Does Isaiah tell us that God is the one who creates evil? Yes and that is a great thing.
Recently, I came across a concerned believer who had found a massive page of atheist debate notes. Introducing the page was a famous quote from Isaiah which reads,
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
From a superficial perspective, Isaiah does appear to be letting out the big secret. But a superficial perspective is all the page gives us and it makes the careless mistake of using it as an argument.
The Hebrew word for “evil” in this verse is ra. This word is not sin nor is it moral evil. It stands for “adversity,” “calamity,” or “brokenness.” The Israelites called the desert an “evil place.” Does this mean the desert has sinned? That it needs to repent?
How do we decide how Isaiah uses the word? Like with any work of literature we look at the context and the grammar used. Here Isaiah is making the parallel between evil and peace. Ok, why peace? Why not goodness? The answer is found in the prior verse which finds Isaiah making the parallel between light and darkness, thus the word in question must be an antithesis to peace. Therefore, the word translated as evil here is more likely rendered calamity, disaster, or brokenness and in the context of God condemning idolatry it makes perfect sense that He would warn them by reminding them of His power.
However, let us turn to the big picture. Am I saying that God can not, or did not, create moral evil? The evil in this world is not a surprise for God, nor is it part of a plan gone haywire. Paul tells us why.
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:32)
God allows the possibility of evil, a temporary suffering, not so He can punish humanity with eternal torment but that He can show mercy to the world. In order for the goodness of love and mercy to be known, there needs to exist the possibility of rebellion, brokenness, and suffering or else we would yawn at perfection and the wonder of love. The universe will not and cannot end in chaos, but in restoration and reconciliation.
We can also note that this is obviously not out of a desire for evil in itself for if that were the case it would follow that I would be unable to do anything good, such as love my family or give of myself to another. But, of course, I do. And everything delightful in this world is merely a taste of what’s to come. Thus God creates the contrast as a step towards His greater, redemptive purpose.
I’ll continue to dig into these debate notes with future posts but, needless to say, they haven’t started off well.