My wife recently read a book in which the writer made his chosen translation’s rendering of Isaiah 45: 7, that God is the creator of רָ֑ע (evil), a major theme. Without going too deeply into his main thesis of ex deo creation (God as the creator “out of himself” view), such an approach kind of necessitates an “author of evil” theme. But is it true?
I have been asked by students on way too many occasions whether God made evil. Some students have followed variants of the Epicurean dilemma, and others just go straight to the point. Champions of such a view of God as the creator of evil find a “proof text” with Isaiah 45. Or do they?
So far two paragraphs each ending with a question. So let’s start with the idea of evil. There are two general categories of “evil:” moral evil, and “natural” evil. The first are the moral and ethical failings of humanity (sin), and the latter are natural occurrences which the human mind equates to “evil.”
Moral evil has two elements as well. What we do wrong, and what others do wrong. There has been much discussion on “free-moral” agency, and the human capacity to commit wrong. If we grant that we choose to do wrong, we must allow the same to others. Natural “evils” are things such as earthquakes, storms, fire, and the like. These are not moral evils, though they can and often do cause human suffering.
When God is cited in Isaiah 45 as saying He is the creator of רָ֑ע what is He saying? We here need to read the passage in context of chapter 45 as a whole. Verse 2 gives us some insight, “I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.” In this vein we see the imagery of “natural” and not moral evil.
This is supported by the variant translations of the word רָ֑ע. It need not be translated with the emotionally charged term “evil, ” but as “calamity,” “adversity,” and “trouble,” as well. In this light, God in both context and meaning is saying “I am the cause of calamity (such as leveling of mountians),” not “I am the author of moral evil and sin.”
God is a omni-moral being. He is an omnibenevolent -all loving God. Again without entering into the Epicurean argument (I will take this on in a future post), we have God as the loving creator. He, in His love for us, granted us the freedom to make ill decisions (sin). But in the giving of that ability to us He was not Himself the “author of moral evil.” He has created a world in which natural calamities are also possible, (and at the risk of sounding like Dr. Pangloss) but are not in themselves “evil,” but merely unwelcomed and unwanted to humans.
Evil is a big word, and all too easy to misconstrue in the English tongue. [Love is similarly difficult in English]. But the bottom line is that, God is not the author of true evil [the absence of good] or moral sin.