Good And Evil: What Are They Really?

Good And Evil: What Are They Really? May 22, 2024

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/

For centuries, mankind has tussled with one of life’s most troubling mysteries: If an all-powerful, benevolent God exists, then why does he allow evil and suffering to plague his creation? This question has puzzled philosophers, theologians, and ordinary people alike for many years. Upon deeper reflection, however, the truth emerges that God doesn’t actively permit evil – rather, he grants us free will, and we choose to turn away from the good.

Because of his mercy, he doesn’t trigger a kill-switch in our brains to destroy us when we move to sin, as some apparently think should be the case. Otherwise, how could he prevent evil? If God didn’t allow evil, the majority of us wouldn’t survive to puberty, leading to the extinction or scarcity of humanity—or if you want to be more realistic, the whole thing would have ended with Adam.

From childhood, the natural tendency of our heart is to do evil. (Gen 6:5; Gen. 8:21). It seems to be a part of our nature. Nonetheless, we must resist it. In order to overcome this nature, we must learn to choose the good (Rom. 12:21; Is. 7:16), and understanding what that is would be helpful. How do we define good? In reality, what is evil? In this post, we’ll discuss what good and evil are at their core, and why God doesn’t permit evil, but we choose it.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Good and evil–what are they really? Let’s start at the beginning. The biblical story of the first human beings is well-known. According to the account, God created humankind on the sixth day of creation. He formed a person from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils, and the person became a living creature.

God placed the person, known as “Adam,” into the Garden of Eden and gave him the job of caring for it. He permitted Adam to eat from every tree in the garden, however, he forbade him from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Unfortunately, Adam’s wife disobeyed God’s command, and her husband followed suit. Their eyes were opened, and they could now distinguish between good and evil. They were now held accountable for their actions, and the responsibility of choosing good now rested on them. But the question remains: what is good, and what is evil? 

What is Good?

Interpretations of Good

The concept of good is one that’s universally understood, yet complex in its meaning. Many religions and philosophies have examined the meaning of good, and most would agree, that good refers to that which is morally right, just, virtuous and promotes the well-being of others. However, people’s interpretations of what’s good are shaped by their personal values, experiences and cultural backgrounds. 

Goodness, then, is often associated with acts of kindness, generosity, truthfulness and integrity. For many, being good means being honest, keeping one’s commitments and acting with compassion. It involves doing what’s right according to individuals, communities, and societies and refraining from causing disturbances or harming others. In essence, there is no universal agreement on what constitutes good, but most agree it involves behavioral actions that improve humanity. The precise definition remains subject to ongoing reflection, discussion and debate across time and cultures. 

The Biblical Meaning of Good

Now, let’s explore the term good. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word tov is the main translation for good. When God observed the light, he saw that it was tov (Gen. 1:4). Adam was forbidden to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good (tov) and Evil. Greek terms in the New Testament translated as “good” include kalos, meaning “beautiful,” “pleasing,” “noble,” “virtue,” “well,” or “rightly,” and agathos, meaning “brave,” “capable,” or “serviceable.” Agathos can also denote a benefit or blessing.  

In English, the word good is derived from the Old English word gōd which as an adjective, can mean “excellent,” “valuable,” “favorable,” or  “complete.”  It can also mean “beneficial,” ”suitable,” or “effective.” As a noun, it can indicate a benefit or an advantage. “A good” denotes something of worth.

Regardless of differences in beliefs, at its core, good refers to that which is beneficial or advantageous in some way. It describes something that has a purpose, and serves that purpose well, according to standards set by individuals and groups. Consequently, good cannot be universally defined. Someone’s “good” may not be another’s “good,” and one’s “good” may be another’s “bad.” Good, therefore, is subjective.

But for believers, the notion of good takes on a deeper, more spiritual meaning. The truly good is that which builds up God’s kingdom – whether it be through acts of charity, justice, compassion, or faith. It’s that which aligns with and furthers God’s purposes. It’s those things that fulfill his commandments to love him with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:36-39).

For the children of the God of Abraham, good is what is beneficial to ourselves and to others in the eyes of our Creator, for the purpose of advancing his kingdom (Gen. 1:28). For discovering and following these essentials, we have his Word and Spirit as guides.

God is Good

There’s no doubt that God is good (Ps. 100:5). In other words, he is excellent, which means he excels above or surpasses all others (Is. 45:5-6; Ps. 113:5-9). He is perfectly capable of all things (Matt. 19:26), and he is whole, or complete, (Deut. 6:4), lacking nothing. God is perfect in morality and justice (Ps. 18:30; Deut 32:4), and serving him is of great benefit to us (Ps. 68:19;  Prov. 18:10; Ps. 23; Ps. 46; Ps. 121). O’ taste and see that the Lord is good! (Ps. 34:8).

Consequently, goodness is found in people whose character and motivations reflect the mind and character of God. It’s embodied in thoughts, words, and deeds that align with his will.  Ultimately, we are “good people” not when we do everything perfectly, but when we function properly – when we are useful to God and to each other, fulfilling our intended purpose. That purpose is to love the Lord and to care for and uplift one another as we govern this earthly kingdom together. This is what our Creator has charged us to do (Ps. 115:26). It is the pursuit of this understanding of good that edifies the church and humanity.

What is Evil?

Views On Evil

The problem of evil has perplexed some of history’s greatest minds. But viewed through the proper lens, we can get a decent understanding of its meaning. To many, evil represents the darkest parts of human nature – cruelty, hatred, violence, and corruption. It’s associated with selfishness, malice, and lack of empathy. People who commit barbaric acts like murder, assault, or abuse, are often described as evil. Some link evil to mental illness, radicalism, or distorted thinking. 

Views on evil are complex and varied, though most would agree that it involves intentionally causing unjustified harm. While perspectives differ on how evil should be defined, understood, or approached, it’s a shared recognition among many that evil acts violate human worth and morality. Consequently, various belief systems urge followers to resist their own evil impulses and urges. 

Additionally, many cultures and faiths believe evil forces or spirits tempt people to do evil. In Christianity, they’re often referred to as “demons” or “devils.” The word demon, from the Greek word daimon, refers to an inferior divinity or god with power to control men’s destinies. Demons, in general, can be considered elohim, or what we call angels, or “messengers” of God. However, many believe evil demons are fallen angels who rebelled with “Satan.”

In Greek, diabolos means “slanderer” or “false accuser.” Diabolos, translated as devil, in the NT, can go hand and hand with the term satan, which means “adversary” or “opposer” —the adversary accuses God to men, and he accuses men to God. All together, these are what we call evil or “worthless” spirits that are detrimental to our relationship with God and Christ. They are unbeneficial to life, humanity, or God’s kingdom and can harm us greatly. 

These spirit beings are in heavenly places (Eph. :12) and can lead us astray by tempting us to follow our own desires rather than God’s (James 1:14). This is likely what happened in the Garden of Eden. As Adam’s wife sought to become wise like God, she ate of the forbidden tree at the persuasion of the “serpent,” which was likely not a reptile, but one of these elohim or “shining ones.” Since then, mankind has continuously repeated this pattern. This is why evil exists in humanity. By turning away from what God says is good, we choose to do what is evil. 

And when we obey other voices, though under the guise of self-satisfaction or under the illusion of doing good, we ultimately serve these gods and their purposes instead of the true God. That’s why the Lord calls all mankind, everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). In other words, all nations, or people groups are instructed to trust in the Lord. We are to turn back to the one true God and serve him only. This is what is good, or “profitable” for us and for our Creator. 

 The Meaning of Evil

Evil is not a tangible force, or some “invisible influence” that God created and unleashed upon the world. Instead, it’s a distortion of his perfect will. In the New Testament, the word ponēros, translates to evil. It refers to that which is “painful,” “grievous,” “useless,” or “good for nothing.” It can describe something that is “toilsome” such as work. Sin is an evil work, and in the Bible it’s described as slavery (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:6; Rom 6:16-20). It involves a lot of worthless effort with no reward, except death or harm (Rom. 6:23). 

Following the same pattern, the Hebrew word raʿ is translated as evil, which can mean “harm,” “mischief,” “wickedness,” or “trouble.” In recounting all the hateful things his brothers did to him, Joseph said, “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” (Gen. 50:20 NIV). In other words, you intended for it to hurt me, but the Lord intended for it to be beneficial for many. Evil is the opposite of what is good and refers to that which is worthless, harmful, or destructive. 

Idolatry Is Evil

Idols and idolatry are evil in God’s sight. In ancient biblical times, Israel worshiped false gods made of wood, stone, and metal. These idols, representing pagan deities, promised protection and prosperity, yet delivered nothing but failed expectations. The people would bow before graven images and altars, making sacrifices and offerings to things with no power to help them. They forsook the one true God who formed the heavens and earth to serve impotent idols carved by human hands (Jer. 10:3-16;1 Kgs. 14:9).

“Why should the nations ask, “Where is their God?” 3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. 4 Their idols are mere silver and gold, made by human hands. 5 They have mouths, but they can’t speak; they have eyes, but they can’t see; 6 they have ears, but they can’t hear; they have noses, but they can’t smell; 7 they have hands, but they can’t feel; they have feet, but they can’t walk; with their throats they can’t make a sound. 8 The people who make them will become like them, along with everyone who trusts in them.” (Ps. 115:2-8 NIV)

“All idol-makers amount to nothing; their precious productions profit no one; and their witnesses, to their own shame, neither see nor understand. 10 Who would fashion a god or cast an image that profits no one anything?” (Is. 44:9-10 CJB)

In other words, these idols are “good-for-nothin” and their makers will amount to nothin.’ The Lord repeatedly warned his people against following these worthless gods. The prophets declared them useless, calling them blind, ignorant, and unable to speak (Is. 44:9, Hab. 2:18). They are the work of craftsmen, overlaid with gold and silver, yet have no breath or life in them (Jer. 10:14). Ultimately, these gods couldn’t save the people from calamity and judgment (Jer. 11:12).

Rather than deliver blessings, the pagan deities only brought curses on the nation of Israel. Their rites involved horrific child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and occult practices—all which are of no value to life and God’s purpose. Despite repeated warnings, the Israelites persisted in worshiping powerless idols, bringing destruction on themselves time and again.

Instead of worshiping and obeying him, God’s people chose to serve what was worthless, unprofitable, and harmful. Therefore, that which was harmful and unprofitable was brought upon them—but not without ample warning. The people chose to do evil and so, God sent evil upon them in an effort to bring them back to him. I believe he does the same with us today.  Regardless of the “sugary” ideas we have about him, the Lord sometimes sends evil, or what is harmful to his people. However, it is ultimately for our benefit—it is for our ultimate good.


We use the concepts of good and evil everyday but we don’t really stop and think about what they truly mean. The bottom line is that biblically speaking, good is what is beneficial and leads to life, blessing, and edification, while evil is what is unprofitable and leads to death, misery, and destruction. We have a choice—to live or to die, to choose good or evil.

God does all he can to bring us to our senses, but he’s not going to force us to serve him. Human beings were created with free will so we could choose to love and obey our Father. Yet in our fallen nature, we often exercise this power in destructive ways, hurting each other and turning from the Lord’s commandments, which is sin. When we disobey God, it’s often because we assume we know better than him, ultimately leading to wrongdoing.

For instance, I’m sure Adam’s wife meant well when she ate that fruit. I don’t think she ate it maliciously or defiantly. As is the case with some in the Old Testament, she may even have thought she was contributing to God’s plan. But, there is a path that seems right to us, but the end result is death (Prov. 14:12). That’s why getting to know God and his Word is crucial. Studying the Lord’s teachings will enable us to choose what is good according to him, not according to what we think or feel.

In spite of our tendency toward evil, God gives people a new mind and spirit (Ez. 36:26) that helps them to choose what is beneficial, and reject what is harmful. Thus, believers are reminded not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2). In other words, steer clear of adapting to the societal norms of this era that conflict with God’s principles.

Rather, let your (2nd person plural) actions be shaped in accordance with the renewal of your mind (singular). Renew means “to make something like new.” It means to “start over” or to “begin again.” Therefore, we can say this renewing of the mind refers to the “return of creation’s mindset  to its original state of love and submission to God”—aka repentance— “a change of mind,” made possible by God (Acts 11:18).

To put it in simpler terms, allow your behavior to be in agreement with your mind (Matt. 3:8). Ensure your actions are aligned with your heart—now that your mind is made new, let your conduct be new as well. As you work toward being able to examine and choose what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is, make sure that your actions follow suit (Rom. 12:2). When you know what is good, do it (James 4:17).

In the power of the Holy Spirit and through God’s Word, our minds can be strengthened and our lives reoriented towards what is truly good. Though we may not get it right every time, we’re learning as we go, and should strive to go from glory to glory, or rather, from “expectation to expectation,” until we see the Lord. It’s an ongoing process, as we’ll never achieve flawless discernment this side of eternity (Heb. 12:6; Prov. 3:11-12). But as we continue on our journey, we are called to press on – learning, reflecting and choosing the good over the evil. 

Good is the guardian of life, while evil is its destroyer. Knowledge enables us to distinguish between the two, but wisdom guides us to make choices that align with God’s standards. If we lack wisdom, we should ask God for some (James 1:5). The Lord gives wisdom. Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding  (Prov. 2:6). He gives freely to all who ask.

The existence of evil is inevitable because mankind’s evil desires keep it alive. Until God restores the entire world to its original state and rids it of all evil (Matt. 13:41), it will remain this way. In the meantime, let’s commit to learning what is good so that we are not overcome by evil, but can overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). 


About Miranda Turner
Miranda Turner is an author, blogger, and podcaster. In her writings, she discusses God, the Bible, and anything else related to glorifying the Lord. Find out more at You can read more about the author here.

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