“Do you remember when we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys?” –a quote by Nathan Muir (a CIA agent) to his boss in the movie, “Spy Game” (2001).
Back on September 5, 2015, I published a blog post on my main blog titled, “Spy Game.” The title was taken from a 2001 movie with the same title. That post and the theme of that movie are on the topic of good versus evil and how often the lines between the two get blurred, so I decided to revisit that topic again in this blog post.
The enduring war between “good” and “evil” has been at the heart of inquiry for moral philosophers and religious scholars for centuries. Though merely an epic space opera that hardly commands the impact of the Bible, “Star Wars” epitomizes that dilemma. In a galaxy far, far away, the Jedi are portrayed as a representation of good in conflict with the Sith, their evil counterparts, dark forces who could destroy the universe. Reveling in man’s lesser desires, the Sith breeds qualities like competition, jealousy, and tyranny.
The debate about what is moral continues to weigh heavily on our consciences. Socially acceptable behavior and our ability to fit in are closely tied with our knowledge and understanding of the moral status quo. But is it just a status quo or rock-and-mortar natural law? What if morality is ever changing and follows trends set by the people in charge? Then the good-versus-evil debate might be simply a psychological tactic for control. What we call morality could be considered a level of consciousness, a perspective from which to view the world. And yet the entire portrait remains a mystery. Beyond the concept of good versus evil, couldn’t there possibly be a brain state where morality is obsolete?
Contrary to what we tend to see in the evening news, which often depicts only lower-class individuals engaging in “immoral” behavior, a report from the National Academy of Sciences found that upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize, and endorse unethical behavior at work.
Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed. Low-income individuals are surely also in the crime scene, but their reasons might more likely be related to desperation and urgency. Be it greed or desperation, the crime is driven by emotional factors related to place in society. “I need to survive” and “I want a better house or a new car” might be the respective voices in their heads…. (Quote source here.)
This quandary leads to the next article published on May 11, 2011, in The Atlantic titled, “Out of Character: The Good and Evil in All of Us,“ by Maria Popova, editor of Brain Pickings. Her opening paragraph states:
The dichotomy of good and evil is as old as the story of the world, and timeless in its relevance to just about everything we do in life, from our political and spiritual views to our taste in music, art, and literature to how we think about our simple dietary choices. But while most of us recognize that these concepts of good and bad aren’t always black-and-white categories, we never cease to be surprised when someone or something we’ve perceived as “good” does or becomes something we perceive as “bad,” from an esteemed politician’s transgression to a beloved celebrity’s slip into addiction or Scientology or otherwise socially undesirable behavior…. (Quote source here.) The rest of the article is a review on a book titled, “Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us,” by researchers David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo who “explore this curious disconnect through the rigorous lens of science.”)
It comes as no surprise that good and evil reside in all of us, and this leads into the next article that comes from a Biblical perspective on the topic of good versus evil. GotQuestions.org answers the question, “What does the Bible says about good versus evil,” as follows:
Among the most universal beliefs across all humanity is the concept of “good versus evil.” Every culture in every era has held to some version of this struggle. The definitions of the terms good and evil vary wildly, as do opinions on how they interact. Still, belief in some difference between that which is “good” and that which is “evil” pervades all of mankind. When all options and ideas are compared, only the Bible provides a perspective on good and evil that is fully coherent and fully livable (Psalm 25:6–15).
According to the Bible, “good versus evil” is not a matter of opinion. Nor is it an evenly matched struggle between two beings or forces. Scripture does not indicate that the boundaries of good and evil change. Nor does it claim the conflict between them will last forever. Of special importance is that the Bible does not suggest some people are good, while other people are evil.
Rather, the Bible teaches that good and evil are defined in reference to a perfect and unchanging God. Every person must grapple individually with the presence and temptations of evil. Scripture notes that all evil, without exception, will ultimately be punished and defeated. And it tells us there is an ultimate standard of goodness to which we should aspire—a standard grounded in a person, rather than a theory.
Good and Evil Are Objectively Distinct
According to the Bible, there is a real difference between good and evil. Some worldviews claim all moral distinctions are based purely on preference. Atheism, for instance, allows no objective basis for defining anything as “good” or “evil.” In a godless universe, there are only things a person prefers and things a person does not prefer. This is a key reason why philosophies embracing atheism always tend toward violence and tyranny: there is no sense of higher authority and no reason to moderate the whims of those in power.
The idea that defining good and evil depends on preferences or situations is commonly called moral relativism. Scripture rejects this idea as false. The Bible defines some things as “good” and other things as “evil” (Isaiah 5:20; Romans 12:9). This dichotomy is reflected in the consistent use of themes such as light versus darkness (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16; John 1:5; Ephesians 5:8). The ultimate fate of all people depends on whether they are aligned with a good God or opposed to Him (1 Corinthians 6:9–11; Revelation 21:8).
Discerning between good and evil is possible only in reference to a single, unchanging standard: the perfect nature of God. God is not subject to morality, since He is the source and benchmark for it. Nor is morality subject to change, since God’s perfect nature is eternal and unchanging. Counters such as Euthyphro’s dilemma fail, since they do not distinguish between an eternal, unchanging God and the fickle deities of ancient Greek religion.
Good and Evil Are Not Balanced
A frequent component of fiction and fantasy is the idea that good and evil are equally balanced, evenly matched forces. According to this view, neither is ultimately in control. Either may eventually win. This is the concept of dualism, which suggests a perpetual balance between the forces of good and evil. In some cases, dualism implies that opposing beings, such as God and Satan, are deadlocked in a struggle for control and power.
Some worldviews teach that all good and evil will eventually be balanced. This is related to Eastern ideas such as karma, which implies that good and evil are inherently imbalanced but will one day be evened out.
Scripture rejects dualism as false. The Bible indicates that God is absolutely supreme and in no danger whatsoever of being defeated (Job 42:2; Psalm 89:8; Galatians 6:7). What Satan does, he is “allowed” to do, but he cannot act to overpower God (Job 1:12; Revelation 9:1; 20:7). Biblically, evil is destined only for defeat and destruction. Not one single act of evil will escape judgment; every sin will either be paid for by Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21) or by those who reject Christ (John 3:36) as they experience an eternity in hell (Revelation 20:11–15).
Good and Evil Are Not External
Evidence that humanity holds to a basic concept of good versus evil is obvious (Romans 1:18–20). This explains why moral reasoning—separating “what is” from “what ought to be”—is a universal facet of humanity. Of course, that does not mean all people hold the same views on good and evil. We are not examining morality from the outside, as neutral observers; all moral discussions by definition involve the person(s) who discuss them, as well.
A unique aspect of the Bible’s teaching on good and evil is that all people, without exception, are subject to sin and evil (Romans 3:10; 3:23). The biblical concept of a sin nature means that the line between good and evil cannot be drawn between people. Rather, it is drawn within every person. This fact of human nature is critical to understand (Matthew 15:19–20). As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
One truth found in the gospel is that all people, without exception, are sinners in need of a Savior. Biblical Christianity does not see good versus evil as a battle to be fought on earth (John 18:36), an issue to resolve by revenge or retribution (Romans 12:20–21), or a philosophical position to be considered. The Bible says every person is created for a good purpose (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28) but suffers from an evil heart (Romans 7:15–25), which can only be remedied by faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Redemption is available to anyone (Matthew 7:7–8; Revelation 22:15), regardless of his past or the depth of his sin (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
Good versus Evil Requires “Right Judgment”
Another key aspect of the Bible’s teaching on “good versus evil” is that no person is infallible, even on spiritual matters. Those who are guided by the Holy Spirit are better equipped to judge spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:14), and they ought to do so. Scripture is clear that all people are subject to sin, and it is just as clear that all people are subject to correction (Hebrews 12:5–11), learning (2 Timothy 2:15), and limitations (1 Samuel 16:7).
In Matthew 7 Jesus gives an extensive explanation of how to properly discern between good and evil: to “judge” in the correct way; that is, to use “right judgment” (John 7:24). The Bible commends examination (Acts 17:11), commands putting things to the test (1 John 4:1), and promotes accountability (1 Peter 3:15) and a commitment to truth (Galatians 1:8–9).
Scripture does not imply that “good versus evil” is a simplistic, binary concept. Since only God is ultimately perfect, the Bible allows for a “good versus better” spectrum. God called His initial creation “good” (Genesis 1:24), then after more creating called it “very good” (Genesis 1:28). Some of the good things God has given us have more than one use, and not all uses are automatically good or evil (1 Timothy 4:4). The biblical understanding of good versus evil does not imply that all things are either perfectly holy or wholly satanic. Rather, there can be good and bad aspects of many of the freedoms God gives us (1 Corinthians 6:12). Likewise, while all sin leads to separation from God, Scripture does speak of some sins as being more heinous than others.
The Bible acknowledges that not every moment in human experience will come with a clear, black-and-white moral answer. Scripture focuses only on the most important points we need to know, not every imaginable scenario (John 21:25). This means even the most sincere, Bible-believing, born-again Christians might disagree on an ethical question (1 Corinthians 10:23–33). The Bible’s answer—when the issue is not covered overtly in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 5:6)—is for tolerance and patience (Titus 3:9). We’re given a conscience for a reason (Romans 14:23).
Truth is objective; for any given opinion or interpretation, someone is right, and someone is wrong. But human beings lack the moral perfection of God; this is reflected in the Bible’s teaching on good versus evil and our role in applying good judgment.
Scripture encourages believers not to apply terms like good, evil, sin, and so forth to issues where there is room for doubt (Romans 14:1–12). Contrary to what some think, the Bible admits that human beings might not always be correct in our moral judgments. We are not to avoid all judgment (John 7:24), but the Bible teaches us to carefully consider when and how we judge (Ephesians 5:10).
Good versus Evil Demands a Response
The Bible’s teaching on good versus evil leads to a challenging conclusion: that every person is obligated to make a fundamental choice between the two. That choice is entirely determined by our response to God, who is both the definition of good and our Creator. Moment by moment, that means either following His will or rebelling and choosing to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). Eternally, this means we either choose to accept Him and His salvation (John 3:16; 14:6) or align ourselves against Him (John 3:36). While we may be imperfect and fallible, we cannot be neutral in our approach to good versus evil. Our hearts are either seeking the goodness of God (Matthew 7:7–8; Romans 2:4) or the selfishness of evil (1 Peter 3:10–12). (Quote source here.)
In the ongoing battle between good and evil, Micah 6:8 guides us as Christians in how to live–He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy . . .
And to walk humbly . . .
With your God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Chain Breaker” by Zach Williams: