Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out

God’s image is imprinted in each person, but it’s only a reflection unless we embrace Him..

In the first century, Hebrews believed that they would be defiled by the things they ate. In the twenty first century, many Americans believe that people are generally good, and they learn to be prejudiced and hateful from their environment. I hadn’t seen the parallel until I spent some time meditating on the following words Jesus spoke to his first century audience:

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  …. Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” …. And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Mark 7:15, 18, 19, 20-23 ESV

Modern Americans may not agree with the list of evils Jesus mentions here, nor would they agree with ancient Hebrews’ list of evils, but I find it interesting that they might both generally agree, perhaps, on the source of evil – coming from outside the person. Modern Americans popularly believe that all people are good, that we only learn to be bad. It’s pressure from outside of us that influences us to do evil things.

Jesus said that isn’t true. It’s what comes from within us that defiles us. Jesus might have been echoing the Prophet, Jeremiah, when he said the human heart is deceitful (and “desperately sick”). (Jer. 17:9) We fool ourselves when we think that we are basically good.

James says, “[E]ach person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire …” (and, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin….”). (James 1:14-15) Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13), and all people have sinned and fallen short. (Rom 3:23) The thread of sin runs through all people.

I think that Scripture is correct in this. The human heart tends toward evil. We have to learn to be good. Evil is what comes naturally, but good has to be learned.

But what is the essence of goodness and evil? This is where we find agreement (it’s not good to kill babies for fun) and disagreement (on issues like abortion).

Jesus breaks “being good” down to two things: loving God above all else, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:36-40) If these things are the greatest goods, then the greatest evils are what is contrary to them: not loving God and not loving our neighbors.

I think modern Americans can agree about the goodness of loving others, but we tend to reject (or are agnostic about) loving God. Ancient Hebrews generally subscribed to both precepts, but there was a disconnect for them. They got caught up in the commandments (the do’s and don’ts) and didn’t understand that those commandments pointed to something greater. Thus, they focused on what they took into their bodies instead of what came out of their hearts.

Jesus focused on the heart of the matter – human hearts. We would do well to refocus our attention in the twenty first century on human hearts as well, beginning with our own hearts. We search for ultimate truth within ourselves, but the hateful things that we detest in others come from within us also.

Continue reading “Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out”

Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 3

The world isn’t fair, but the world is designed nevertheless to accomplish the purpose of God.


Job was a “righteous man” (as far as people go), but he wasn’t very sympathetic toward other people going through tough times. We realize this only when his friends mirror the advice to him that he gave to others. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 1)

It’s easy to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. It’s easy to be “good” and religious when things are going well. When the tables turn, however, our attitudes and perspectives change. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 2)

The Book of Job is an example that religious people, and good people, generally, sometimes have a hard time sympathizing with people going through tough times. We tend to think that they deserve what they get for making bad decisions, doing bad things or just being unwise.

The truth is, though, that bad things happen to “good” people; and sometimes, “bad” people don’t get what they deserve. Life isn’t fair, as I say often to my children.

Job thought of himself as righteous, and he was righteous – at least more righteous than most. He was proud of his goodness and attributed the good fortune he enjoyed to his moral character and wise living.

Job and his friends looked down on others who suffered hardship, believing that the hardship they suffered was the just fruits of their bad decisions, bad character, lack of wisdom and faithfulness toward God.

Only when the tables turned did Job wake up to the fact that life isn’t fair.

Job may have been a better man that most or all of the people he knew, but that didn’t prevent calamity from overtaking him. The hollow advice he had given others (live right and all will be well) rang false when the shoe was on the other foot.

Of course, goodness and badness are relative in human terms. We often only think of goodness and badness in human terms, and we fail to appreciate that God’s standard of goodness is on a completely different level than ours.

Jesus made that clear in stating that “only God is good” (Mark 10:38), words that Paul echoed when he said no one is righteous, not a single person. (Romans 3:20)

Again, we have to look to Jesus to understand God’s standard of goodness (perfection). He explained the standard in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus demonstrated that standard in his own life.

Jesus went well beyond the Ten Commandments by directing people to look inward. We don’t satisfy God’s ultimate standard by refraining from murdering people or committing adultery, for instance. That’s only scratching the surface. Perfection requires that we refrain from harboring anger in our hearts towards others, refrain from casting insults and thinking that other people are fools. (Matt. 5:21-26) Perfection means not even looking at another person with lust in our hearts. (Matt. 5:27-28)

Jesus went much, much further still. Perfection isn’t just what we should refrain from doing; perfection is demonstrated in affirmatively loving people. And, it’s not enough merely to love family, friends and people good to us.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48)

Perfection requires love, the kind of love God demonstrated in Jesus. In Jesus, God emptied Himself of His power, privilege and position to become one of us, and He submitted Himself to the point of laying down His life for our benefit. (Phil. 2:6-8) When Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13), Jesus backed those words up by doing exactly that.

Job and his friends had no sympathy for people going through hard times. They thought they were better than they were, and they thought their goodness (or lack thereof) should result in reward (or punishment) in this life. But it doesn’t. That is the harsh reality.

Job and his friends felt comfortable in a world in which they thought they could earn good things with good behavior, but that all changed when the tables were turned.

Continue reading “Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 3”

God’s Purpose for Good

Jacob with his sons before the Pharaoh, ceiling fresco by Johann Adam Remele in Joseph Hall, Cistercian Abbey of Bronbach in Reicholzheim near Wertheim, Germany

“But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.'” Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

I have written recently about the verse, Genesis 50:20 (things men might mean for evil God is able to use for good). (See God in the Dark) The message that God can turn the evil that impacts our lives for good is  powerful one. Though we might despair in our circumstances, especially when the evil we experience is caused by people, maybe even people we love, God is ever at work. God is able to redeem our circumstances, and, more importantly, redeem us.

As with any verse in the Bible, though we need to read it in context to understand the fullest, and most complete meaning. Genesis 50:20 was spoken by Joseph in a very specific context, so let’s take a look at that context and mine this well-known verse for some deeper meaning.

Continue reading “God’s Purpose for Good”

Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)

The Bible describes an ongoing cosmic conflict. Why the conflict of beings opposing God if He is all-powerful?


I have been blogging on the problem of pain. (See the Introduction, Part 1 and Part 2). This is “the” problem, with a capital “P” for the Christian who maintains, based on biblical revelation, that God is all-powerful and all-good. If God is so powerful, why can’t He stop the evil? If God is so good, why doesn’t He stop the evil? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, or (ultimately) the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

I am working my way through the puzzle, putting the pieces in place. You will have to read through the previous posts to catch up (if you want to). The piece of the puzzle I want to explore next is the cosmic drama that is evident in the Scripture.

Jesus refers to the Devil as the ruler of this world. So the Devil most have some authority and jurisdiction over the world. If God is really God, the authority of the Devil to do what he does must have give by God. But why?! If the question isn’t simply rhetorical, there must be a purpose? Why would an all-powerful God allow restraints on His power to allow the rejection, opposition and counter-activity of being He created?

Before I try to answer that question, I want to dive into the evidence of this conflict that we see in the Scripture and look for clues as to why it would be allowed by an all-powerful God.

Continue reading “Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 3)”

The Currents of Evil and Bedrock of Good

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

Good and evil exist in the world. Good and evil can be seen in the same events, like the Orlando shooting. The evil of the shooting played out side by side with the good of the heroic responses by victims, responders, their families and friends and the community that rallied around them.

Good and evil is the timeless subject of stories, and imagination, history and our cultural, political and personal narratives. Most of us like to think of ourselves on the side of good, opposed to evil, however we define those terms. Some of us, only a very few among us, who attempt to uphold a naturalistic view of the world devoid of God or gods, would dare say that good and evil exist only in our wishful thinking. Even they, however, are quick to denounce what they view as evil, belying their assertions that there is no such thing as good (or evil).

Contrary to the way we like to view things, evil does not play along party, idealistic or even religious lines. Evil and the forces of evil are opportunistic and they are everywhere.

Let me explain. Continue reading “The Currents of Evil and Bedrock of Good”