The Problem of Good

May 29th, 2014 / 33 Comments

The book I am currently writing explores God’s providence in relation to randomness and purpose, evil and good. In it, I offer solutions both to the problem of evil and the problem of randomness. But I also address a third, little discussed “problem:” the problem of good.

The problem of evil asks why a loving and powerful God does not prevent genuine evil. The problem of evil, left unresolved, is a serious challenge to those who, like me, believe in God.

The problem of randomness asks how we can believe God acts providentially if truly random events occur. Left unresolved, the problem of randomness is a serious challenge to those who, like me, think God acts lovingly all the time toward all creation.

By contrast, however, the problem of good asks whether we can account well for genuine goodness but deny that a loving and powerful God is the ultimate source of goodness. The problem of good, left unresolved, is a serious challenge to those who do not believe in God.

I do not raise the problem of good to refute or even neutralize the problem of evil or the problem of randomness. To account well for life as we experience it, we must offer a plausible solution to why a loving and powerful God does not prevent genuine evil. And we must explain God’s providential relationship to randomness in the world.

But the problem of good reminds us we also encounter a great deal of goodness, love, compassion, generosity, and cooperation in the world. We sometimes focus so intently on evil we forget the good. To make sense of life, we need to account for both evil and good.

Widespread Goodness in Life

As an example of widespread goodness, take the immense cooperating we do every day. We often cooperate to make better our lives and the lives of others. Cooperation is the means by which a great deal of goodness emerges in day-to-day living.

Today, for instance, I cooperated with my wife and daughters so that we might live relatively good, peaceful, and productive lives. We coordinated efforts when doing household chores this morning so our day might have a positive start. As we traveled to our work and schools, we cooperated with surrounding drivers to make the commute amazingly well-organized. For the most part, our fellow students and colleagues cooperated to complete tasks throughout the day. It’s amazing how much good we can accomplish when we work together! After school and work, we coordinated transportation needs so we could participate in various activities. A few of us fixed an evening meal for the family, while others set the table and later cleared dishes. After relaxing, studying, or doing more chores around the house, we coordinated schedules for the next day. Setting the house temperature, locking the doors, and shutting off lights and computers – for the good of all – we finally headed to bed.

This “day in the life of the Oord family” doesn’t come close to mentioning all the ways we experience goodness. It doesn’t address the significant self-sacrifices many of us make, at some cost to ourselves, to help others enjoy life or evade suffering. When acting to promote well-being, many of us “take one for the team.” We do so to make our lives, the lives of those we know, and even the world better. If we were to list all the ways we act self-sacrificially, the list would be long!

Also important for promoting good are the random acts of kindness many do. While less frequent than coordinated cooperation or planned self-sacrifice, spontaneous acts of generosity are powerful examples of goodness. Random acts of kindness may range from an unexpected compliment to a generous lunch tip to helping a stranger to picking up trash.

If we look for it, we will notice goodness all around. Virtue is far more common than we realize. We take for granted many good things and good deeds, overlooking them. Sometimes we simply need to open our eyes – to become aware – to the ways we are blessed and the ways we bless others.

The Relationship between Goodness and Love

Another way to talk about doing good is to say we love. We love when we promote the well-being of family, friends, and ourselves. We love when we do good to strangers, jerks, and enemies. We love when we treat other creatures well and care for the environment. If love involves acting intentionally, in response to others, to promote overall well-being, there’s a lot of love in the world! Love, rightly understood, involves doing good.

The typical explanation for the ultimate source of goodness – and the explanation I affirm – says that the inspiration, source, or inclination to do good comes from God. In fact, the measure of what is good is God’s own nature. Because God essentially is good, God does good to us and all creation. God’s presence pervades reality, and it prompts us toward goodness. We do good deeds and become good people when we respond well to God.

The problem of good asks if anyone can fully explain the goodness in life without believing in God and assigning some ultimate relationship between God and goodness. If there is no God, in other words, why is there so much cooperation, self-sacrifice, generosity, altruism, and love in the world?

I think the most plausible answer to the problem of good is an appeal to God’s goodness. Other answers do not offer a satisfying ultimate explanation for why we think some things are better than others or why we should seek to do good.

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Paul Brilla

Keep me apprised of the book that is being written I would like to read and digest TJO in a wider context

paul a retired shepherd in good standing with THE SHEPHERD

Andy Yue

The article provides me a new way of think, and I really like it. However, “the problem of good” does not sound as appealing to me as “the problem of evil”. The core of the problem is that we have defined one of God’s as “omnibenevolent”, under this definition, “evil” is really a serious problem. Following the same logic, “good” is only a “problem” if we define God as “all hating” instead of “all loving”. And awkwardly enough, if one defines God as neither “all loving” nor “all hating”, then neither “good” nor “evil” can be called “problem”.
Overall, I think got what this article was trying to communicate, and I think there are many positive ideas in this article. Nevertheless, as a theist myself, I have to say that “the problem of good” does not really provide any challenge against the atheists at all, nor the agnostics. In some sense, atheists and agnostics have a stronger standing on this particular issue since they simply believe that randomness is “the way that happens to be”, thus they do not really have to give answer to ANY questions. For this reason, “good” is certainly not a “problem” at all. On the other hand, Christians have defined God as “all loving”, then following this definition came the problem of evil.
The burden of proof is on the ones who try to define the natures of God.

Shantay Perry

I really enjoyed this reading! I have always been focused on the problem of evil and have really struggled with why all of the “evil” happens. It is interesting to bring up the problem of good. It is more enjoyable to see the good and to notice the good. I think many people (believers and nonbelievers) see all that is bad and forget all the good that surrounds each one of us. I think it brings up a good point that should be discussed more often.

Cassidy Ball

The problem of evil has been an issue for me as well, especially since starting nursing school. It has really challenged my faith dealing with all of these patients who are struggling with these horrible illnesses, especially the 35 day old baby who has a life-long painful disease given to them by their mother who was addicted to meth. I think it would definitely be hard for someone to deal with things like that if they weren’t a believer in God. I still struggle with it and I do believe in God. I also believe that there might be other factors such as karma that other people can blame for good and evil in substitution for believing that God is the root of goodness .

Michael Gordon

Evil is more of an issue with non-christians than with Christians. Christians see evil as the work of the Devil and we clearly see a way to look past all the evil in the world. With non-christians, people want and need an explanation for the evil in the world. They see the good in the world and the “norm” and they don’t see that the good comes from God. I used to be a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, but my perspective has changed since last week’s discussion when we talked about the fact that God doesn’t allow evil to happen, but he also doesn’t stop it. It was a crazy mind twister for me and it’s something that I still feel I need to investigate and learn more about.

Noelle Parton

When considering this idea of goodness and how humans seek to do good themselves, I think about that percentage of the population who don’t seem to want to do good. They long to bring harm on others, the environment, or even themselves instead of pursuing what is good and beneficial. I think that the reason goes back to the fact that good comes from God and that those individuals have turned so completely away from God and rejected the Holy Spirit so many times, that they no longer have the voice of right and wrong, good and evil, in their minds.

Tawni Palin

If someone were to take a poll of a street crowd most –if not all– would say that they are good people. Many think that good is an inherent quality, but I personally don’t agree with this. If good is my natural reaction then why do I have to convince myself that punching those people in the face is a bad idea? I want to believe that good is there but I know that I personally had to be taught not to react in hate. Without God and his love for me and in me, I would be a horrible person. Angry and careless, no one would want to know me. Thank you God for loving me and giving me the framework of being a good person.


Like Cassidy I often struggle with the problem of evil because while she sees the nursing side of the 35 day old baby whose mother was addicted to meth while pregnant, I see the social work side of it. I watch the child come into care and the foster parents try their best to save this child and the biological mother have regret and anger but only after 2 months does she go straight back to her “drug of choice”. I grew up in the Church and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be a follower of Christ. I would be so hopeless. However, I also see the good in this situation. The Foster Mom who wakes up every 2 hours to feed her foster baby, the case worker who is trying to make this little child’s life better, and even sometimes the redemption by the Mother. Sometimes it can be hard to see the good in a situation that seems so bad.

Lexi Sterling

I think all too often we, or maybe more so Christians, focus on the problem of evil in our world rather than the good. I think it is so easy to get caught up in what is going wrong, that we forget to stop and recognize all the things that are going right. We pay attention to the wrongs, the faults, or the hurts perhaps because we strongly desire them to be fixed…so we too fix our attention on them, rather than on what is right in those situations. I think the problem of good is certainly one that should be discussed more often, for it is one I myself don’t understood fully since so much of my own time and attention has always been more so focused on the negative or what I can do to change things or better things. The problem of good asks if anyone can fully explain the problem of good in this life without believing in God…that isn’t something I have ever given much thought, however now, is definitely one to consider.

Brenden O’Neill

When talking of the “problem of evil” it personally very hard for me because it is so easy to become overwhelmed with the shear magnitude of the problem and the broad reach that it has in every aspect of life. I feel that the root of the problem is that a loving God, in our eyes, should prevent bad things from happening. In one sense I am tempted to say that we as humans do not have the capacity to define how God works and ultimately what His love looks like. Then the rational side of me kicks in and I cannot bring myself to this conclusion. While I do not have an answer to this problem, I do know that one thing is for certain. If God truly is a loving God then He is present with me in my suffering, and with all who suffer.

Matti Munger

It was interesting to think about why evil happens alongside why there is good in the world. Usually there are one or other talked about and I like how it’s compared together here. Doing something loving and good for someone can make such a big difference in our lives and sometimes we don’t realize or think about that. I think the world has been doing a lot of “pay it forward acts” of random kindness to each other lately, it’s pretty often that you hear about someone buying your coffee in line or something little of that sort. If we all continued to do these truly loving acts in an even bigger way every day we could have such a different world and the evil aspect would become less and less significant.

James Shepherd

The problem of evil is not something we can explain away, or even give a simple answer to. At the same time we have an opposite reaction happening in the world; loving acts. Often, I think that these are results of the broken relationship we have with our creator. This does not even being to answer why bad things happen in this world, and nor am I trying to answer why they happen. Along with this, I also want to say that in order to fully understand why bad things happen we have to understand why bad things happen. The opposite is true as well. I found this to be very though provoking and helping to my current understanding of this.

Cali Carpenter

After our last class and the discussion about God and the problem of evil, I have been thinking a lot about this topic and my stance on it. From class, we talked about how God can not control all things, which is why evil is permitted in this world. While this stance does make me feel better about evil in the world, it brings up a question to me about good in the world. If we cannot relate all evil to God, then how can we relate how goodness to the acts of God? I don’t really have any answer to this question, but it seems almost contradictory to say that God cannot control evil but he can be looked upon for all acts that are good.

Allie Kroeger

I really enjoyed the part where you said that when we are doing good or responding to good, we are living out God’s goodness. It’s cool to think that it is because of God that we hold the capacity to do good and live our lives in a way that would ultimately please and glorify him. I believe you that the goodness coming through us is ultimately coming through him, because our selfish nature doesn’t usually have an indication to live that way, especially when it is for others. This definitely shifted my perspective on this and was an interesting article to read!

Kara Den Hoed

I really liked the part that talked about random acts of kindness. Personally, I love random acts of kindness and think that they have a huge effect. When something great happens unexpected on a rough day, it can really change your whole outlook. I have experienced this before both receiving and giving. One Christmas, my family when around and did random, anonymous acts of kindness for people in our church, and it was one the most fun experiences I can remember for Christmas. I am doing a kind of random act of kindness for my love project and I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Connor Magnuson

It was a challenge for me to get my head around the three problems individually at first when I was thinking. The problem of evil and randomness were okay for me, but the problem of good I did not initially understand. Then when Dr. Oord said, “The problem of good, left unresolved, is a serious challenge to those who do not believe in God,” I gleaned more perspective on the comment. To use a golf analogy, often even the best players will dwell on their bad shots instead of remembering and focusing on their good ones. I feel like the same principle sometimes happens for Christians; sometimes we forget how awesome and good God’s love for us is when we get caught up with trying to find flaws in theology. I think it is important, for me especially, to look at the good side of situations instead of finding flaws or dwelling on the negatives when appropriate.

Michae delie

This is a very interesting read because it flips the script on most theology and religion conversation. Even in college courses we tend to shift out conversations and debates to what is wrong with other religions and philosophies. Too often the good stuff goes unnoticed and not talked about. Mainly because it is expected. Being the critical/sinful people we are it makes our first thought to be what is wrong with something rather than what is right.

Kevin Field

The problem of good deeply fascinates me and it was very confirming to read about it. This train of thought has had a serious impact on the way I think since I first began actively seeking to become aware of the good that is around me. So frequently our society emphasizes the negative or outlandish events that occur and completely overlooks all of the wonderful and lovely events that occur each day. The “averageness” of good is something that says a lot about the world we live in and, in my eyes, definitely points to a creator.

Tyler Mahaffy

An interesting topic to discuss, but at the same time, a difficult one to figure out. I will say that I agree with Kara Den Hoed with mentioning of random acts of kindness. One simple act of kindness can go a long way with people. I see that a lot on the show “What would you do?” and a youtube video series called “Still hope for this world” where it shows random people to random acts of kindness, in fact, these are similar to the film “Pay It Forward.”

Rachel Ball

I’ve heard people try to answer this ‘problem of good’ with a mantra about humanity. That we as humans have some sort of intrinsic link to each other and the earth. The problem with this is that I stand firmly on the belief that stems from the fall of mankind. Long ago, in the garden, humanity fell from its position of virtue and was ‘cursed’ since then to be born with a propensity to sin. This is why we must teach our children to behave and to do good. Humanity is not born into a good state and immediately work for a common cause. Something has to be overcome. Our deficiencies have to be overcome. Enter: Jesus Christ.

Matt Silva

I am not sure I understand why the problem of good is actually a problem in the same way as the problem of evil, but the blog post did make me think of something else. The role that good plays is often overlooked when thinking about the problem of evil. Even though this deos little to nothing to mitigate the strength of the problem of evil, it is interesting think about how the availability heuristic influences our thinking on the problem of evil. Evil events are shocking and memorable. Paying close attention to and having a long memory for negative events is a deeply rooted survival mechanism. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of evil in the world, but it is very hard to intuitively evaluate the relative amounts of evil and good in the world. It is very easy to overestimate the actual amount of evil in the world when thinking about the problem of evil.

John Treyz

The problem of good as defined in your fourth paragraph is not really a problem at all. Many people can do good things without having the possibility of God as the instigation of the goodness. This is because not everything done that is good is done out of love. There are many things that could be considered good that are done out of selfish means. In fact, if looked at from a certain perspective everything is done out of selfishness and not out of love but which still leads to goodness and good actions.

Kristen Loper

I read this and thought is good really a problem? I think that goodness is really a solution. I think it is the way that Christ was in his actions… his example I think we are proving Gods nature when we who are in His image act on goodness and carry out His intent for us with each other.

Taylor Gould

The problem with evil is something I’ve personally struggled with for some time now. Being the daughter law enforcement officers, I was taught about the evils of our world at a young age. My parents would always tell me not to walk home from school on the less traveled roads, and to stay out in the open where everyone can see me. I used to get so mad at them because I could be home in 5 minutes if I walked the back roads, but instead it took me 15. Obviously at 10 years old I thought I was always right, so they had to sit me down and explain to me that there are people out there who take little kids. And this was shocking to me because I couldn’t understand why someone would want to take me. Still to this day I don’t fully understand why it is people can do the things that they do. For example, when I was in middle school there was a huge kidnapping case in Northern Idaho where just absolutely terrible things were done to a family and then two children. To have a God who is so good, makes it that much harder to see that there is still such evil in the world. And I think those who don’t have a relationship with God struggle that much more with coming up with why evil things happen.

Randy Kingsmore

There is much good in the world and arguably more good than evil. The fact that a truly evil act takes us by surprise or disgusts us so much attests to the relative rarity of genuine evil. That being said, I definitely do not take the time to appreciate the all the goodness in my life. In fact, I toyed with the idea of starting a web-based news service focusing exclusively on goodness. In the spirit of spreading goodness: in Sunday school a woman told the story of a man who secretly paid for her breakfast.

Toniessa Phelps

This blog brings up a really good point. Why else would there be good unless God existed? I know for sure that if I didn’t have God in my life I wouldn’t be as nice and caring. Through God I am able to show love. It just doesn’t make sense to me any other way. One way I think of this is that since there is a God there must be a devil and the way it was explained to me was that all the good comes for God and the devil is in control of evil. It may seem silly but it makes sense to me.

Linnea Phillips

Unfortunately, I believe our tendency is to focus on the negative. Our pessimistic attitude prevents our world from recognizing the goodness that is constantly surrounding us. I believe this has to do with our expectations. We expect the world to be a fairytale ending, where good always triumphs over evil. That being said, evil events are more memorable because we believe that they shouldn’t happen. Since we hold on to these memories longer we tend to overestimate the frequency of evil events, especially when analyzing the problem of evil.

Rachel Finley

“If we look for it, we will notice goodness all around. Virtue is far more common than we realize. We take for granted many good things and good deeds, overlooking them. Sometimes we simply need to open our eyes – to become aware – to the ways we are blessed and the ways we bless others. ” – This part of the blog really stood out to me! I know there is a lot of evil in the world, but there is also a lot of good. For some reason though, people can only seem to focus on the negative aspects of life. I truly believe if we started counting our blessings on a daily basis that we would be happier people. I always learned that you must be blessed to be a blessing, so if you don’t believe that you are blessed than how can you bless others? Food for thought.

Cass Hinton

This blog post was really interesting to read. It definitely brought up some points and ideas that I had never thought about. I like the examples given, they gave life to the article. I also think that this is a new way of viewing everyday actions that can be considered “good”. I agree that a great deal of the time we find ourselves growing accustomed to how things are and take for granted the good deeds that we and others will do during the day. I think that it is important to not allow ourselves to fall into the sedentary lifestyle that keeps us from learning from these events.

Caleb Gerdes

“God is good all the time.” “God created everything to be good.” Ideas that I believe but would bet there is some refute out there waiting to challenge that. Go figure.

Kayla Sevier

I really connected with the simple but powerful sentence about how we focus on evil so much that we tend to forget about the good. I don’t even notice that I focus on the evil so much until I am reminded, like right now for example. I think that thoughts and blogs like this one are a great reminder of focusing on the good instead of evil. Not saying that I don’t focus on the good but definitely not as much as I should. This makes me think about, “what if everyone did it?” What I mean by this is that if everyone did this (focused more on the good in life) what a difference it would make overall.

Curtis S Mostul

The idea of random acts is something that I find really interesting. I don’t think about it that much when a random person holds a door open for me. However, that person is taking time out of their day to make my day better. Even if they do not think that they are doing this directed action to make my day better they did. Was that an action of God or just simply a random act of God. I would love to better know how to look for God in everyday situations.

Spencer Hassman

If you’re a hardcore (or even softcore) evolutionary psychologist, you don’t buy into this idea of altruism; there has to be some evolutionary advantage to behaving in altruistic way, or it is a disadvantageous trait that will eventually die out. However, if that is the case, than somehow the “altruism gene” (although a completely incorrect scientific statement) has broken the mold and been very evolutionarily successful. Why? Your answer indicates a possible conclusion, and I partially buy into it, but I’m not ready to say that all good comes from divine inspiration; maybe the desire to do good does really have evolutionary benefits, like more effective community, trust, and more.

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