Does God create evil?

Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6

  • (Isaiah 45:7, KJV)--"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things."
  • (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?"

Is God really the one who created evil? To answer the question we must first look at how the word for evil, "rah," is used in the Bible, examine the context of the Isaiah 45:7 passage, and look at other passages on the same subject.

First of all, the Hebrew word for evil, "rah," is used in many different ways in the Bible. In the KJV Bible it occurs 663 times. Four-hundred-thirty-one (431) times it is translated as "evil." The other 232 times it is translated as "wicked," "bad," "hurt," "harm," "ill," "sorrow," "mischief," "displeased," "adversity," "affliction," "trouble," "calamity," "grievous," "misery," and "trouble." So we can see that the word does not require that it be translated as "evil." This is why different Bibles translate this verse differently.  It is translated as "calamity" by the NASB and NKJV; "disaster" by the NIV; and "woe" by the RSV.

Second, the context of the verse is speaking of natural phenomena.

"I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, 7The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these." (Isaiah 45:5-7).

Notice that the context of the verse is dealing with who God is, that it is God who speaks of natural phenomena (sun, light, dark), and it is God who is able to cause "well-being" as well as "calamity." Contextually, this verse is dealing with natural disasters and human comfort issues. It is not speaking of moral evil; rather, it is dealing with calamity, distress, etc. This is consistent with other scriptures. For example,

  • "And the Lord said to him, "Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Exodus 4:11).
  • "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?" (Amos 3:6).

Also, take note that Isaiah is presenting contrasts. He speaks of "light" and "darkness," "well-being" and "calamity."  The word "well-being" in the Hebrew is the word for 'peace,' "Shalome."  So, in the context, we are seeing two sets of opposites: Light and dark, peace and non-peace, or well-being and calamity. The "evil" that is spoken of is not ontological evil but the evil experienced by people in the form of calamity.

From the above two verses (Exodus 4:11; Amos 3:6), we can see that the Lord is involved in calamity and problems in the earthly realm. Exodus 4:11 is speaking of human frailty, and Amos 3:6 is speaking of woes in a city. It is not a moral evil that God brings but calamity and distress upon people.

Of course, this raises other questions of why God would do such a thing, which I won't cover here. But, we can trust that whatever God does is just and is used for teaching, guiding, and disciplining His people.

Third, there are other verses that clearly show that God is pure and that He cannot approve of evil.

  • “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He." (Deut. 32:4).
  • "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor." (Hab. 1:13).

We can see that the Bible teaches that God is pure and does not approve of evil, that the word "rah" (evil) in Hebrew can mean many things, and that contextually the verse is speaking of calamity and distress. Therefore, God does not create evil in the moral sense but in the sense of disaster or calamity.

 

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