness gives a feeling of joy and hope. Sadly, many people do not know God’s goodness; some even see Him as the ultimate evil. It is only natural to wonder what exactly it means that God is good and why a good God would allow suffering.
Obviously God’s goodness is one of the foundations of what we believe, but what does it mean that He is good? Goodness has many aspects: righteousness, moral virtue, kindness, grace, honesty, reliability, capability, and worthiness, among others (Dictionary.com, 2019). Let’s take a closer look at how these apply to God. Many psalms praise God for His righteousness, His fair judgements.
“let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.” - Psalm 98:9, NIV
Because God is righteous, we know that He takes sin seriously and rewards good. Even when it seems like people are becoming successful through evil actions or being persecuted for doing good, God will make all things right in the end. He has a uniquely perfect understanding of right and wrong because of His moral virtue.
“The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.” - Psalm 19:7-8
Some people see provisions of Old Testament law, such as capital punishment for cursing parents (Exodus 21:17) or the fact that slavery was allowed (Exodus 21:2-11) as evidence that God does not have perfect morality. Most evangelical theologians agree that there are three types of laws: civil, ceremonial, and moral. Ceremonial and civil laws, usually the laws skeptics find objectionable, were meant specifically for Israel during Bible times; they were fulfilled by Jesus in such a way that we can learn from them but are no longer bound to follow them. The moral laws, most famously the Ten Commandments, reflect God’s character especially well and are applicable in any culture (Lindsley, Nov 2013).
God demonstrates kindness and grace to us every day. That believers and unbelievers alike receive the blessings of food, sunshine, community, and many other things is testimony to His character (Acts 14:15-18). The ultimate expression of His grace is Jesus. We do not deserve that God would send His Son, but in love Jesus was sent to us. Jesus chose to suffer and die in our place so that we could have eternal life and forgiveness. Jesus’ life as fully human also proves that God experiences an important part of kindness: empathy. He understands what our life is like because He has lived it, so we can confidently pray to Him about anything. A popular passage expresses God’s grace and kindness wonderfully:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” - Ephesians 2:8-9
How do we know God will always be good? The Bible describes Him as honest and reliable. In fact, God, in these verses Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is called the very definition of truth.
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” - John 14:6
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” - John 16:13
We know from other passages that God does not lie, keeps His promises (Titus 1:2), and is always the same (Hebrews 13:8).
All of these traits show God’s good character, but to be perfectly good He has to be capable of doing all the good that He intends. There is much scriptural evidence for both the omnipotence (Isaiah 46:9-11, Matthew 19:26) and omniscience (Matthew 6:8, Psalm 139) of God. Psalm 139 describes that God knew every day of David’s life before he was even born and knew David’s prayers before he even spoke.
All of these traits and more make God worthy of our worship. His goodness far surpasses ours. People can have the traits that make up goodness, but not perfectly in the same way God does. That’s why Jesus says “no one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18) These truths are important to remember when considering what is often called the problem of evil. There are many approaches that attempt to explain why a world created by a good God would be allowed to contain sin and suffering; but I believe that some have more merit than others. It all depends on how well the explanation matches God’s perfect goodness as revealed in the Bible.
One of the oldest views, embraced by early church theologians such as Augustine, is termed the classic perspective. This teaching is concerned with solving the problem of how evil is even possible if God did not create it. Multiple scripture passages show that God does not directly cause evil.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” - James 1:13
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” - 1 John 1:5
If God didn’t create evil, how does it exist? The classic view says that evil is not a thing in itself, but a corruption of something good. An analogy is helpful: evil exists in the same way a hole in a shirt exists, there is no such thing as “pure hole” (with no shirt to put it in) just like there is no such thing as evil existing as a separate, created object (thus God did not create it). Classical theologians believe that Adam’s sin was evil because while he was meant to seek the highest good (God), he instead chose an inferior good (himself) (Cary, 2017).
Molinist theologians have a different focus. They emphasize God’s middle knowledge, His ability to know what His creatures would do in any set of circumstances. God values free choice, so He chose to create the best possible world in which humans can choose whether or not to follow Him. God lays out the circumstances knowing what we will choose, but does not force us to make the choice. Because of His middle knowledge God can have good reasons for permitting evil even when we can’t see those reasons. God sees every effect a tragedy will have on the whole future of humanity. We are in no position to claim He is wrong because our understanding of the future is so limited (Craig, 2017).
In an attempt to understand why evil still exists in this world, it can be tempting to say that God can’t do everything He wants to (this belief is known as process theology. Process theologians believe that God is constantly changing and learning). The belief of open theism also claim that God does not control all evil (Alcorn, 2009). This view suggests that God does not know in advance what choices His creatures will make, though He knows all possibilities. God follows policies He knows will usually lead to good, and if something bad happens as an unforeseen effect He works to bring good from it. One of the main objections that open theists have to views that affirm the omniscience of God is that if He knows how everything will happen and created the circumstances to make it happen that way, humans do not really have free will (Hasker, 2017). Proponents see passages such as 1 Samuel 15:11, where God said He “regretted” making Saul king, as evidence. However, passages describing God’s regret can be understood in the sense that He does not enjoy what must happen, even though He allowed it for the purpose of greater future good (Alcorn, 2009). Open theism requires a non-literal interpretation of Bible passages such as these:
or showed him the path of understanding?” - Isaiah 40:13-14
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” - Hebrews 4:13
These are only three of the many explanations of why a good God would allow evil. I would like to point out a few things that are held in common. It is known that God does not enjoy evil or suffering. He hears the prayers of people who suffer, for example, He responded to the Israelites’ call for help in Egypt.
“The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” - Exodus 3:7-8a
We also know that God brings good out of bad situations. He can use suffering to build character and lead us to know His love more deeply (Romans 5:3-5). Even when it seems pointless, God can still use it for His glory. Perspectives differ on whether or not God intentionally allows specific evils (the issue here is over suffering that seems pointless), but I tend to believe that each thing that happens has been specifically permitted. I agree with the statement that what our minds see and understand about the universe is vastly less than what God understands, so much so that we have no grounds to label something as “pointless” (Wykstra, 2017). When His disciples asked why a certain man had been born blind, Jesus said before healing him:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” - John 9:3
Finally, we all have hope because God will redeem the world and make it free from evil.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
- Romans 8:18-21
Even now God is revealing His redemptive love to us in Jesus. If we did not need Jesus to die for us and rise from the dead, we would not have seen the depths of God’s love for us so clearly. This, I believe, is the highest good and gives God the glory He deserves.
Understanding God’s goodness is one of the most joyful things about faith. It equips us to think about important questions surrounding the existence of evil in the world. The many views on this topic are different in their focuses and interpretation of God’s desires or abilities, but they agree on important things: God cares for us, brings good out of bad, and will redeem the world in the end. Remember… “God is good!”
Alcorn, Randy. (2009). If God is good: Faith in the midst of suffering and evil. New York, NY:
Cary, Phillip. (2017). A classic view. In C. Meister & J.K. Dew (Eds.), God and the problem of
evil: Five views (pp. 13-36). Downer Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press
Craig, William L. (2017). A molinist view. In C. Meister & J.K. Dew (Eds.), God and the
problem of evil: Five views (pp. 37-56). Downer Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press
Dictionary.com. (2019). Good: Definition of good. Retrieved from