Evil defined by lack of goodness, can it be reversed?

I have asked sooo many questions on this website, but it’s just so helpful that I can’t stop looking for more collaborative conversations! I am figuring out the difference between good and evil, and I am gaining more and more clarity about the matter. One of the big Christian views of evil is is that God did NOT create evil. To be put as plainly as possible, evil is anything outside of God (since he’s perfect).

As I have continued my research, I have found a common consensus by multiple philosophers and writers that evil is entirely contingent on goodness. You cannot have evil without goodness being there first. For example, you can’t murder someone (bad) without first being a life (good). Or adultery (evil) cannot be committed without first sex existing (good). I like this argument, and it does seem to make sense, but here’s my question, can it work backwards? If that’s the case, then we are in a very bad situation because then goodness would be contingent on knowing what evil is!

So, all in all my question is, are we able to have good and righteous things defined completely independently from a comparison view point to evil things?


That is an excellent question, @DeAnna_Collins.

You have well said that one cannot have evil without the existence of good. St. Augustine said long ago, “What is that which we call evil but the absence of good.” St. Paul said even longer ago that sin is coming short of the glory of God - Romans 3:23.

But good is not the absence of evil.

We can demonstrate this by considering an extreme. Could there be a God without a devil? Certainly! God is not dependent upon the devil for His existence. Good is not dependent upon evil - it is not simply varying degrees of the absence of evil.

Or to state it another way - doing less evil is still not doing actual good. Stealing from one person instead of ten is still not a good thing. James 2:10 says, though a man keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all - meaning as guilty as if he’d broken them all.

But now let’s flip all of that around and consider it the other way. Could there be a devil without a God? Certainly not! The creature is dependent upon the Creator, not the other way around. Evil is dependent upon good - it is varying degrees of the absence of good.

Or to state it another way - doing less good is doing actual evil. A child obeying his parents one time instead of ten is being very disobedient. James 4:17, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

I hope these thoughts will help with what you were wondering about.


Dr. Clay Jones defines evil as:

Evil . As I wrote in The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization , **“Just as dark is defined in regards to the absence of light, so Christian thought has often defined evil as the absence of good; or to use Augustine’s (AD 354–430) words, the privation of good ( privatio boni ).” In short, “Evil then is what ought not to be, for evil is at the least unpleasant (as in a rotten peach) if not harmful or deadly (as in cancer or murder).” I’m often asked where evil came from, or why God created evil, but evil is not a thing. There is no blob somewhere in the universe named evil. If there were such a blob, it would be difficult to explain why God would create such a blob. But evil is a corruption of the good, and evil arises from the misuse of the will. The will is misused for evil whenever we will things that are in contradiction to God’s will." (from his book, " Why Does God Allow Evil?—Compelling Answers for Life’s Most Compelling Questions)

Considering that the triune God is the Creator and “first cause” of the universe, it is in Him that all goodness is grounded, and as such, all things are judged and understood by the standard of God’s goodness and not vice versa. As James rightly stated, “can there be a devil without a God? Certainly not!”, neither there be a shadow without the light. As William Lane Craig states:

“As St. Anselm saw, God is the greatest conceivable being. If there were something greater than God, then that would be God. But necessarily the greatest conceivable being is good because it is better to be morally good than morally imperfect. So when we talk about God, we’re talking about a perfectly good being. If you use the word “God” to talk about something else, then you’re just not talking about God.”

I hope this is helpful. Blessings, Lane


Hi DeAnna :slightly_smiling_face:

@jlyons and @LLD have already given great replies to your question. I will just add a further way to consider your question. Imagine God is not maximally great, imagine God does not possess 100% knowledge but only 90%, this would constitute a deficit or limitation in His character. In order to gain the additional knowledge, God would be reliant on someone or something else to help to make the improvements in His character. God would therefore not be a self-sufficient, independent being, and therefore God would not be necessary. The same argument goes for His goodness. If God was only 60% good, then God would have the capacity to improve Himself, but would be reliant on another source in order to do so. God again would not be self-sufficient, independent and necessary.

An eternally existent, self-sufficient, independent, necessary being is needed in order for anything to come into existence, including the existence of evil. However, evil is not needed in order for good to exist, and therefore evil is not necessary to know what good is. If evil was eternally necessary in order to define good, then God would have to have evil existing in Him (call it 40% evil from the example above), and that is a limited being, and not God. That is just a hypothetical example that I hope is able to assist in the discussion.

Also, another way to think of evil is not the absence of good but the distortion or perversion of it. Humans have hands given by God. These can be used to care for others or to steal. The hand is good but its use can be abused by a being with free-will.

A book I have found helpful to questions like this which you might find interesting, is written by a philosopher Joshua Rasmussen called The Bridge of Reason: Ten Steps to See God.

Blessings :slightly_smiling_face:


I will try my best to answer this question in light of can the reversed be explained. You’ve been reading Augustine no doubt as he explains this stance in his City of God in trying to understand why evil is in the world. His answer was that God cannot be the author of evil since he is perfectly good yet evil exists so it stands to reason that evil IS contigent on good. In other words think of it like light and dark in that dark is only “existing” in that light is not there, it isn’t in of itself a thing as much as it exists by light simply just not being there. Evil is much of the same, if light never turned off there would be no darkness, not that darkness defines light but simply that it wouldn’t exist. Evil in Augustine’s stance is much the same, good defines evil like light defines dark, but you can have the former without ever having the latter. At least that’s what i’m getting from Augustine

From our human perspective I think we tend to make good and evil opposite sides of the same coin.
For me Jesus seemed to indicate that “good” and “evil” are two different animals as they apply to our lost estate.
While application of evil can be applied comprehensively to us as our spiritual state of being:
" If ye then, Being evil…" ( Matthew 7:11 )
The attribute of “good” is only relative to us in terms of tangible acts performed or things that we do:
" If ye then…know how to give good gifts…" ( Matthew 7:11 )
Jesus doubled down further on this distinction of “good” having no application to our character when He said :
" There is none good but God "
Paul emphasized it when he said :
" in me dwelleth no good thing ".