Can God be described as “good”?

This topic came up in discussion recently and prompted an interesting and passionate debate.

In one sense it is a bit of a meaningless question - what do we even mean by “good”? To me it seems that if we accept that there is only one God and that God is omnipotent creator, then whatever God is, is axiomatically “good”.

Equally scripture says that God puts his own Word above himself - but again this seems axiomatic.

If we also assume that God stands outside of time and space (as well as inside it) and that He knows the beginning from the end, then it seems hard to describe God as good in the sense that we normally mean talking if eachother.

Scripture tells us that God created us to be in liivi g relationship with himself, and it is clear that an individual needs to have free will in order to actively choose to have a relationship with another. From this it is apparent that one can choose NOT to be in relationship with God and according to scripture the very first humans made this choice through an act of rebellion - thus introducing sin and death to the world, which has marked the trajectory of human history.

On the basis that that this did not come as a surprise to God (given his knowledge of the end from the beginning), it does beg the question whether the damnation of a very significant proportion of humanity is a price that God’s sees as worth paying in order to have a loving relationship with those he chooses to save.

A subsidiary question is why we are made as we are. Angels also appear to have free will (some chose to rebel, others did not), and yet angels do not have the calculation of will and purpose that humanity demonstrates. Why then was mankind made with such a fatal weakness for temptation?

Given these considerations it seems hard to describe God as being “good” in the way that humans typically use the terms.

I am not at all trying to condemn God for man’s failing - rather trying to understand why the world is as we see it in the context of scripture.

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@Shot, Nice to meet you and welcome. I think this is a terrific question–one which people have wrestled with since the OT (Ecclesiastes and Job are flagship books, which come to mind.). C S Lewis had Mr Beaver in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” address it this way:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

But what does “good” mean?

It sounds like you may be coming from a different mindset in some ways from me, although I, too, am a Christian. I’d like to hear what you think. What is “good”? What makes God, God? Is it power? Is it a relationship?



I’m not sure that I have a strong conviction what the answer is to this question, one way or the other.

I came to this by pondering the role of prayer. One might expect that if you hear from the HS (a pretty big IF I grant), and then pray as directed and with faith, that those prayers should be fulfilled - but clearly they are not.

So why is the human condition so fragile and miserable? Why are we so prone to fall prey to temptation when other creatures who have free will seem to have far more resolution of purpose (such as angels).

If it’s all to the glory of God then perhaps our fallibility and fragility enhances the ultimate victory of God over sin, death and Hades. If God can overcome the Devil by working through double minded, wicked and weak humanity then He truly has demonstrated his awesomeness by working through such a flawed medium as mankind.

This view does not really say that much on the love of God for humanity - indeed from a human perspective it is hard to see much love in a plan that results in billions of humans being sacrificed to eternal damnation through their weakness (which is partly inxherent) in order to demonstrate the Glory of God to the world and to the Devil.

On the other hand I am persuaded that many spirit filled Christians know God and find in him a loving God.

I have no fixed view.

On the one hand God seems a hard man who sets us up to fail and then is mysteriously silent when we turn to Him - and yet I readily acknowledge His existence and power. I have seen many miraculous healings first hand that were absolutely copper bottomed and genuine miracles. I have no way of knowing what the motivation was for those miracles, but it would seem unlikely that they were simply motivitated by God’s desire to reflect glory upon himself and that there is no element of love and mercy in their performance.

So it is a massive mystery to me. I don’t know the answer to my own question.


I take the view (largely following Maimonides) that we cannot describe what God is, and it is better to define him by what he is not (via negativa). My concept of God is somewhat similar (but by no means identical) to the Neoplatonic view of ‘the one’.


Can God be described as “good”?

Yes. For me this is definitive of the word “God,” for I cannot call any being by the name “God” if I cannot also call this being good. Certainly neither the creation of the world nor power is sufficient. If there is an evil creator, such as the Demiurge proposed by Plato and believed in by the Gnostics, I would much more likely to call such a being a “devil” or “monster” than “God.” I believe in a God who chose love and freedom over power and control and this is the only rational explanation I can see for His creation of a universe which supports life.

It might be most helpful to contrast this with evil, which I define as the pursuit of desires at the expense to the well being of others. The antonym of this would be one for whom the well being of others is his highest priority. My typical response to the idea that God is “omni-benevolent” is to say that God is motivated entirely by love, i.e. the desire to give of Himself to others.

If so, then I haven’t a clue what you mean by this. To say that someone puts his word above himself sounds to me like “integrity.” I certainly believe God has the highest integrity but I would not call that axiomatic but a choice, for I believe the only consistent meaning of omnipotence is if it includes a power over Himself to be whomever He chooses to be rather than absurdly confined to a bunch of human theological definitions, which I would consider highly indicative of a god created by men for their own purposes.

No this does not follow, for it assumes that the universe exists as a singular static 4 dimensional object like a book or a video tape (a thing in which life and consciousness does not and cannot exist). We know from modern science that things can exist in a state of superposition – many possibilities at the same time. And thus being outside of time does not mean that the end of history is singular and determinate. And God’s omniscience may only include a knowledge of many possibilities because the future only exists as a collection of possibilities until our choices are made and the possibility for His involvement in events has gone. The point being that the universe is not a dead video tape which he can rewind and replay and which is therefore only contains non-living images of people, like a recording of the past.

Exactly! And what you have done is create an image of God and the universe where this is impossible – a god who basically chose power and control over love and freedom (if the thing had any choice at all) – because it was more important to it to be in control and know absolutely everything that it was to being in a living relationship with anyone.

That is only possible in the case of a God who chooses love and freedom over power and control. For such a God it is more important that we make our own choices as living beings than for things to go precisely as He desires.

But I don’t think it is accurate to describe this as rebellion. It is true that a parent hopes their children will not play in the street after they have been told not to. But parents are not going to brand their 2-year old as a rebel and throw them out of the house if they run out into the street after something. More likely they will snatch the child up in a panic and be very grateful if nothing bad happens or be rushing them to the hospital if something does. Thus I think the latter is a better description of what happened to Adam and Eve, where the pronouncements in Genesis 3:14-19 is what God prescribes for the redemption of mankind.

I agree that the picture you have painted doesn’t fit with a God we can call good, which is why I don’t agree with that picture.

The angels do not have anything like our free will as living things. We start as a single cell and then grow, learn and make choices to become what we are. The angels are no more or less than what they were made to be, a product of divine design. Any appearance of freedom of will they might display is nearly as illusory as what you see displayed by a computer AI. And no, some did not choose to rebel. God declared archangel Lucifer to be our adversary (Satan) and cast him out of heaven and the angels under his authority naturally went with him.

Because growth and learning is the essence of our free will. It is only natural that a product of design, like a computer or machine can have vastly greater powers. But they will never be anything more than what they were made to be – a tool and a servant, existing only for a purpose. But a living thing and a child is and end in itself, and in its ability to learn and grow is an infinite potentiality which is the image of God’s infinite actuality and makes us suitable for an eternal relationship in which we can receive all the infinite gifts which God has to give.

And that is precisely why I reject the god you have described.

I think that you have put the conundrum well, @Shot. I think there is a paradox here. I think that @mitchellmckain voices a good concern that we can ascribe evil to God; and I agree that you put your finger on the problem of whether God can be good if we are created inherently evil (at least, part of the problem). That’s one of the many questions, for example, that Rachel Held Evans and others put (she wrote “Faith Unraveled,” a very honest and soul-searching book that helped break me in to Pete Enns and others) .Thanks for your humble way in approaching this.

I think that it’s easier to say what God likely is not, than to say what He is–so I appreciate Mr McKain’s point there too.

I’m catching up on work and will try to formulate more thoughts as well. however, I agree that God can’t be the author of evil, and He can’t be God only because of power, because I don’t know how to separate him from Satan in that case. If we do sin, it’s also because we are children and as in Psalm 103, “as a father, he pities his children; for He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” As with that relationship, he forgives and teaches us to become more like Him.–at least, that’s my impression.

The old question of theodicy–how can evil exist–is harder to answer than about any other one I know of.



Yes, Jesus tells how good God really is. He will not let one sheep will be lost (Luke 15:4-5) and even the prodigal son will come home. (Luke 15:11-32) Yes, God is so good that He will welcome Lucifer back home once he has admitted his failures and asked for forgiveness.

Yes, God knew the risk of Free Will was that His children could turn away from Him at some point. They did this and 1/3 of them were cast out of Heaven. God is not only good, He is also patient. The plans He put into place to restore the fallen to Heaven are so well thought through. Like any good Father, He wants His children to come back to Him having learned their lesson and being again as virtuous as He created them. The school of hard knocks demonstrates His true goodness.

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Maybe it has something to do with our embodiment. We are biological organisms, not just spiritual entities, like angels. As biological organisms we have physical drives and needs to contend with. We cannot help but react biologically to stimuli in our environment. We have legitimate fear of pain and desire to avoid deprivation. As we are in the Christmas season, I think reflecting on the vulnerability and fragility that human embodiment entails highlights the wonder of the Incarnation all the more.


But Christy, that just pushes the question back to WHY did God create us as biological organisms. Why create such things at all, if they are so weak? But this is the very difference between the living created by growth and learning and the machine created by design - between a child and a tool. God already created the latter with the angels, but God wanted more. And that is the whole point right there… because we grow and learn, we start small but eventually become more. We just have to get down the whole learning gig and that is where Adam and Eve really went off track… setting us on a path of anti-learning with bad habits.

Just like free will entails both positive and negative potentials, so does embodiment. Without hunger there would be far less enjoyment of a good meal and without thirst, cold water on a hot day would not be such a refreshing experience. I imagine that almost every good and beautiful thing that we get to experience as humans has its negative potential. Powerful hormonal sex responses may lead to lust and promiscuity, but its what makes sex thrilling in a God-sanctioned marriage context too. The endorphin cycle that reinforces many healthy habits and even altruistic behaviors also fuels addictions. Just focusing on the weaknesses of our embodied experience, ignoring the positive potentials, and presuming embodiment is therefore less than ideal, is similar to holding God responsible for evil because he created beings with free will. I don’t think you can say God is responsible for starvation because biological beings need food to survive.

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My question is: Are you speaking about yourself or some mythical folk? I have spoken to non-believers who have claimed that God had made life so bad, that I asked them why they continued to live life if it was so evil? It turns out that they were not speaking existentially, but hypothetically.

I do not judge the lives of others. [political content removed by moderator] Most sinners think that they are doing just fine, when that is just the problem. The problem is not with God. The problem is with the pride of self.

Life is an adventure. It is not supposed to be easy. It is not supposed to reward greed and selfishness. Nor is life over with death. Death is a new beginning.

I cannot say how God judges those who are faithful and true. That is God’s job and God’s problem, not mine. I do think that God can and will do God’s job of judging the right way. I need to fulfill my responsibility of being loving and faithful so I can share in God’s Kingdom.

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I think this is one of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer logically. @Relates say that life is an adventure that we have to get through, but does not really address @Shot question. Matthew tells us what Jesus expects: we must repay our debts to the last farthing (Matt 5:21-26) and we must become perfect as God created us (Matthew 5:43-48). So, there is more work to do than just believing in Jesus as our savior. We need to learn to love our neighbors and eventually our enemies before we have become perfect.

This is a hard path for everyone to follow, and those who think life is an adventure, may be in for a surprise.


Hello Mitchel,

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to my question.

I want to start by reiterating the point that I am genuinely confused and conflicted by this question.

  1. To take your responses in order - I agree with you when you say that “good@ is defined by God if There is a single all powerful creator. As I said in my first post this becomes axiomatic. Where I disagree is when you go on to say that we’re god not “good” you would describe him as a devil or a monster. God is God - and whatever He says goes. We are perhaps lucky that God has the personality and character that he does - but we’re it otherwise and if for example he glorified in cruelty - then by definition cruelty would be “good”. Good is defined by God, so as I originally said at the outset, it is a bit of a stupid question, but when I am using the word good then I am using the rather fluffy and parochial term as it is generally used in human discourse.

  2. you define good as the opposite of evil, I have heard others describe evil as the absence of good - in a parallel to physics where “cold” is the absence of heat. I rather think “good” is defined by the character of God - as I explain in 1 above.

  3. psalm 138.2 says that God has exalted his Word even above His name. What I take this to mean is that God is bound to act according to his own laws. Again I take this as axiomatic. It would be a rather pathetic God who had to continually be changing the rules of His own game in order to win it.

  4. I am not arguing that creation is deterministic. In the contrary history could, within certain limits, follow any given path. Abraham might have declined to sacrifice Isaac - in which case God would have found another man to replace Abraham. My point is that Gid stands both inside and outside of his creation. He already knows exactly what choices we are going to make. He sees the end from the beginning and He knows how it all works out. We don’t have that privilege - to us the future is a mystery if seemingly infinite choice - but to avid it is an open book. God knowing how things works out does not rob us of freedom of will anymore than me first reading about the history of a certain event robs the participants in history of their free will in that moment. I now can know what happened - those ancient participants did not.

6). God’s choice between power and love as you put it is exactly what I am trying to fathom, they are not exclusive of each other as I can tell. Scripture tells us that God is all powerful AND a loving father. God is extremely clear that he is a one and only God. Creation is his. He has given mankind authority over all things in creation. Adam rebelled and handed that authority to Satan. Christ came as “a second Adam” and as “the son of Man” to take back that authority through his sacrifice on the cross. It is also clear in scripture that all of this was forseen by God before the dawn of creation. None of this invalidates individual free will. God is also extremely clear on what sin is (as well as the seriousness and consequences of sin - which are death. Christ came in order to redeem the world we are told, but sadly only a few are redeemed (according to Paul).

So my question is - is it worth it? Clearly it is worth it to God in order to have a loving and eternal relationship with those of us who are saved - and the price (everlasting damnation for a significant proportion of humanity) is a price worth paying.

To us humans (particularly the sinful amongst us) I am less sure that this is a great deal. The thought of eternal existence in either Heaven or Hell strikes me with horror. Hell I am sure is far less comfortable than Heaven, but an eternity of being me, even in the sumptuous comfort of Heaven, sounds pretty hellish to be honest. And if the answer to that conundrum is that I will be transformed in the twinkling if an eye into a copy of Jesus, then who exactly has been saved?

It is tempting to see the whole of creation as nothing but a massive ego trip for an emotionally needy God who is willing to immolate the greater proportion of humanity in order to show how awesome He is. On the other hand He puts his only son through an unimaginable agony to save us, and performs extraordinary healing miracles.

It is a genuinely very hard question to answer.

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It is difficult to conclude that the human existence for the majority of mankind, and for the vast majority of human history - has been marked by grinding poverty, physical hardship, Sky high infant mortality, disease and early death.

As recently as 1900 99% of Americans existed in less than $1 a day - in today’s money.

We have just come through the 20th century in which millions of citizens of Europe and the Soviet Union were deliberately murdered. It is statistically impossible that a fair few amongst the dead were not faithful worshippers of God.

Is God blameless in all of this? Is it purely the work of sin and the devil, or does an all powerful God who set creation up in such a way that makes these things inevitable also partly to blame?

Personally my life isn’t too bad - apart from the usual drawbacks of being a human.

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@shot, I appreciate your excellent questions. I feel the same. Very frequently, we don’t look at the big picture–and this does. I remember my grandma, a very thoughtful Christian, telling me a story of how she once remarked to my cousin (a little girl at the time) on hearing an ambulance siren in the distance, “Well, at least it isn’t one of our family.”
“But, Grandma,” my cousin retorted, “It is someone’s family!”

I don’t know the answers to all this. @Bethany.Sollereder posted a good discussion here which addresses animal suffering; though in large part it discusses human suffering.

Maybe she will weigh in, too. She will apparently be speaking at the Biologos conference this Spring, too.

Thanks again for your comments.

PS I didn’t realize this till now, but she has made quite a few blog posts on the problem of evil on Biologos.

NO! I am saying the precise opposite. That “God” is defined by good, that I refuse to call something which is not good by the name/word “God.” I am not saying that something is good just because God did it or that the creator of the universe is necessarily good. I do believe that the creator is good and I think I have good reasons for believing so, but I could be wrong. Power does not define “God” either. After all do we not refer to the devil as “the god of this world.” Evil may have the power in this world but it does not and never will have my regard.

Yes and I do not. I call that divine relativism. I insist that morality, ethics, or the good can only be absolute if there are reasons why it is good. Or to put it in terms of Euthyphro’s dilemma, God does/chooses it because it is good, and not the fact that He does/chooses is what it makes it good.

Agreed. I would further take this to mean what I say above, that for God what is good is more important that His own identity. His word is about what is good, and this is more important than his name. If you do evil then doing so in the name of “God” does not make it good and God will not see it as something done for Him, but for the other guy.

But I do not believe this. I believe this is the whole point of His creation of the mankind and the universe – to be something which He does not control. God created the universe to support life (a phenomenon of self-organization) precisely so that He would not know what we will do before we make our choice. That He exists outside of time means He is not bound by our pace, but the whole point of the phenomenon of life and the laws of nature is that He can only involve Himself in the events of our life before He reads the next page. The world is not a book already written but a book that is being written by both our choices and His.

God is all-powerful by nature. But if that means God cannot take risks, cannot give privacy, cannot sacrifice His control over events, cannot limit Himself by making a rock so heavy even He cannot lift it, or cannot become a helpless human infant, then I do not call that omnipotence – I would call that being a slave to human theology instead. Thus I believe, in the creation of life and free will, God made a choice between power/control and life/freedom, and His choice is most vividly demonstrated for us in the incarnation as Jesus. He can and does put love and freedom first which means that the evil in the world is not His doing but ours. Indeed our acceptance of this is the whole point of His coming and accepting the fact that we killed Him is essential to the redemption He offers us. He is the innocent who died because our evil knows no bounds. And God would rather die murdered at our hands than acquiesce to the evil we do.

To be sure, by the resurrection we also learn that evil and death is not the end of the story. Good can triumph because the spirit is eternal and life awaits for those who reject the evil which destroys life.

Power goes hand in hand with responsibility. By Adam blaming God and Eve, and by Eve blaming the snake, Adam and Eve refused responsibility for what they had done – refused the challenge of life to learn what is good. So God removed Himself from their life and assigned the archangel Lucifer the role of adversary so we would learn that the goodness of life must come by our own effort and nothing is gained by passing responsibility on to others.

The memetic inheritance by which we have our humanity from God through Adam and Eve is contaminated by the self-destructive habits they chose in opposition to life. So Christ came as a second Adam with a fresh inheritance of the breath of life from God so that our humanity can have a new foundation apart from the choices of Adam and Eve.

It is clear from scripture that NONE of this was forseen by God. God saw the evil of mankind and He was sorry that he made us at all. Genesis 6:6.

It is true that the self-destructive habits of sin does make us highly predictable (so Jesus could see both His death and the destruction of the temple coming as well as Peter’s denials), and when this is the case, God feels free to manipulate us as He did with Pharoah for the greater good. But this does not mean that God reads ahead so that He can control us and prevent our bad choices. He is pleasantly surprised when we break from our bad habits, such as when Ninevah repented in the book of Jonah, and He made it clear that if He knew of our decent into evil He would not have created us in first place.

Is love worth the risk when we sacrifice control over our lives to another?


But when we see our love rejected and our lives turned to garbage because of the risk we took, do we then say that it was worth it?

No, we do not. We wished that we hadn’t taken that risk after all. But this is the nature of love. Love requires a surrender of control. Love and control are mutually exclusive.

When the other is a child, then this dilemma is of catastrophic proportions. In that case it is not just our lives and happiness on the line but theirs. If they reject our love and efforts to steer them to what is good, then we get to watch as they they throw their life away and create a hell for themselves (and possibly many others). This is the unavoidable risk that a parent takes when they create life. Becoming a parent is indeed the most arrogant thing we will ever do and the result is one of the most humbling experiences we shall ever have.

Matthew 5:25 (NIV2011)
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison."

You are misreading what Jesus is saying. He is giving very practical advice, which is settle legal matters before you get to court willingly, while you have room to negotiate, and before both sides get locked in. At court you will have to pay more, plus court costs.

Jesus tells us that we must treat life, not as a burden that must be borne begrudgingly as you say, but as a gift to be enjoyed and appreciated. .

Version:1.0 StartHTML:000000236 EndHTML:000001601 StartFragment:000000347 EndFragment:000001569 StartSelection:000000347 EndSelection:000001569 SourceURL:file:///C:/ProgramData/WORDsearch/QuickVerse%2010/Cache/copy_passage.html Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV2011)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Loving is not “work.” Love is not a legalistic burden. Yes, Christianity is more than saying that Jesus is the Savior, but salvation is Love and Love liberates us from fear, anger, and hatred. Love is a gift and a blessing, not a burden unless you choose it to be.

Christianity is not falling off a log. Christianity is spouting clichés. Christianity is living to the fullest, which means experiencing the ups and downs. I hope you do not think that an adventure is easy and painless.

The good thing about Christianity is that the bumps and hurts are worth it, while the easy life of Trumpism is worth nothing.

I question that figure. I have talked to people who earned about $10.00 a week in the mills about 100 years ago, but this was in the current money, which is many times $10. a week in our money. Most people in that time were living on farms so they did not have to pay for food and most of their needs.

You are a car dealer. You sell automobiles. Some one buys one of your cars, drives drunk and kills a family. Are you responsible because you sold the car and you know that something like this might happen? No. Just as God Who created cars and many other things that are normally used for good, but can be used for ill.

Yes, many who died were blameless, which is how we can say this was evil. Many who died were not good, and most who died were both good and evil. Have you read the writings about the GULAGs of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn.

Blaming God for this and other horrors does not solve anything, because God did not cause them. People did. We need to spend our time and energy fixing ourselves, not God. These things are not inevitable, Trump is not inevitable. Putin is not inevitable. Hitler is not inevitable. Evil is not inevitable unless we allow it to be.

. .

Roger, I beg to differ. We have a difference in the reading of Matt 5, but mine is not wrong. You are just looking at the NIV’s materialistic interpretation and not looking at the Jesus’s deeper spiritual meaning which we see better in the KJV.

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.

The adversary is Satan who is the keeper of the prison. You need to pay to the uttermost farthing all your debts, which Jesus mentions in 5:21-24. Jesus does not give “practical advise” without deeper meaning anywhere in the Bible.But as He warns, these are the seeds that fall on stone - not understood by those who translated His words.

Both St Francis of Assisi and Franciscan scholar St Bonaventure refered to God as good. St Francsis called God “all good” and supremely good.
St Bonaventure refered to God as “self - diffusive goodness”.
God is the highest good and seeke to give creation the divine goodness.


I think we have a fundamental disagreement of causality.

You seem to think that God is defined by your conception of what is good. I struggle to see how God, who comes before everything else m, can be defined by anything other than himself.

On this fundamental issue I think we separate.

Our discussion seems to be irritating you, so I will leave it there.

I did not intend to irritate or damage anyone else’s faith - I am simply struggling with these questions myself and hoped to hear reasoning that is persuasive, logically coherent and answered my questions persuasively.

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