After posting a recent video answering the question of whether God created evil, I received pushback from some believers. I made the claim that evil is the privation of good or results from the absence of goodness. Therefore, it’s not something God created when he made all things in the beginning. Several people asked how I reconcile my claim with Isaiah 45:7, where it says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” There it is in plain English. God said he created evil.
This thinking is mistaken for three reasons. First, if we interpret this verse as meaning that God brought evil into existence, it goes against the theology of evil taught elsewhere in Scripture and everything we know about God (e.g., God is good and there is no darkness in him—1 John 1:15). It would render the Bible incoherent. Although non-Christians might level such a charge, this post is not intended to address the coherence question since it is directed to believers who already accept the inspiration and coherence of Scripture.
Second, the Hebrew word translated as “evil” in the above King James translation is translated as “calamity” (NASB, ESV) or “disaster” (NIV) in other major translations. Even the updated New King James translation renders it as “calamity.” That’s because, like any word, it can have multiple meanings, and it’s usually the context that determines which meaning was intended by the author. That brings us to the final point.
Third, the context of this passage (and the message of the prophets of the Old Testament in general) is about blessing those who are faithful and punishing those who disobey (Isa. 45:9, 24). It’s within this principle that God declares that he creates “well-being” and “calamity.” He’s responsible for bringing prosperity to those who are faithful and calamity to those who rebel. That’s even consistent with his treatment of his own people—Israel. He rewards them when they obey and punishes them (e.g., slavery, exile, etc.) when they disobey. In that sense, yes, it is God who creates calamity.
God didn’t bring evil into existence. It’s the result of sin and our fallen world. God, however, does bring instances of calamity on people. In fact, it’s his prerogative to do so. Even in these cases, though, it is good for him to render judgment on guilty people. Though we might subjectively not like the calamity we face, it is objectively good to punish those who do wrong. Present-day justice systems operate in a similar fashion. Prison is subjectively a bad experience for prisoners, but it is an objectively good thing for justice to be rendered. The same is true for God. Isaiah 45:7 was a reminder that God blessed those who honored him and brought calamity upon those who disobeyed.