Good and Evil, Towb and Ra

YECers are deeply enmeshed in a modern materialistic view, specifically scientific materialism, so much so that they can’t see that they are operating from an a priori principle that for something to be true it has to be 100% scientifically and historically true. YECism is thus a reaction against having to step outside of the worldview they picked up starting before they could even read.

It’s not easy to cut loose from the worldview one was born with. When in a seminar on Colossians I mentioned in a paper I wrote that I had to remind myself about every other sentence I wrote just what the worldviews relevant to Colossians were, the professor put a marginal note that any scholar worth his salt had to do the same, it’s just that when you do a master’s degree and then PhD studying a particular worldview sometimes you only have to remind yourself once every paragraph.

So by recognizing the need to step away from the “modern materialistic view” you’re in good company; there are in fact people who got PhDs in ancient Hebrew and ancient Israelite history who never actually made that disconnection.

That’s pretty profound, and it’s another step that very few manage. It makes me think of others in the seminar on Colossians who managed to get a decent grasp of the gnosticism Paul was responding to but never escaped from seeing Paul’s response from within a modern materialistic worldview instead of managing to step into Paul’s shoes and his cultural mindset.

This is something I mentioned one day in a discussion of whether being able to connect knowledge modules to our brains via embedded computer chips would be a good idea: I said I didn’t know if it was overall good, but that I would dearly love to be able to hook up modules so filled with ancient material that I could “step over” and see the world from within the worldview of ancient Egypt or Persia or Second-Temple Judaism. The tragedy there was that several people couldn’t grasp that there is such a thing as a different worldview, so they didn’t see the point.

I remember reaching that verse in a New Testament readings course (Greek text only, of course) and the professor asking, “Was that the case always, or just after the Incarnation?” Too many students got a blank look, but the “Aha!” and “Whoa!” reactions on a bunch of faces told me I wasn’t alone in undergoing a bit if a shift in understanding.

If God cannot change, then the above declaration was true the moment God mused, “Let’s make some people in our image” – because if the Incarnation affected human nature, it affected it all the way back to the beginning.
[Totally off-topic, this is a point dispensationalists tend to totally miss, that ultimately there has only ever been one Covenant between God and man, and that is the one found in the God-Man Jesus; everything else is footnotes.]


To follow on logically: Then it must be true also that God allowed “evil” into This universe so that His purposes could be accomplished. I believe that what Jesus said to His disciples about the man born blind, paraphrased as, “Don’t bother asking why he is blind; I see someone who is hurting, someone I can help, so I will help him” is at least a partial explanation of why God allowed evil into this universe that He created. And this seems also to be completely consistent with what Jesus says about the Last Judgement in Matthew 25. He doesn’t ask the righteous whether they believe in Him or not. He says they helped the poor and needy, just because they saw someone who needed help. And He doesn’t send the others away because they were homosexual, or because they didn’t believe in Him, but sent them away because they didn’t help those in need. So maybe we are spending a lot of time and energy on the wrong questions, like whether God created evil, or evil came into this world against God’s will, when a major reason that God really put us into this world was for us to help those in need, just because we love God and love His children, our neighbors, not because we want to get something for ourselves for helping them.

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I think this approach to understanding the text by digging out source meanings of a word is flawed.


The word “energy” comes from the Greek “energiae” meaning activity or operation. Does this help in understanding the meaning of E=mc2? No.

Not only do words have a great variety of meanings but the meaning of words is rather dynamic – changing considerably in the context of both time and usage.

But… what do I personally think about this understanding of these words translated as good and evil? Better than some… I offer the following analysis of these words. God said, “I set before you life and death, therefore choose life.” Thus the good that God asks of us is to act in accordance with the dictates of life to learn and grow, while evil is to act contrary to life as our self destructive habits often lead us to do.

Deut 30:15,

See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;

Yes, God did set good and evil before us and told us we would reap what we sowed. When we do good we get life and when we do evil we get death. Here’s the problem that comes up in the modern Western mind when we think of good and evil solely in terms of our behavior, of our morality or lack thereof: It tends to make us see God as watching us all the time and making spot decisions as to whether to reward or punish us. But that is not how God works, at least the way I see Him.

He set up a system in Genesis that according to Gen 1:31 was all good, very good to be precise. If good is taken to mean functional or workable in this context it makes sense. God set up a perfect system and then gave it to mankind to administer. God was not in charge of Eden. He delegated that job to Adam and Eve. As long as people do things that are functional then all will work to our advantage. Of course Adam thought he knew better than God what works (good, i.e., functional) and what doesn’t work (evil, i.e., dysfunctional). Adam found out quick enough that he was wrong, dead wrong as it turns out.

All of a sudden their lives changed for the worse. Things got much harder for them. Getting food became a problem. Child birth became dangerous. But did God cause all their problems by directly punishing them? I don’t think so. God, because He is a just god, had to let things play out and because Adam stuck his hand in the fire it got burnt. God did’nt burn it though. Adam bucked the system and got what God told him he’d get.

In short, the “punishment” people get when they act against that which God declared functional is organic in nature. Parents don’t burn their child’s hand when that child puts it in the fire after a judicial trial. It just happens because of the system and the way it’s set up. The “punishment” is not judicial in nature.

Instead of seeing God doling out rewards or punishments based on our behavior, I think He watches us and is constantly hoping we will do good, that which is functional. He is always rooting for us and helping us to make the right decisions. When we do evil, when we act in a way that is naturally detrimental to us, a dysfunctional way, I think it breaks God’s heart to see us with charred hands.

This paints a picture of a truly loving God that is always for us. He is not a vindictive God that punished us when we lie or steal. He told us in clear enough terms that those and all other sins are dysfunctional and will bring nothing but problems. We either believe Him or not when He says there are problems with sticking our hands in the fire and hopes we listen.

Having said all of that, I think it is true that in some contexts “good” and “evil” can be seen in a moral light. There are also other ways those words can be taken, but we must not think of all usages of those words in a purely moral way. Context, as is so often the case, is important and will help us understand that which God tells us. I think this subject leaves a lot of room for further study.

Check out this post from a linguistic expert: Good and Evil, Towb and Ra - #6 by Christy

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That is the obedience definition of good and evil which serves those who use religion for power over people: good being obedience to what they say God commands and evil being disobedience. Then it is all about this threat that God will enforce the commands by these religionists.

Clearly I go in the opposite direction to see God as being more in the role of parent and advisor, who is simply trying to teach us that our actions have consequences we have to watch out for. There is a way in which life works and going against it will only bring death.

I think good means a great deal more than just workable. A wood chipper is working properly even when it is chopping your hand to bits. I think what it meant when God said it was good, is that it was proving the things He valued – that cooperation was shown to be the most successful survival strategy. That man was very good because there was in our capabilities at least the potential to make a world which was heavenly.

I agree that there is a dysfunctionality in evil but the equation doesn’t go both ways to say that there is evil in dysfunctionality. And thus there is considerable potential for distortion in saying things in this way. So I am sorry but I don’t like it. Those who are ill or disabled are not evil simply because of dysfunctionality. And just because a system is more functional in making something work doesn’t make it good.

I think the dysfunctionality of evil is found in its opposition to the way life works. It is found in habits which are ultimately self-destructive because of logical consequences which lead to greater misery or at least to a life which is less rewarding.

The problem with the concept of “morality” is all the baggage of abused religion which equate it with disobedience to the manipulations of religious power mongers. Thus there is some need to establish a foundation for which makes sense apart from such historical misuse. I have found this foundation in dictates of life which require growth and learning, according to which we can even measure the positive and negative effects of different sorts of practices.

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This really resonates with me at the moment because I’ve been chastising myself over an encounter a few days ago: A guy on the street, obviously worn out and low on energy, asked for “a couple of dollars so I can get myself something from ”. My first reaction was to say I didn’t think I had anything to give, then I relented and actually looked in my wallet. What I’ve been chastising myself for is that usually I would actually walk to the store and ask what he wanted, but I was tired and irritable from my pup being uncooperative during his walk so I responded by taking the guy quite literally and giving him just two dollars so I could be free to drag my deficiently-obedient pup the rest of the way home.

That’s not what’s being done – what’s being “dug out” is the meanings of words as the original writer understood them. That’s utterly essential to understanding anything in written communication; the only other option is stuffing your own meaning into pieces of literature.


That fits well with my long-time understanding of sin as always being an attempt to achieve what God meant for us… but doing it wrong.

Atheists I know would just say, “Well God rigged the system to make us get burnt”, implying that the consequences God informs us of are somehow fabricated.

If we take a 20th century scientific understanding of what the universe that God created is, and then imagine that the Creator must have existed outside of the created universe, we can think about what was God’s viewpoint in looking at what He had created. Just to add a different twist, maybe something that some of us will find helpful in understanding God, doesn’t God exist outside of the space and time dimensions of His creation? If so, does God look at all creation, from the beginning of time to the end of time, when He says it is very good? I definitely agree with you that God was commenting about the universe as He created it functioning just as He had planned it to function. My twist is that I do not believe He meant that He created it as a perfect thing, and we ruined His perfection by sinning. I believe that He knew exactly everything that has ever happened (and ever will happen, from our perspective within the universe, looking from our one particular point in time), and knew (by observation) that “All things had worked together for good to those who love God.” That is, I believe He said that this universe is running along just as planned, and is fulfilling the purposes for which He created it.

Christians use the scriptures as their source for truth. What do the Atheists use? I think they use pretty much nothing but their own imagination. I mean, where does anything reputable say God rigging the system?

I think this is a caricature … of both sides. Christians obviously have a whole lot of encultured and sensory and experiential input to their brains all of which will become part of their worldview package, whether they admit it or not, and atheists have all of those same things too. Including even the Bible, even if they formally reject much of what is put forward as ‘biblical claims’. If they have a history of education that included learning the Bible (even if they later reject some of that religious learning), it is still part of their history - even if they no longer much hangout in that particular part of their mental landscape.

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Good point. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Christians should use the Bible as their sole source of truth. To the degree their belief lines up with what is says, they will have the truth. When one’s belief goes against the scriptures, that person has not the truth. Our beliefs have no bearing on truth. Truth stands on its own, apart form anyone’s belief. Of course most (if not all) Christians would claim all their beliefs line up with the truth, but, given human nature and fallibility, I would think it fair to say nobody holds the entire truth. All we can do is be open to further revelation and insights from the book that claims it is the truth.

John 17:17,

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

That is either believed or not. There are other verses that make the same claim. I’m not aware of any text that Athiests use which says Athiesm is the truth and that was my point.

As far as I know Athiests would deny that such a thing a “the” truth even exists. “A” truth is fine, but not “the” truth. Of course that totally negates the actual meaning of “truth.”

The quality or being true; as:
(a) Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with
that which is, or has been; or shall be.

A fact is a fact. It doesn’t matter if anybody agrees with it, it is still a fact. Same with reality. Reality stands on its own merits apart from what anybody thinks. If that is not right, then anything you and I say to each other is meaningless. There is one thing that is true, there is one reality. Anything that deviates from actual truth is not the truth. So where does one go for spiritual truth? That is the question I was addressing.

Greetings, and welcome. Can you give a “for example”?


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Atheists point to omnipotence and the fact that the system of condemnation and salvation was designed by God.

But you missed the point: the claim is that the entire system is artificial and God could have done it differently.

Just one problem: that isn’t biblical!

Jesus told the Apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them (presumably as the leaders of the church) into all truth, and Paul taught that the Holy Spirit gives teachers to the church. Unless you think that all that the Holy Spirit and those teachers were going to do was to recite scripture, then this is a source (or sources) of truth that are not scripture.

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Problem? Not really.

You raised a good point. As you say, the gift of holy spirit that God gave us does indeed lead us into truth, but it will never contradict the truth of the scriptures. The devil will also try to put ideas into our minds. The only way to tell which is which is by comparing it to the scriptures. In that sense the scriptures are indeed, or should be, our sole source of truth.

You mentioned teachers. There are plenty of false teachers. How do we know which is which? Again, by comparing to what they say with the scriptures.

The bottom line is that the scriptures and only the scriptures ought to be the barometer of truth. Martin Luther said something like that:, “sola scriptura.” That’s the essence of what I was trying to say.

I take it you disagree with my assertion. Well, I did preface it with, “As far as I know,” a clear indication that I’m open to new information. Do Atheists believe in an absolute truth? If so, where is that source?

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I think you were very kind in the way you posed that question! Good for you. I appreciate that!
I am honestly learning more about the point of view on relative truth. I’ll try to get a good note back-not necessarily with a good answer, but at least a stab at an idea. Thanks.

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Thanks for this great question. I have been wanting to understand more about the concept of morality, and it is not clear to me that Christians have an absolute moral code, either. For example, we say not to kill or covet–except in war. There’s a book by James KA Smith, a conservative Christian prof at Calvin, called “Who’s Afraid of Relativism?” That I would like to read.
From the blurb:

Many Christians view relativism as the antithesis of absolute truth and take it to be the antithesis of the gospel. Smith argues that this reaction is a symptom of a deeper theological problem: an inability to honor the contingency and dependence of our creaturehood. Appreciating our created finitude as the condition under which we know (and were made to know) should compel us to appreciate the contingency of our knowledge without sliding into arbitrariness. Saying “It depends” is not the equivalent of saying “It’s not true” or “I don’t know.” It is simply to recognize the conditions of our knowledge as finite, created, social beings. Pragmatism, says Smith, helps us recover a fundamental Christian appreciation of the contingency of creaturehood.

I think that perhaps, we are not so different as we suppose from others with a different God (or lack thereof) belief.
I have a lot more to read… but it sort of makes sense to me. I have no formal philosophical training, though, I should admit …
I appreciate your kind notes.
I would be interested in what your thoughts are. Thanks

First, thank you for your kind words and willingness to have an honest discussion with someone who may not think exactly as you do. That is a rarity these days. I always like to say that no human being has the corner on truth. I think the scriptures do, but it is obvious that not even Christians agree on everything in them. We should all be open to learning new things. Personally, I try my best to compare new ideas with the scriptures, my standard of truth. If thy line up, good, I’ll accept that new thing. If not, I don’t. Of course that depends on my understanding of the scriptures which is hardly perfect. They say one day (namely, when Jesus comes again) I will, but that day has not arrived. Until then I do the best I can.

We all come into this world knowing nothing, holding no opinions on anything. We begin with a blank slate. Slowly but surely we learn things about life and develop a worldview. I think a vital question to ask is, what is the source of the things we learn?

If someone is born and raised in a cannibalistic society they will think there is nothing at all wrong with eating other humans. Others, most in fact, are taught from a young age that it is not good to eat people and that is what they end up believing. I think James Smith would say both are OK. It would just depend on which society one is born into. That would be my understanding when relativism is considered.

The only moral code Christians in this day and age, the time AFTER Jesus died and rose, is love. All the so-called absolute moral code of the OT was eclipsed by Jesus.

Rom 13:8,

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

Gal 5:14,

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Using the scriptures as the source of truth (as opposed to cannibal society for example), it appears clear that love is the key. Personally I wouldn’t fell very loved if someone was putting me in a pot of boiling water. Not sure anybody would like that!

Jesus demonstrated love. In short, love is giving someone whatever they need when they least deserve it. Jesus gave his life for people that were committing all sorts of atrocities to their fellow human beings. He even forgave the ones who put the nails through his hands and feet! That’s love.

If we take relativism as our standard of behavior, then sometimes it could be OK to eat other people. Of course the one getting eaten may not think it’s so OK. It would be relative to who is eating and who is getting eaten. I think that would be the conclusion Smith would reach.

The scriptures would say, no, it’s never OK to eat someone else. The eater would hardly be acting in love towards the one he is eating. I mean, how does getting eaten benefit someone?

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