What does Isaiah 45.7 mean when it says God creates evil? If God only does good, then why does Isaiah 45.7 say he creates evil?
Isaiah 45.7 says, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (Isaiah 45.7 KJV bible). This verse seems to contradict what a lot of Christians believe. Isaiah 45.7 seems to be telling us that the Lord doesn't only make good, but also evil. If God creates darkness and evil, then the implication is that he is behind the evil deeds that are perpetrated in the world.
We often give God credit for the existence of righteousness and good in the world, but is he also responsible for evil? We know that at least sometimes the Lord doesn't intervene to stop evil acts from being carried out. Some have used Isaiah 45.7 to argue that God doesn't just tolerate evil, but that he plays a causative role in its existence. They claim that God is like a puppet master, creating evil in the world to serve a greater purpose over time.
Despite what it seems to be saying, Isaiah 45.7 offers no scriptural support for the view that God creates moral evil. The problem is that the Hebrew word that is translated here as evil (Hebrew: ra'), can have a variety of meanings in different contexts. People read it and assume it means moral evil and sin. Ra' can mean this, but it can also mean tragedy, calamity, distress, trouble, misfortune and so on.
This is how ra' is used in Amos 3.6, which is a similar verse, "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 KJV bible). In this instance, Ra' is used to refer to trouble and distress within the city. So the Hebrew word "ra" (used in both Isaiah 45.7 and Amos 3.6), doesn't always refer to the moral evils of sin.
In this sense the ra' is not that different from our english word evil. Our word evil doesn't always refer to sin and wickedness. Evil can also mean trouble, distress, and calamity. One might have an evil time trying to get something to work, or speak of social evils etc.. Similarly, we can't assume that the evil spoken of in Isaiah 45.7 is the kind of perverse wickedness we usually associate with the word.
The context further supports the idea that the evil or ra' mentioned in Isaiah 45.7 doesn't mean moral evil. One notices that the verse lays out a pattern of opposites, "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil..." (Isaiah 45.7 KJV bible). The opposite of light is darkness, which is the absence of light. Likewise the opposite of peace is not moral evil, but war, trouble, and calamity. Moral evil and sin might work against peace, but they are not its exact opposite. Therefore, the context supports that God does create evil in the sense of calamity and distress, but not that he creates sin.
Isaiah 45.7 is just as true today as it was in the past. There is a widespread attitude that God exists to serve and indulge us. This is part of a feel good gospel that doesn't recognize the spiritual traps of sin. Salvation is never a license to sin, "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2nd Peter 2.19 KJV bible).
Isaiah 45.7 and many other scriptures teach that God not only rewards faithfulness, but punishes sin, often chastening those he loves (Hebrews 12). God will especially be a force for calamity and destruction upon those who don't fear his name, even if they consider themselves children of light, "And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil [ra'a]" (Zephaniah 1.12 KJV bible).
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