Does Isaiah tell us that God is the one who creates evil?
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. The word can mean moral evil but it can also mean “adversity” or “calamity.” 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, a word that is never translated as moral goodness in the Biblical texts. Therefore, the word translated as evil here is more likely rendered calamity or disaster and in the context of God condemning idolatry it makes perfect sense that He would warn them by reminding them of His power.
Additionally, the NIV more accurately translates the word to “disaster” so the misunderstanding is merely based on an old English translation (which makes one wonder if many skeptics think just like KJV only fundamentalists. This is only made even more hilarious when the page quoting the verse specifies the KJV and the NIV as authoritative works. I wonder why they didn’t just quote the NIV….).
However, am I saying that God can not, or did not, create evil? Not at all. For this world to have been created at all God, by logical necessity, must also allow for the possibility of rebellion. We can also note that this is obviously not out of a desire for evil for if that were the case it would follow that I would be unable to love my family. But, of course, I do, dearly. The experience of evil is the exception rather than the rule for the vast majority of us, which only seems to contradict the claim being made.
I’ll continue to dig into these debate notes with future posts but, needless to say, they haven’t started off well.