Does God ‘Create Evil’?

Posted on December 27, 2020


By David Ettinger

If you read the King James Version of the Bible, you’ll find a curious phrase in Isaiah 45:7. This phrase has caused quite a stir over the centuries, but a stir relieved in intensity by modern Bible translations.

In the KJV, Isaiah 45:7 reads (emphasis added): “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Did God just say that He creates evil? This is obviously how the verse reads, but does it have the surface-level meaning it seems to? Let’s explore.

Quick Context
In preaching to Israel’s Southern Kingdom of Judah, Isaiah had prophesied they would in some future time be carried off into captivity to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6). However, at the end of that time, God would call upon the future king of Persia, Cyrus, to issue a decree allowing them to return to their homeland.

This is an amazing prophecy considering it forecasts events which were still 150 to 200 years in the future. Regarding the commissioning of a pagan king to carry out His will, the Lord makes clear that He is the Creator of all things and He can do whatever he desires. In doing what He desires, God can “form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.”

God’s Holiness
So, does God “create evil?” In other words, is He responsible for evil? In this instance, the “evil” we are looking at is sin, or “moral” evil. If the answer is yes, how does this mesh with the multitude of verses which speak of God’s holiness? Here is a sampling (NIV):

● “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).
● “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I [God] am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
● “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
● “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

The Hebrew word for “holy” is kadosh, which means to be sacred, set apart, clean, and free from all defilement. The Greek word for “holy” is hagios, which is to be pure and morally blameless. Therefore, one who is “holy” cannot be a creator of moral evil.

The Answer
So, does God create evil?

The answer lies in the Hebrew word for “evil” in Isaiah 45:7. This word is ra, which in general does translate as “evil,” but has many other shades of meaning, which modern Bible interpreters understand. Other interpretations of the KJV phrase “create evil” are:

● “create disaster” (NIV)
● “create calamity” (NASB)
● “create calamity” (ESV)
● “create disaster” (Amplified Bible)
● “create woe” (New Revised Standard)
● “create calamity” (New King James)
● “create discords” (The Message)

Other translations for the word ra include “wickedness,” “mischief,” “adversity,” “afflictions,” and “wretchedness.”

So, though God is NOT the creator of “moral evil” or “sin,” He IS the creator of the fruits, or consequences, of “moral evil” or “sin.” In other words, God IS the author of the punishment for “moral evil” or “sin.” What is the punishment for sin? It is famine, disease, illness, war, environmental disasters, and death, among others.

The punishment for sin is also the opposite of peace, as God says in the Isaiah passage, “I make peace, and create evil.” The opposite of peace is indeed, as the other versions tell us, “disaster,” “calamity,” “woe,” and “discords.”

Summing it up, God is NOT the creator of the moral evil men and women do, but He IS the creator of the consequences of moral evil. His holiness – along with His righteousness and justice ­– dictates that He punish sin.

We must understand that God possesses multiple attributes. Sure, love and goodness are two of them, but so are justice and holiness, and these are often worked out in His wrath and punishment. Our God is an active and involved God, and will not allow sin and evil to go unpunished!