Did God create evil?


Indonesian tsunami (image, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

If God created everything, does that mean that He created all the evil in the world, including the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in a number of countries? What about the Joplin, Missouri, twister that killed over 120 people? Can God be seen as the cause of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York City and Washington DC? If God created everything, where do these disasters fit in God’s agenda?

Down through the centuries, people have blamed God for creating evil, supposing that because God allows evil to continue, that God is responsible for all of the evil in the world. If God created evil, then it is He who is responsible for the murders, world wars, adultery, rape of children, abortion, etc, etc.

This is a blasphemous statement to blame God for all of the evil in the world.

How do we respond, biblically? Perhaps it will be helpful to examine Isa. 45:7 to try to gain some light on this challenging topic.

The KJV translates as, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”.

The ESV reads, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things”.

According to the KJV, God creates good (light, peace) and evil (see also Jer. 18:11; Lam. 3:38; Amos 3:6). But there are other Scriptures that state that there is no darkness in God (e.g. 1 John 1:5). Hab. 1:13 states that “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil” (ESV). James 1:13 confirms that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one”. So where does this leave us?

We know that God is morally perfect (see Deut. 32:4; Matt. 5:48). God cannot sin (Heb. 6:18). But there is more to the attributes of God, including his absolute justice that requires that sin be punished by Him. So, there will be judgment by God in this life and eternally (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:11-15). So, in this life, when God executes justice we sometimes call this “evil” because from our human perspective, God seems to be committing evil against these people and nations. Were the Indonesian tsunami and the Joplin MO twister examples of God’s “evil” actions?

However, the Hebrew ra, evil/calamity in Isa 45:7, does not always mean moral evil. In the Isa 45 context, the ESV demonstrates that it should be translated as “calamity”, which is how the NKJV also translates it. The context supports this translation. So God is seen as the creator of “evil”, not in the moral sense directly, but as the one who brings judgment/calamity. [1]

God can be seen indirectly as the author of moral evil, but only in the sense that he created moral human beings who had the power of free choice and it is this free choice by us that brought moral evil into the universe. We see the beginning of this in Genesis 3. God created moral beings who had the ability to perform moral evil – and they did. God created free human beings and it is they who made evil real.

God’s making human beings with the possibility of free choice is a good thing. Surely we agree with the idea that human beings can choose one kind of clothing over another, one type of food over another, is a good action by God. Living in a world without choice would seem strange indeed. But the power of choice or free will comes with other consequences – the power for human beings to perform evil actions such as murder, rape, theft and many other evil things.

Thus, we can say that God created only good things and one of those good things was free choice. Moral, but free, human beings produced the evil in our world. Yes, God made the moral universe and indirectly created the possibility of evil in our universe. So, evil is permitted by God, but God does not produce or promote this evil. We know that ultimately a greater good is coming (see Gen. 50:20; Rev. 21-22).

Some want to promote the use of the Hebrew, ra, in Micah 2:3 as meaning God created evil against the family [clan, extended family or nation]. Yes, God allowed for the tempter, Satan, to enter the world, but the tempter does nothing that God hasn’t approved of as the Book of Job shows.

This is not congruent with that demonstrated by the Hebrew scholars involved in these translations:

1.  Therefore thus says the LORD:behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster (ESV).

2.  Therefore the Lord says this: “Look, I am devising disaster for this nation! It will be like a yoke from which you cannot free your neck. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of catastrophe (NET).

3.  So Yahweh says this: Look, I am now plotting a disaster for this breed from which you will not extricate your necks; you will not hold your heads up then, for the times will be disastrous indeed (New Jerusalem Bible).

4.  Therefore, the LORD says:  “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity (NIV).

For what purpose did God create the world? This is a summary from www.bible.org:

The Bible teaches us God created both the angels and man with volition, or the freedom of choice. He created both as holy and without sin that they might not only serve Him as the Creator, but bring Him glory. In particular, man, being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26f), was created to have fellowship with God through the exercise of that image. Man was created to glorify God through the exercise of his personality—mind, heart, and will. With his mind he was to know God, with his heart he was to love God, and with his will, in response to his understanding and love of God, he was to choose for God in obedience. But God did not create robots. That would have brought very little glory to God. Because His creatures were not robots, there was the risk of a negative choice. But God, by His sovereign will, purpose, and foreknowledge, determined to allow this, indeed, He ordained it by His own eternal wisdom without Himself being the cause.

Many struggle with this, but in the process of all that has occurred, God’s glory is supremely revealed in all His Holy attributes—His holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, and love, veracity, truth, etc. God did not cause the creature to sin. If the creature was to really have the freedom to know, love, and choose for God and respond in worship and obedience as a free and independent agent, he had to have true freedom of choice. Thus, compare the temptation of Eve by the devil. He attacked her knowledge and understanding of God to get her to doubt God’s love, etc. The race fell because of Adam and Eve’s negative response to the grace of God. But in the process, God’s character and glory is [sic] revealed in a more total or complete way. So, through the cross, man’s sin, like diamonds reflecting the light against the backdrop of black velvet, reflects God’s love, mercy, grace, holiness and justice in infinite ways.

It is an heretical doctrine of Gnosticism that claimed that God created evil. It was refuted over and over by the apologists in the early centuries of the Christian church.

I have been helped in providing the above information by Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe 1992. When Critics Ask. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, pp. 271-272 (the new title is, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties). Geisler & Howe summarised:

GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of sin
  • Moral evil
  • Perversity
  • Directly
  • Actuality of evil

GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF EVIL:

  • In the sense of calamity
  • Non-moral evil
  • Plagues
  • Indirectly
  • Possibility of evil (Geisler & Howe 1992:271)

Footnotes:

[1]  Micah 2:3 The same Hebrew word can mean evil or disaster, depending on the context

Evil Chases

(image courtesy ChristArt)

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 April 2017.

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