Did God create evil?
If we believe that God created a perfect world and He is sovereign, where did evil come from? There are some people who believe that His sovereign control includes the creation of evil, and they base their conclusion on the words of Isaiah 45:7. In that verse, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil” (KJV).
In order to understand what God was saying through the prophet Isaiah, we need to look at the words used in the text of Isaiah 45:7 . Hebrew words often have a wide variety of meanings, depending on the immediate context in which the word is used. The job of the translator is to accurately select the best modern English word that is closest to the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew manuscripts.
The fact that ra’ is contrasted to shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, helps to give parameters to the meaning of ra’. Shalom, again, is a rich word with broad meaning. Depending on the context, shalom can be translated “peace,” “well-being,” “welfare,” “prosperity,” “safe,” “health,” and “peaceable.” in Isaiah 45:7 makes it evident that different translators interpreted the context of Isaiah 45 in different ways. Five different English translations are compared below.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (KJV).
I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things (NKJV).
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (NIV).
The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these (NASB).
I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who does all these things (RSV).
The Hebrew term ra’ has a broad spectrum of meanings. It can mean “wickedness,” “mischief,” “bad,” “trouble,” “hurt,” “sore,” “affliction,” “ill,” “adversity,” “harm,” “grievous,” and “sad.” Thus, as with the interpretation of any word, it is the immediate context that dictates the exact nuance of the word to be translated into English.
The fact that ra’ is contrasted to shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, helps to give parameters to the meaning of ra’. Shalom, again, is a rich word with broad meaning. Depending on the context, shalom can be translated “peace,” “well-being,” “welfare,” “prosperity,” “safe,” “health,” and “peaceable.”
The context of Isaiah 45:7 is a profound declaration of God’s total sovereignty over the affairs of men. God’s stunning revelation that Cyrus, the totalitarian ruler of Persia, was being chosen by Him to be “His anointed” ( Isaiah 45:1 ), the deliverer of the nation of Israel, was shocking to Isaiah’s readers. This is especially true given God’s clear denunciation of idolatry in the immediately preceding context ( Isaiah 44:6-23 ). The irony of this passage is that God reveals how He intends to use a pagan, idol-worshiping dictator like Cyrus to return His people Israel to the land from which they had been deposed by the Babylonian despot, Nebuchadnezzar.
In summing up the gamut of His awesome character and unpredictable ways (see also Isaiah 55:8-9 ), God declares: I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:5-7 NIV).
This is the signature exclamation of the only sovereign potentate of the universe: “I did this!” From the beginning to the end, from light to darkness, from prosperity to disaster, all are the work of His hands. God uses even the most wicked and evil exploits of this world to bring about His glory and divine purposes. That is what is so awesome about God. Only He can take the most wicked, evil, and self-serving intentions and make good come out of them (see also Romans 8:28 ).
Does God create evil? Certainly not. If He was the author of evil, then He certainly would not be a good God that is worthy of worship and praise, much less trusted to have our well-being in mind. The idea of a good God creating His own enemy and the object of His wrath seems inconceivable. It would be inconsistent for a good God to mastermind the idea of evil, will it into existence, and still be considered a good God.
Rather, God created man in His image with the freedom to choose. With this freedom came the opportunity to rebel against Him. Man did rebel ( Genesis 3 ), and the rest is history. The annals of human history chronicle how God uses everything — even the chaos of this world — to bring about His glory and purposes. Those purposes include our growth in becoming more Christlike.
What’s the point of Isaiah 45:7? God reveals His almighty and awesome character to us so we can relax with the confidence that comes from knowing, even in the most dark, desperate, and discouraging times in our lives, God is up to something good for us all the time. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; with the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself. —Psalm 76:10” St Augustine said that God “judged it better to bring good out of evil, than not to permit any evil to exist.” Thus God takes the worst evil that men and women can do to us and turns it into good. Even the wrath of ungodly men brings praise to Him (Ps. 76:10)