January 12, 2012

Hard Sayings XLIII: Is God The Creator of Evil?

In Isaiah 45:7 we clearly see it state the following in the Young’s Literal Translation and the literal translation is quite disturbing:

“Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I Jehovah, doing all these things.” Isaiah 45:7
It reads like this in the Hebrew:
יוצר אור ובורא חשך עשה שלום ובורא רע אני יהוה עשה כל אלה׃
"one forming-and-one forming light-darkness-one making-well being-and one creating-evil-I Yahweh-one-making-all of-these"
So there it is right in the text, God prepares or created evil.
Whoa boy…here we go! What do we do with this? It is very clearly רָ֑ע Ro or evil, there is no clarification needed here, it means what it means. Evil is evil. Or is it? We are profusely taught throughout the pattern of Scripture that God does not create evil but in His sovereignty He allows it. So here we have a clear statement that God does indeed make or create evil.
While we’re at it what’s up with:

Jeremiah 18:11~ “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”  

Lamentations 3:38~ “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?

Amos 3:6~ “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?

Then we have 1 John 1:5 which tells us just the opposite:

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

How are these not contradictory? As a Christian can you even explain these apparent contradictions?

First and foremost when confronted with these supposed contradictions, a Christian must always stand firm in their conviction of the inerrancy of Scripture. The pattern of Scripture and previous and later statements of God’s moral perfection in Matthew 5:48 and his inability to sin in Hebrews 6:18 should set the stage for our resolute mindset. God is absolutely just and must judge evil not create and condone it. As such we must educate ourselves on many of these more prominent passages that are often taken out of context and thrown in our faces and have a ready and reasonable defense for them. As you can see from my last sentence, the root of explaining the apparent contradiction of this passage is rooted in contextualization or understanding the surrounding texts and ideas Isaiah (and Jeremiah, Amos, etc) are putting forth to the reader.

The Hebrew word here is clearly “evil” but the question remains, “Does it mean literal evil or premeditated action bend on a negative outcome” and if it is evil as state, what kind is it? This word in its context does not necessarily relegate it to a moral negative or a deliberate malevolent action. This just couldn’t be because the entire pattern of Scripture elsewhere says just the opposite. When read in context the picture broadens and tends to make more sense.

This passage is talking to and about the commissioning of Cyrus who is God’s anointed through Isaiah (v.1)

“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut…” Isaiah 45:1

Isaiah 45:5-7 “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 people 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 evil; I, the LORD, do all these things.

As can be easily understood from the context Isaiah is speaking of the attributes of God and His sovereignty and omnipotence. As Sovereign omnipotent God He is aware of all things in His creation and can do what He wishes, and allow or forbid things as He sees fit. This includes working through Cyrus even if Cyrus is unaware of God or God using him (i.e.: Pharaoh’s hardened heart, Joseph’s bros). The quintessential example of this is God allowing the evil of crucifixion to allow for the atonement of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Evil? Yes. Was it caused by God? No. Allowed by God? Yes. Why...in the end it will bring glory to God Himself. With this in mind we need to see that God isn’t necessarily the author of all things that take place in Creation. Although He is aware of them and knows they will happen, He is not the Creator of them but does allow them. This is especially the case with evil. When God creates a being (man) with freewill to love, that being also has the freewill to hate or create havoc or evil. What we do see though is this: For His ultimate glory, He allows evil to exist and persist for reasons of His own and due to justifications of logic that are too complex to explain in a short post such as this. They are justifications in logic that have to do with the redemptive plan of mankind through Jesus Christ. (Genesis 50:20)

Now that we know this we can see that v.7 is preconditioned by the previous and later verses to address God’s overall character and how it interacts with His creation and how He rules over everything and all people. So let us look at the word “רָ֑ע /Ro” again. In this context we are not talking about evil as evil but something and event of transpiring that has less than a positive outcome. It is something God allows, not something God is or something that manifests from God’s being. This “evil” sounds an awful lot like and “effect” of God allowing something, not Him being the cause of it. “I bring prosperity and create evil”. God brings prosperity. How? Through other people or other things in the creation by either allowing things to happen or not forbidding them. As a counterpoint of contrast to this statement we see that God creates, or perhaps we should say He allows evil. In this instance it is more akin to terrible “misfortune” or “tragedy”, not evil per se. In the Book of Job we see Job losing everything but we don’t necessarily see it as evil so much as we see it as misfortune and tragedy. Even in Job’s case of misfortune and tragedy did God cause it or did He allow it as a sovereign God?

All this must be seen under the umbrella of Isaiah himself and the fact that he was a prophet that was prophesying to a sin deadened culture and no one was listening. When people don’t listen to you when you’re talking or writing to them, what do you normally do? Talk louder?

So in reality God created the “potential” for evil by allowing for beings with freewill. This is no different than a sword or gun being used as a weapon. Swords and guns are inanimate objects without a will of their own. It isn’t until a human with a will acts upon these objects that they become deadly weapons to another human being. It is the create being that “actualizes” the evil. This hardly makes God guilty of the actions of men. That’s like blaming your parents who brought you into the world for getting a speeding ticket on the Interstate. The truth is that God created only good things or very good things. Go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and refresh your memory on that one. Mankind actualized latent potential of evil by committing evil acts. God allows evil but never brings it into being or encourages it.

Regardless of evil and sins source, we know unequivocally that there is only one who can and will forgive sin and that is God Himself.

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