The Bible says in a few places that God does only good things and is full of only goodness: James 1:13 - 1 John 1:5 - 1 Corinthians 14:33. I think we can Biblically support very well that God is not the origin of any evil.

However, what does the bible say about good and evil coming from mankind? Are people actually capable of good without God or would there be only evil in the world if God took a vacation?

I am looking for answers that examine the various passages of the Bible and do not give too much 'this is my interpretation' talk.

I have already considered Gen 6:5, but ultimately decided that the verse explicitly refers to those people at that time who all perished in the flood.

I am getting a lot of feed back that I need to define good and evil here so that it can be answered correctly. I disagree. Those are the Bible's words not mine. Even in this answer David Morton says I need to define them but later says "At that point [God leaving], 'good' simply disappears. It's not that we can or can't do good. It's that good ceases to be good, and begins being something else."

Is that not exactly the answer to this question? How we define good apparently does not matter to God. Isaiah 55:8-9

  • I believe that people are capable of good things, thats why are capable of love and compassion. But the bible says that God is the root of these things (even in non-Believers). At the same time, human behavior shows us that we can loose these things during long periods of suffering, or even short periods of severe suffering.
    – Jason
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 11:51
  • if God took a vacation? hah, funny.
    – Mawia
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 11:54
  • Could you explain what you mean by "without God"? The analogy of God taking a vacation doesn't help, but is actually very confusing. There seem to be multiple questions here. Are you wondering if God is the source of good things? Whether evil comes from man? If undiscovered tribes or atheistic anti-theists can be good? I have no idea how to answer a question of the form "Assume God is deistic and 'leaves', what would things be like?" except to say "that's not possible".
    – Alypius
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 16:51
  • @DavidMorton The verse is pretty clear that how God looks at things is dissimilar to how we look at things. It supports your conclusion which says that if God left we would no longer have a bearing for what is good because He defines it by His ways not ours, which the question kind of assumes. This is what makes you answer correct, imo.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 18:13
  • @Jason: Please keep the chattyness factor down in comments. Comments are primarily supposed to be about posts, noting ways they can be improved, prompting for references or further explanations, asking for clarifications. These purposes are often ephemoral and comments regularly get deleted when they have served their purpose. If your comment doesn't serve such a purpose at all, it's likely to get deleted right off the bat. If you have an answer, please answer. If you have a link or something that might be a source to build an answer on, that might be ok. But lets not just vet opinion. Thanks.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 21:05

4 Answers 4


I think it depends on your definition of good. Different people define good in different ways. Until good is defined clearly, it's impossible to answer this question with clarity.

From the Christian perspective:

All good comes from God (James 1:17)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

The Christian also believes that it is chiefly our motivations that will be judged. Jesus was frustrated with the motives of the scribes and Pharisees, who did all the right things for all the wrong reasons (Matthew 23:27):

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.

Also, Paul reinforces this point regarding the importance of our motives (1 Corinthians 4:5):

Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

So what is good according to the Bible? Jesus says this: (Matthew 22:36-40):

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So why do we love, ultimately? (1 John 4:19)

We love because he first loved us.

The Bible's definition of good thus consists of:

  1. What we do.
  2. Why we do it.
  3. Who defines it.

So in a nutshell, if God goes bye-bye, we lose not only the commandments of God, but we also lose the ability to have the proper motivation for it, and we also lose the Chief Determiner of Good Himself.

At that point, "good" simply disappears. It's not that we can or can't do good. It's that good ceases to be good, and begins being something else.

Of course, if you define good by what the general populus, or what certain individuals define as good, then of course, everybody could do good. But more than likely, everyone's definition of good will differ, so one person's good will be another person's evil.

The Bible talks about this as well (Judges 21:25):

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Without God, it's impossible to define good, at least in a Biblical sense. So in order to answer the question, good would need to be redefined.

  • I think you answered it quite concisely! "If God leaves good ceases to be good and begins being something else." Very profound and I think undeniable, from the logic of the Bible. You should squeeze Isaiah 55:8-9 in there at the end because how we define good does not matter to God. I made an edit to my post.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 18:04

From a Christian perspective, without God there is nothing. Scripture tells us that God continually sustains everything. Without God's sustaining power, all creation would cease.

Colossians 1:15-17 (ESV)
15  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

This tells us that without God, there is no evil, nor good. Without God, there is nothing at all.

Addressing whether man can do good without God:

Man is capable of doing good things, but only because we were created by God with the capacity to do so. He has "written the Law on our hearts", and given is a conscience.

Based on that, the answer to your question - can man do good without God - is "no". Even if God took a vacation, our ability to do good is still a result of Him creating us with the capacity to do so. Even if He took a vacation, any goodness in us would still be due to Him.

As a side note, people can be good without religion, but not without God, as noted in a comment on my answer here.

  • Your answer is okay, although kind of side-steps the issue. I think David Morton provides a much better answer and with less apparent personal interpretation. He chose verses that are pretty self explanatory where the ones you quote are hotly debated on meaning. I made an edit to my post.
    – user3961
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 18:01
  • I agree with you David ... Because God exists, everything else exists, including evil (a byproduct of creation). If God were to never have existed, nothing would exist, including evil. Because everything (life, matter, energy, astronomical constants and events) is sustained by God, then if God were to cease to exist, so would everything else.
    – SonShawk
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 18:51

Even with God their is evil. We are fallen the priest the lay man and the child. We never escape our fallen nature but with the Son of God we are saved from our sins. Jesus came to earth so that through him we could be saved from our fallen nature.

Are people actually capable of good without God

Yes Romans 2 makes it pretty clear that the law alone does not make one holy. Those who do not have the law are a law unto themselves their conscience bearing witness.

I think we can Biblically support very well that God is not the origin of any evil.

How do we define what is evil? The definition you hold would make a big difference in the conclusion you make. Some have argued that the way God treated the Canaanites where unjust. It is hard to answer a question that hinges on such a ambiguous definition.

I personally do not agree with the non religious types who brand God as being evil. One of the most extraordinary passage for me in the Old Testament is where God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach in that city.

Jonah does not want to go. Maybe he realised how hard it would be to preach to a pagan nation. God tells Jonah But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

And like a child that has just been scolded Jonah says OK I'll go. In the Jonah does well in that city and in the end the city repents. It is one of the greatest tales of mercy in the Old Testament.


Even with God, there is already great evil in the world, so the only issue for the question is whether there can ever be good in the world, or only ever evil, without God. Then, "without God" can refer to those who are non-believers - without God - or it can refer to the hypothetical situation of God taking a holiday. I will deal with each of these alternatives in the following two paragraphs:

There is a biblical basis for saying that non-believers can do good. Cyrus the Great was a benefactor of the Jews, allowing them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and even promising funds for this purpose. Isaiah 44:28-45:5 is effusive in its praise for Cyrus, concluding on behalf of God, "though thou hast not known me."    In our own time, we can identify many non-believers who have done great good, showing that people without God, in the sense of believing in him, can do good. If an example is required, I will mention Mahatma Gandhi, a Jain. Although Jains worship higher beings in heaven, they do not believe that any form of god is necessary to keep the universe in existence, or that any form of god has any power over the universe.

Of course, the Bible can not help us regarding the temporary absence of God - " if God took a vacation" - since the biblical authors could not imagine such a situation. Unless it is possible to prove that God has already been absent from the world at some time in its history, this aspect of the question could only be answered by opinion.

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