God Creates Evil
I was recently asked to explain Isa. 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Does this mean that God creates evil?
Good question. While we’re dealing with Isa. 45:7, let’s include Amos 3:6, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” The problem with these two verses is that they seem to say that God, who is holy, also creates and does evil.
The answer lies in understanding two things:
- who God says He is
- the words the KJV translates peace (shalom) and evil (ra‘)
First, God tells us that He is holy and that means, among other things, that God is pure and sinless. Habakkuk says it this way: “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor” (1:13). John says, “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5). James says, “God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does He tempt anyone with evil” (Jam. 1:13). From Scriptures like these, we can conclude that God is not the creator of sin or evil.
Second, to most people, the word peace in English means “the absence of conflict” or “quiet restfulness.” Although the Hebrew word shalom has these meanings as well, it more frequently has the sense of “well-being, prosperity,” even “completeness.”
The Hebrew word ra‘ has the meanings “evil” and “calamity, disaster, or hurt.” The KJV translators recognized that ra‘ could mean “hurt” and translated it that way 20 times (see, for example, Eccl. 8:9; Jer. 7:6; 25:7).
Now take a look at Isa. 45:7. It is important to see that the Lord sets up a pair contrasts in this verse. He contrasts light with darkness and shalom with ra‘. What is the opposite of well-being (shalom)? Isn’t it calamity or harm? Interestingly, modern translations consistently translate this verse with words like calamity (NASB, ESV, NET), disaster (NIV, NJB), woe (NAB, RSV, NRSV, Tanakh) or bad times (NLT). The New King James reads: I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.
That is what Isaiah and Amos are both saying: God is responsible not only for the prosperity that we enjoy but also for the calamities that we endure.
You might say, but Philip, why would God create calamity? The Bible tells us various reasons why God creates calamity:
- God punishes sin with calamity (Deut. 31:29),
- God uses calamities to chasten his people, e.g., Jonah (Jon. 1:4, 7), and
- God uses calamity to try His servants and refine them (e.g., Job; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:7).
In the case of Job, we learn that God was not directly responsible for Job’s tragedy, but He did permit it. This highlights the wonderful truth of God’s sovereignty: nothing can or will ever enter the life of God’s children without first receiving His stamp of permission. In the light of Romans 8:28-29, we can rest assured that if God permits calamity or tragedy in our lives, He will also be at work to form in us the character of His Son through it.
Resting in Him,