The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is it possible for God to do evil?

Does God’s nature make it impossible for God to do evil? I think many Christians would say yes. That is, God can only act in conformity with his nature, and his nature is perfectly good. But if God cannot do evil, then does it make sense to call God good? If God cannot do evil, then he doesn’t choose to do good. Is choice necessary for one to be good? What are your thoughts on this paper by the Christian philosopher Wes Morriston, which evaluates attempts to resolve the dilemma?

The only way to affirm yes is to deny no. The problem is, as I see it, is that too many evangelicals view ‘evil’ ONLY in terms of SIN… and yet the term is broader than just the corruption relative to sin.

At its base level evil simply means calamity or disaster — now for sure that can be interpreted with regards to consequences relative to wrong behaviour and many a time that’s exactly it, e.g., Gen 6:5-7; Jon 3:4, 10. Thus in response to such you get the likes of…

Isa 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.’

Thus calamity or disaster simply = evil, but devoid of moral infraction — and so in relation to God this has NOTHING to do with any sinful inclination.

Jesus declared that God is good, and seemed to suggest that He was not:

And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:18)

Being a Christian (a disciple of Jesus), I believe Him.

For the purposes of this thread, let’s stick with our common notion of evil i.e. moral evil, not “natural evil”. Let’s use an example all (I think) universalists can agree would be evil: eternal torment. Does God not eternally torment people because his nature makes it impossible for him to do so? Or could God choose to eternally torment people, but he just happens to choose not to and we dodged an infinitely bad proverbial bullet?

Sure, I think we all agree with this, but it does nothing to address the question or paper in the OP.

The question is, is it even possible for a good God (of pure agapē) to do evil (bad, hurtful) things? But for anyone to just say (in so many words) that, “well, if it’s God doing the evil (bad, hurtful) things, then in that case it’s okay,” begs this question.

I would argue that believers do not always differentiate correctly between the true God and the god of this age, Satan. Sometimes believers (including the prophets) mistakenly blend the two people (the “do-gooder” and the “do-badder”) into one bipolar monster. As a result, we end up with Bible verses like these:

  • Isaiah 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”

  • Isaiah 54:16 “… I have created the waster to destroy.”

  • Proverbs 16:4 “The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

  • Lamentations 3:38 “Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?”

  • Amos 3:6 “…Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”

But Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be true but every man a liar.”

And James 1:13, 16-17 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone…. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Jesus perfectly represents the unchanging God. Through the light of his presence, Jesus exposed the reality of the devil; he destroyed his works wherever he found them; and he DIFFERENTIATED our understanding of Satan and God:

John 10:10

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

It sounds like you believe God’s nature limits his power so that God does not have the power to choose between good and evil the way we humans do. Have I correctly summarized your view?

I was simply pointing out the biblical understanding of the word relative to God, that’s all… that as opposed to the oft assumed common positions you’ve raised above.

I cannot imagine God’s power being limited, only constrained by love, just as we ourselves are learning to be constrained by love, as we choose to submit to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:14).

I believe Jesus is God the Son; yet he certainly appears to have genuine choice:

Luke 22:42
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Matthew 26:53-54
53 "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?
54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

“Constrained” is just another word for “limited”.
If God cannot torture people for millions of years because he’s “constrained by love,” his nature (which is love) is limiting his power. So it sounds to me like you’re confirming that I accurately described your belief. Do you believe humans have free will?

I presume your thought is that a good person can do evil. Maybe so. But Jesus said only God is good.
But we know that many people are good in the weaker sense—that is, that is it possible for them to do evil.

Did Jesus not mean that only God is consistently good? That he never does evil? That it is inconsistent with His character ever to do evil, and therefore He cannot do evil? So Jesus’ statement that only God is good addresses indeed the question, “Is it possibe for God to do evil?” It affirms that it is impossible for Him to do so—for the reason that it would be inconsistent with His character to do so.

I know you don’t believe in the trinity. Do you think Jesus’s statement that only God is good means that Jesus himself wasn’t good in the sense of having a nature that makes it impossible for one to do evil? It certainly raises the question of the Hypostatic Union’s coherence: How can one person have a nature that makes it impossible to do evil and a nature that does not prevent one from being able to do evil?

Do you think having the ability to choose between good and evil is a necessary condition for a being to be good? Based on what you’ve said so, I think you’re answer is “no.”

True, I don’t believe in “the Trinity” but I do believe that the Son of God is fully divine in virtue of the fact that He was the only-begotten Son. Indeed, if the earliest manuscripts(from the second century) are correct, then the apostle John wrote that Jesus is “the only-begotten God” (John 1:18)

Jesus seemed to indicate that He should not have been called “good” for only God (His Father) is good. I am not sure why He indicated this about Himself. Does that mean that it was possible for Jesus to do evil, just as it is for other “good” people?

Absolutely. Now we need to define evil…

I like that.

But let’s go further…

qaz what has to happen in your day to day life for you to consider that God may be the cause of what you call evil?

If you go for three years in relative peace and all the sudden you hit a
deer with your car and don’t have full coverage insurance or maybe you overextend your credit card and the bank bomb drops on you, and you can’t figure out how to pay the bills, is this evil?

Is having your house torn away by a tornado evil… Or maybe it is evil only if you did not think to buy insurance.

To the OP, it is a question that life lessons should be telling you about.

Now you did mention not taking into account natural disasters, but to be honest, are not all disasters natural?

@paidion Do you think having the ability to choose between good and evil is a necessary condition for a being to be good?

Well, I would like to know what Don thinks…

I think that is the case with human beings. For no human being has a nature that would necessitate his always being good.

But the only One who is consistently good (Jesus said that only God is good) is unable to make an evil choice because to do so would be inconsistent with His nature.

Why is it only the case with human beings?

I think I explained why it is the case with human beings. I wrote, “For no human being has a nature that would necessitate his always being good.” I didn’t say it was the case only with human beings. It might apply to your good dog as will. He is not always good, is he?

But God’s nature is to be totally good all the time. That is why is it not possible for Him to do evil. For to do so would be contrary to His nature. That cannot be said of any human being.

I don’t think you did. You seem to think humans could only be good if we were capable of choosing between good and evil. Why doesn’t that condition for goodness apply to God, who can only do good? If God is good while having a nature that renders it impossible for him to do evil, why would God create us with a nature that allows us to do evil? If he had created us with a nature like his so that we can’t choose between good and evil but can only do good, would we not be good?