Did God create evil?

There are times when we look at the Bible and read statements that at first seem to paint God in a bad light. Some of those statements almost seem to say that God is the author of evil. How could this be? When faced with hard times, an Old Testament prophet wondered about this. He asked how God could even look at evil (Hab. 1:13). And in the New Testament, we are told that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). How should we look at our sovereign God and His relationship to the evil we see in the world? Did He create it? Is He involved with it somehow? What does the Bible say?

  1. Does John 1:3 teach that God created evil?

    The explicit teaching of this verse is that the Word of God created everything. Some have drawn an inference that since Jesus created everything then He must have created evil as well. But is this what the Bible actually teaches or is it just a logical assumption?

    What does it say? (John 1:1-4).

    In the beginning, the Word existed, was with God, and was God. When everything began, He was with God. Everything was created through Him and nothing was created without Him. He had life within Himself and that light was the light of men. When that light shined in the darkness, it didn’t comprehend what it was.

    What does it mean?

    As you read through the rest of the passage, John makes it clear that he is talking about Jesus who was God, who became flesh, lived among men (John 1:14) and who revealed God to them (John 1:18). At the beginning of the chapter, John is explaining that Jesus was no ordinary man but was and is God. He states clearly that Jesus existed with God in the beginning when everything was created and that He is God. As God He was the agent by which everything was created. Verse 10 continues that thought by explaining that Jesus created the world and those in it. The fact that He made everything proves that He was no ordinary man and that He is God. When we look at the physical world and the people in it, we should recognize who made it. Sadly, the world that was created by Him did not recognize the One who had made them (John 1:10).

    How does it apply?

    We must recognize who Jesus is and respond correctly to Him. The fact that Jesus is our God and Creator is something that we cannot overlook. It is remarkable that God Himself came to earth and became a human to interact with us and to shine a light in the darkness of our sinfulness. Why would God do that? He did that because He loved us and wanted to reveal to His creation what was good and right versus the darkness we had embraced. Thankfully, those who receive Him and believe in His name become children of God through the new birth (John 1:12-13). In this case, God made us and the world but not evil.

  2. Does Proverbs 16:4 teach that God created evil?

    Depending on which translation you use, this proverb may use the word evil to describe God’s making of the wicked. Some would say that since God made the wicked for evil purposes, He must be the author of evil. Does that sound like something the holy God of the Bible would do?

    What does it say?

    “The Lord has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” (NKJV)

    The Interlinear Study Bible translates it as follows:

    “All has made the Lord for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

    What does it mean?

    Without any context, this verse stands alone and its meaning should be considered with special carefulness. While this proverb is inspired by God, it should be recognized as a proverb–a short, pithy statement written to make us think. Let us consider several questions about the proverb.

    What does made mean? The Hebrew word translated as “made” is not the normal word for create. Instead, it is a Hebrew word that refers to someone “performing an action or activity.”1 In other words, it is an action which causes a result. Several definitions include “to do or make (systematically and habitually), especially to practice; commit, (evil-) do(-er), make(-r), ordain, work(-er).” Notice that all of the definitions point to an action with a purpose. Here Solomon tells us that God has a purpose in what He does.

    What does all refer to? Sometimes all means just that. When combined with the verb, it means that God has a purpose for all things. And if contrasted with the second phrase of the proverb, all here would naturally apply to all people. God has a purpose for all people including those spoken about in the next part.

    Who does the wicked refer to? The Hebrew word used here refers to people who are “wicked, criminal 1a) guilty one, one guilty of crime (subst) 1b) wicked (hostile to God) 1c) wicked, guilty of sin (against God or man).”1 They are “morally wrong; concretely, an (actively) bad person; [phrase] condemned, guilty, ungodly, wicked (man), that did wrong.”1 The meaning is clear. The wicked are those who have rebelled against God and who have themselves chosen to be ungodly.

    What is the day of doom (or evil)? The Hebrew word used here refers to something that is a “bad … adversity, affliction … calamity.” While the KJV translates this word as “evil,” it does not mean moral evil but something bad that happens. It seems better to go with the NKJV’s “doom,” the ESV’s “trouble,” or the NIV’s “disaster.” With the definition above in mind, the day of doom is a day when bad things happen.

    When you put all of this together, Solomon is telling us that God has a purpose that He accomplishes with all people including using ungodly people during a day when people are afflicted by a calamity. This verse does not teach that God creates evil; it teaches that God has a purpose in His actions including what happens to wicked people.

    How does it apply?

    When bad things happen, it is easy to think that God is not in control. Do you remember how Habakkuk looked at the sinfulness of the society he lived in? He asked the Lord why so much injustice, destruction, and violence was happening? (Hab. 1:2-4) God’s reply was to reveal His plan to use the ruthless Babylonians to administer His judgment on the sinning Hebrew people (Hab. 1:5-11). The prophet understood that God had ordained them for judgment (Hab. 1:12), but couldn’t understand how He could use wicked people who would continue the rampage God had initiated (Hab. 1:15-17).

    This is a good way to apply Solomon’s proverb. God was in control of Habakkuk’s situation and was intentionally doing what was best with the means He had chosen to accomplish His purpose. In this case, He made a wicked nation become His vessel of judgment on another wicked nation. How do we respond to this? God tells us in the next chapter.

    Habakkuk 2:4 – “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”

    When we don’t understand what God is doing and it seems that He is using the wicked as part of His plan, we need to look to Him in faith. God knows what is best and is doing what is best. Will you trust Him?

  3. Does Isaiah 45:7 teach that God creates evil?

    In Isaiah 45, Isaiah records a prophetic statement made by God to a future king. Depending on which translation you are reading from, the verse may seem to say that God actively creates evil. This would be a terrible thing, but is it what the Bible teaches?

    What does it say?

    The Lord said that He is the One who creates light and darkness. He is also the One who causes peace or disaster. He is the One who did all of these things.

    What does it mean?

    If you start at the beginning of the chapter, you will see that Isaiah 45:1-7 is a prophetic address to the future King Cyrus who would eventually conquer Babylon. In context, God was telling the future king that he was being used by God to subdue nations. His victories would be like marching through open gates because God’s plan was to show Him (and the Israelites) who the true God of Israel was. He told Cyrus that there was no other god beside Him. He was the One who created both light and darkness, peace and disaster.

    Here the word translated as “evil” (KJV), “calamity” (NKJV, ESV), and “disaster” (NIV) is from the same Hebrew root word used in Proverbs 16:4. According to the Brown, Driver, and Briggs’ Lexicon, this word means “bad, evil … disagreeable … unpleasant, giving pain, unhappiness, misery … hurtful … distress, misery, injury, calamity.”3 It also can be used to describe something that is “ethically bad, evil, wicked” people, thoughts, or actions.3 In this case, the context will determine which definition fits best. In the context of what Cyrus was called to do, God was saying that He was the author of the day of pain brought about by the future king. With this in mind, the Lord was not saying that He creates evil. Instead, He creates the calamitous days as well as the peaceful ones. So this verse does not teach that God creates moral evil.

    How does it apply?

    In God’s perfect plan, He has incorporated peace and pain to accomplish His purposes. When a king like Cyrus was later able to subdue all of the nations around him, God did not want him to become proud as if his might or wisdom caused it all to happen. He was to remind himself that he was merely a tool in the hand of God to accomplish His will. Think about that for a moment. God can use anyone to accomplish His plan. Sometimes His plan includes peace. And how we long for that during today’s turmoil! But there are other times when God is the author of pain which affects the lives of many people. But you can be assured that God has a purpose for that. In fact, “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). When we learn to see God’s hand in everything and submit to His purposes, we will have peace even during times of pain because we are trusting in His infinite wisdom to do what He deems best.

Conclusion

After studying through these passages, do you think that God is the author of sin? I do not believe that these verses teach that He is. Instead, God is perfect and sinless and, as the Bible reveals in other places, those who have been in His presence have quickly recognized their own sinfulness (see Isa. 6:1-5). God is also loving and good. But there are times when in His perfect wisdom, He chooses to use people that surprise us. Do you remember the Egyptian Pharaoh during the Exodus? He was a wicked man who refused to yield to God. But God raised him up to do His bidding (Ex. 9:16). Do you remember King Nebuchadnezzar? He was a proud, sinful king whom God used to destroy Jerusalem and take many people captive. While God did use him to judge the people, He later interacted with him and brought him to the place where he realized who the real King was (Dan. 4:34-37). Perhaps that is the biggest lesson here. We need to remember who really is in control.

Footnotes

1 https://www.aionianbible.org/Bibles/English—Berean-Standard/Proverbs/16/4
2 https://www.studylight.org/interlinear-study-bible/hebrew/isaiah/45-7.html
3 רַע in Brown, Driver and Briggs, as viewed at https://biblehub.com/hebrew/7451.htm on 3/24/2024.

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