Did God create evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
You’re reading in Isaiah and you come across this passage in 45:7.
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
If you’re a Christian, this doesn’t seem right. If you’re an atheist, you jump up and down like you just found buried treasure and go straight on Facebook to share your profound knowledge that even the Bible teaches that God created evil. Take that Christians! Your God is the source of evil Himself!
But if you’re thoughtful on either side, you pause and ask what is going on in the passage. That’s really a much more rational approach to take. After all, if something seems to go against the whole thrust of the story, then you need to see if you might be misunderstanding something. To my atheist readers, you should also want to be sure of this. You know how you think some Christians can embarrass themselves, and they do, when they don’t know anything about evolution and argue against it? Don’t be the same with the Bible.
So what is going on? This passage is talking about Cyrus going out before the Lord to bring about judgment. Like Babylon, Cyrus will be an instrument of God. Yes. I know atheists are already having an issue about a man’s name being given 200 years in advance, but the dating of Isaiah is a separate point to this one so let’s bookshelf that one for now. We’re taking the passage as is.
God is then talking about what He brings about in the world. Light and darkness are the first examples. Many of us don’t like the dark, but darkness does not necessarily equal evil. The night time is not an evil time. In Scripture, God is the God of the night time just as much as He is of the day. The night is a blessed time where we can all sleep and recharge for the next day.
However, we can see light and darkness as opposites. These are parallels. Sometimes in Hebrew, this is known as a merism. You mention two opposite things to include everything between them. When the Bible says God created the Heavens and the Earth, it is talking about two contrasting objects that really means in essence, everything. God made it all.
When we see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this is also a merism. It doesn’t mean that the couple had no idea of good or evil beforehand or any epistemology. It is speaking in language of wisdom more than anything else. It is saying that Adam and Eve by taking the fruit would make themselves to be the source of wisdom and order for their lives and not God. We should all know in Scripture wisdom is kind of a big deal.
So it is with this, we see light and darkness to form a contrast. Then we look at the next topic. That’s peace and evil. Attentive readers should realize this doesn’t exactly work the same way as light and darkness. We know those two are opposites. Peace and evil are not necessarily opposites. We can say peace is good, but is it always. Suppose no one ever went to war to stop Hitler and his concentration camps. Jews were rounded up around Europe and destroyed. Would Europe have peace? Sure. Would that be good. No. War was a good thing here because it brought an end to suffering. I realize one could say the Jews didn’t have peace, and that is true, but the good benefit of World War II was we brought peace to them and to Europe by stopping an evil man.
Even more, we can look at the Hebrew words here. The word for peace is Shalom, which is to be expected, and the word for evil is ra. Ra can mean evil, but it can mean a variety of things, even bad figs. Hebrew is in some ways a limited language where one word can have multiple meanings.
The word is used in Genesis to describe the bad vines and cows in the dreams of Pharaoh. Jacob uses the word to describe sorrow if he lost Benjamin. It describes mischief in Exodus 32. It describes beasts in Leviticus 26, which I don’t think can be considered evil. The thing is, I could easily keep going and list more examples. If you want to see more, they’re all available online. I have no need to keep demonstrating the point.
Not only that, the best opposite word for evil would be Tov. That would mean goodness, as it does in Genesis 1. That is not what is used. So what is being said?
It’s talking about calamity. God can bring that about on a people that He says are doing evil. God is a God of judgment. If people do evil, God will judge them eventually which can be in the form of calamity. Why should He allow peace for a nation that is evil and disregards Him? If we want justice at all in this world, we have to realize some people will experience calamity.
So to Christian readers, no need to panic. God did not create evil. To atheist readers, no need to jump up and down as if you found the Fountain of Youth. The argument you want is not here.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)