God and Evil
(Did God create evil?)

QUESTION: Please explain Isaiah 45:7. Why did God create evil?

ANSWER: Thank you for an excellent question. To answer it (at least as far as is humanly possible with our limited knowledge) I need to deal with several points.

1) First, there's the reference you mention. It says, in the Authorized Version (the old King James Version), "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."

The Hebrew word translated "evil" there, by the KJV, is ra. It has a number of meanings. Sometimes it can refer to moral evil (wickedness). But many other times it is better translated by such words as trouble, disaster, or adversity. In Isaiah 45:7, the New King James (NKJV) has "calamity," the New International Version (NIV) has "disaster."

In other words, the word does not necessarily have a moral content. It can simply mean something painful or unpleasant. In Psalm 112:7, the same Hebrew word (ra)  is used when the writer says that the one who trusts in the Lord will not be afraid of "evil [ra] tidings"–in other words, he won't be afraid of bad news, distressing news.

This helps us understand Isaiah 45:7. God is saying that there are times when He blesses His people with many good things, but other times when He brings trouble upon them, as a chastening for sin. Notice vs. 9 in the context: "Woe to him who strives with his Maker." If we fight against God, or rebel against Him, we can expect trouble. He will discipline the wayward person. But that is not sin on God's part. His discipline is an evidence of His love (Heb. 12:5-7).

2) The Bible is overwhelmingly clear that a righteous, holy God does not, and cannot do what is morally evil. Here are a few passages that relate to that. "You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You" (Ps. 5:4). "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness" (Hab. 1:13). "God...cannot lie" (Tit. 1:2). " God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (Jas. 1:13).

"God is light and in Him is no darkness at all" (I Jn. 1:5). "All that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world" (I Jn. 2:16). We can add to such statements verses that speak of the sinlessness of the Son of God (II Cor. 5:21; Heb, 4:15; 7:26; I Pet. 2:22; I Jn. 3:5; etc.).

3) The word "evil," in a moral sense, cannot ever be applied to God. Where, then, did evil (or sin) come from? Sin does not come from God, but from His creatures. God is not responsible for evil; His creatures are. God created angels and human beings with a mind, emotions and will. That means they have the ability to know, to reason and to choose. Evil became a reality only when God's creatures chose to rebel against Him, chose not to believe or obey Him.

We see that with Satan, when he coveted the throne of God and rebelled against his Maker (Isa. 14:12-15). We see it in Adam and Eve, when they disobeyed the command of God (Gen. 2:17) and ate some of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6). There is a mystery here, however, something the Lord has not seen fit to reveal to us. We know that Satan (appearing as a serpent) tempted Adam and Eve to sin. But who tempted Satan to sin in the first place? We simply do not know.

There is are verses in Revelation (Rev. 12:3-4, 9) which may indicate that a third of the angels of heaven rebelled with the devil and were cast out of heaven (becoming what we call demons). However, it also seems that the Lord confirmed the angels that were loyal to Him in their holiness, so that they do not and cannot now choose to sin. I believe the same will happen with the saints in heaven (cf. Rev. 22:11).

4) I said a moment ago that God is not the origin of evil. But we must add one more thought. Though He is not the source of evil, He is able to use evil to fulfil His righteous purposes and, in the end, to bring Him glory. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise You," says the psalmist.

We see that in the cruel treatment of the Israelites by the Egyptians, during their years of bondage there. And later when something similar happened through the Assyrians and the Babylonians. What these nations did against God's chosen people was wrong, and He held them accountable for it. Yet He used their actions to chasten His people and turn them back to Him in repentance–a good result.

Joseph recognized that principle. His jealous brothers sought to do him harm, by selling him as a slave into Egypt. The Lord did not cause the brother's evil actions, but He worked through it to save many from starvation, during a time of famine. When Joseph later met his brothers, he said, "As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Gen. 50:20).

The greatest example of that is the cross of Calvary. Men did their worst against the Saviour, but God turned it to a good purpose. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). In wonderful grace, the Lord took the cruel abuse of sinful men and used it for their own good!