God created everything. Nothing came into being except what he made. Does that mean that God created evil? Isaiah 45:7 seems to suggest so: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (KJV).
But if God created evil, then he seems implicated in evil. How can evil come from a simple, good being like God? In him is no darkness. So why does God himself claim, “I make peace, and create evil”?
Exegesis, reason, and theology all point to one answer: evil has no being, and so God could not have created it. Isaiah 45:7 also teaches this same reality. Here is how.
In Isaiah 45, God claims Cyrus to be his messiah (Isa 45:1), one who will conquer nations and save Israel (Isa 44:28). God can do this because he can do anything. He can form light and create darkness. He forms light by creating the heavenly powers of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The converse is that darkness comes when these powers retreat. Darkness is the absence of light.
Likewise, God makes peace and creates evil, which the ESV renders more accurately as “I make well-being and create calamity.” The word
The meaning in Isaiah 45:7 is calamity as the text itself indicates. Hebrew poetry balances its lines by creating parallel structures. Here is the parallelism in the verse:
- Making peace (shalom)
- Creating calamity (ra)
God brings peace and un-peace (or calamity). Since shalom means the absence of calamity and the presence of God’s ordered love, the parallel line in which ra appears likely means the opposite: the presence of calamity and the absence of God’s ordered love.
God can bring shalom to Israel or he can bring calamity through instruments like he did when he wields Assyria like an axe (Isa 10:15) or uses Cyrus as his royal battle-general (Isa 45:1).
God administers the nations to bring shalom or calamity on the basis of that nation’s relationship with God (Jer 18:5–11).
Following Thomas Aquinas, I have written and still agree with the following: “God causes (creates) the evil of penalty (i.e., a calamity like earthquakes etc. to happen), but he does not author the evil of fault (so the creation of evil as an entity or substance or being since that is a privation of good) (Summa 1.49).”
Nothing in the text of Isaiah 45 requires that God created evil in Genesis 1. Nothing in the text requires that God created evil as some substance or being.
God is good and simple. And so no evil can be in him (cf. 1 John 1:5). Had he created evil, then he would have had evil in him. This claim is impossible to maintain. Evil contradicts God’s nature.
Isaiah 45:7 does not conflict with reason. The verse parallels God bringing shalom to Israel and the world with God creating ra. So God speaks about calamity or destruction—not creating evil ex nihilo and so into being.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, evil does not exist because it has no being. Evil simply damages or takes away something that is good. God is good. He created everything to be very good (Gen 1:31). And so evil is no created thing.
To be more specific, evil has no essence, substance, or being. It does have a reality but only insofar as it vitiates virtue. Like rust rots a car, so vice privates virtue. Evil twists love to lust, strength to exploitation, and conviction to hatred.
If Isaiah 45:7 had meant that God gave being to evil, then God’s declaration of creation’s goodness would make little sense. Further, it would also mean that God’s creation, being itself, is not good.
But that would allow sin to create—to give being to something, namely, some evil thing. But only the Father has life in himself. He gives that same life to the Son (John 5:26). And we share in that life by the Spirit. That life is eternal life. That’s the promise of salvation that promises to crown us with a crown of immortality.
But giving creative power over to the serpent or to us such that we birthed evil and gave it being is preposterous and has no place in Christian theology. Granted, God shares life with us so that we can create in line with God’s good creation (Gen 5:1). But this is not the same thing as creating something new outside of what God created.
Creation has being from God alone, and so all being is by definition good. Sin vitiates virtue. It deteriorates what is good. It mimics creation by taking what is good and twisting it. But it can never be being.
Isaiah 45:7 does not mean that God created evil ex nihilo and so brought evil into being. Rather, it means that God brings calamity through earthly powers like Cyrus (Isa 45:1; 10:15).
Biblical exegesis shows this, reason confirms it, and theology demands it. Evil does not have being. It cannot. Only God has life in himself so that he can give being.