“If God is only good, how is it that the Bible says that he created ‘evil’ (Isaiah 45:7)?”
In order to get the feel of Isaiah 45:7, at least a slightly larger portion of the immediate context needs to be surveyed. The prophet, on behalf of the Lord, wrote:
“I am Jehovah, and there is none else; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am Jehovah, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, who does all these things” (Isa. 45:5-7).
Beginning in the previous chapter, and continuing into the present one, the Lord had argued the case for his sovereignty over the nations — particularly his right to deal with his chosen people, the nation of Israel. Jehovah had blessed the nation wonderfully, but his people had rejected him time and time again, giving themselves over to the worship of idols — dumb idols that had no power to bless. In this vain worship, the Hebrews had evinced an incredible lack of understanding. As a result, the kingdom of Judah would have to be punished (in the period of Babylonian captivity). Eventually, though, the Lord would forgive his people, and bring them back into their land again.
The providential instrument in accomplishing this momentous task would be a Persian king, Cyrus by name, whose presence upon the earth was yet a century and a half in the future. In was in connection with the role of Cyrus in the divine plan, that the dramatic declaration of 45:5-7 was made.
In this announcement several important truths are stated:
- The Lord God is unique; no idol can begin to compare with him.
- By his power, and in the utilization of the mysterious modes of providence, Jehovah would “gird” (i.e., empower) Cyrus. He would equip him for the task that he was to accomplish.
- Though the Persian commander was unacquainted with the true God, that fact would not hinder the Lord’s use of the ruler.
- As a result of Jehovah’s orchestration of this feat involving the release of his people, his holy name would be glorified from the east to the west, i.e., throughout the earth.
- The Lord’s uniqueness would be apparent.
- Jehovah’s creative and providential powers stand as evidences of his divine identity.
It was in association with this final declaration that God said: “I make peace, and create evil.” In order to understand this statement, it must be viewed in concert with the overall affirmations of Scripture relative to the character of the Lord.
Jehovah is absolutely holy (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), “his work is perfect,” “all his ways are just,” he is a Being of “faithfulness” who is “without iniquity,” and is both “just and right” (Dt. 32:4). Moral evil cannot be attributed to the Creator in any way (Hab. 1:13; Jas. 1:13-14).
The Flexible Nature of Words
Any serious student of language is aware of the fact that words are flexible vehicles of communication. This principle is no less true of the Bible than it is of any piece of literature.
For example, the term “God” may refer to a Being who is truly divine in nature (Jn. 1:1), or the same word may be employed of a false object of worship that is void of the essence of deity (1 Cor. 8:4-6). The verb “believed” may reflect nothing more than a superficial emotion (Jn. 12:42), or it may represent a genuine conviction that is expressed in obedience (Acts 2:41,44). There is none “righteous” (Rom. 3:10), yet Joseph, the husband of Mary was “righteous” (Mt. 1:19). It is wrong to “judge” (Mt. 7:1); it is right to “judge” (Jn. 7:24). One cannot be justified by “works” (Eph. 2:9), yet justification is obtained by “works” (Jas. 2:24).
Examples of this nature are almost endless. A word is defined, in great measure, by how it is used in a certain setting — in its context. This is a fundamental principle of language interpretation.
The Varied Use of “Evil” in the Scriptures
As with many other words, the term “evil” can have more than one meaning, depending upon the manner in which it is used. The Hebrew word for evil is ra’, which derives from a root meaning “to spoil” or “to break in pieces.”
Sin is evil
Obviously, the term “evil” may be used with reference to sinful activities. Ezekiel rebuked Israel for her worship of idols (20:39), which rebellion was characterized as “evil” (vv. 43-44). Jesus once spoke of “evil thoughts” that produce a variety of ungodly actions, e.g., fornication, theft, murder, etc. (Mk. 7:21-23).
Catastrophe or disaster is evil
On the other hand, “evil” may refer to a disaster of some sort. In discussing the punishment that would be visited upon Israel for her wickedness, Isaiah declared:
“For you have trusted in your wickedness; you have said, ‘No one sees me;’ [but] your wisdom and your knowledge, it has perverted you, and you have said in your heart, I am, and there is no one else besides me. Therefore shall evil come upon you; you will not know the dawning thereof: and mischief shall fall upon you; you will not be able to put it away: and desolation shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know not.” (Isa. 47:10-11; emp. supplied).
Observe the parallelism in this text. The “evil” of verse 11a becomes the “mischief” and the “desolation” in the latter portion of the passage. The “evil” of which the prophet spoke, actually was the impending Babylonian captivity (see also Jer. 18:8).
Similarly, when the prophet Amos warned the northern kingdom of Israel of its eventual doom, he referred to that time of temporal judgment as the “evil day,” which, of course, ultimately was the Assyrian invasion (722/21 B.C.).
Physicial illness or distress is evil
Sometimes “evil” can simply refer to physical infirmity. Solomon admonished those still in their youth to remember the Creator in the vigor of those early times of energy, because eventually the “evil” days come and the “years” take their physical toll (Eccl. 12:1). Some of those bodily ailments are then chronicled in the balance of the chapter (see vv. 3-7).
From the divine view point, therefore, such things as national judgments and physical degeneration are characterized as “evil” because all such hurtful human experiences ultimately are the result of humanity’s foolish choices to engage in “evil” (rebellion) against the Maker of men. Natural evils are the result of moral evil — not in every individual situation (consider, for instance, the case of the patriarch Job, and that of Christ as well) — but in a general, ultimate, cause-and-effect sense (cf. Rom. 5:12).
An Objection: Is God Responsible for All Evil?
Frequently it is alleged, however, that ultimately God is responsible for “evil” — for had he not created angels and men, the evil they have generated would not exist.
The logic employed in this objection is flawed, and the critic who makes it will scarcely stay with it in a consistent manner.
No greater compliment could have been paid to man than to have been created in the very image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). A part of that “creation package” was the gift of personal volition, that is, the ability to make moral choices. There are only two logical possibilities — one might be created with “free will,” or without “free will.”
Now which option is the obvious expression of love (cf. 1 Jn. 4:8). The former, of course. The Lord thus signally honored human beings by granting them the personal power of choice. Once such action was taken, the Creator is not morally culpable if the gift of choice is abused, and the possessor thereof elects to pursue the road of danger and destruction.
Is the designer or manufacturer of an automobile morally responsible for the drunk driver who runs down and kills an innocent child? And what of the godly mother who made every effort to raise her children in harmony with the Lord’s will; is she accountable for the actions of a wayward offspring who robs a bank or commits murder? These questions hardly need an expressed answer.
And so, while God is the Maker of men, he is not morally indictable for the follies of those upon whom he bestowed one of the greatest gifts possible — that of genuine freedom!