Isaiah 45:7, Create evil [or calamity]. Based on this verse some may be led to believe that all the evil that occurs in the world is YHVH’s fault, therefore, as the creator of evil, how can he be good? Some have even refused to serve and obey YHVH and rejected the truth of Scripture on the basis of this logic. But what is the truth?
First, let us analyze the Hebrew word for evil/[r (Strong’s H7451; TWOT 2191). It is the generic Hebrew word meaning evil also meaning “bad, disagreeable, malignant, unpleasant, sad, unhappy, wicked, distress, wrong, injury.
As we can see, evil is only one of the many and varied definitions of the Hbrew word ra which can also mean “distress, adversity, unhappiness and sadness.” Can “bad” things happen to people that end up being good for the person? Of course. Such has happened to all of us many times in our lives. Keep this point in mind.
According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word ra has as its primary definition “the lack of quality or inferior quality of something or someone and is thus unable to meet standards of value or function beneficially.” The word can connote “moral deficiencies” and is contrasted to the Hebrew word tov which is the generic word meaning good. The TWOT notes that Elohim [as the Just Judge of the universe] acts with painful punishment against evil (ra) people who refuse to repent of their wicked or evil actions. If he failed to do this evil would take over the earth and universe.
But is YHVH the creator of evil in a direct sense, or is he the creator of the laws of cause-and-effect that when evil people break them evil (in the sense of punishment) befalls them as a result of their actions even as blessings and goodness are reaped by those who follow his laws?
Moses Maimon known as Maimonides or the Rambam, a medieval Jewish sage, discusses this issue in his classic book, The Guide to the Perplexed. He starts from the premise that all that YHVH created was good or tov as stated several times in the creation account of Genesis one. If Scripture is true and cannot be broken then Elohim is not the creator of evil or wickedness in that sense of the meaning of the Hebrew word ra. But as we have seen, this is not the only definition of the word ra.
To the western mindset, Rambam points out, darkness and evil are negative existence, but existence none the less, like two sides of the same coin. To the Hebrew mind evil is not even apart of the coin. Since YHVH cannot create evil, for all that he created was good, then the “evil” he created had to be good and all other evil exists outside of his creation. In other words, there are two kinds of evil: ultimate evil which is the total negation of all good, light and truth, and evil which is good in that it produces good results in the lives of people. To the Hebrew way of thinking (and that was the mindset of the authors of Scripture) all that YHVH created is existence and all else is nonexistence. Therefore that which is non-positive is nonexistence and not a part of his creation, or is outside of his creation. In Genesis one Elohim created existence, or that which is good, by creating good and light (existence) as a type of bubble in the midst of darkness and nonexistence. Humans as part of the physical creation live in what Scripture calls good. Everything outside is evil. So, reasons Rambam, all evil is the absence of good; that is, all that is evil is the negation of good. For example, death is evil since it is the negation of life (which is good). It is therefore non-existence. The same could be said of ignorance which is the negation of knowledge.
So when we read that YHVH “created evil” or “afflicted” his people (Deut 8:3) or brought calamity upon them in one fashion or another (Pss 55:19; 88:7; 90:15; 119:71, 75), to the Hebrew way of thinking it cannot be considered evil for its purpose was to refine YHVH’s people and to bring them to a higher level spiritually. Its purpose was to bring them (or reconcile them) to their loving Father in heaven. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says that as a father YHVH chastens his children whom he loves (Heb 12:5ff) for the purpose of bringing forth the good fruits of holiness and righteousness (vv. 10–11). On the other hand, as noted earlier, those who despise the chastening of their Heavenly Father (v. 5) end up separating themselves from him and separation from him leads to eternal death, darkness and nothingness which is ultimate evil and non-existence. Is it YHVH’s fault that they chose this path? Is it his fault that they removed themselves by their actions from his good creation and placed themselves outside of his creation, which is evil, so that they becomepersonifications of evil? Of course not. He is good and brings no evil upon people except to allow them to suffer the fruit of their own actions (Jas 1:13–15). YHVH hates wickedness and those who align themselves with evil as workers of iniquity (Ps 5:5). They are outside of his creation and outside of that which is good.
Now YHVH is gracious to both the just and to the unjust. He gives to both water, food, clothing air, etc. If he should choose to withdraw his hand of mercy and grace from an evildoer so that they suffer the consequences of their actions is he therefore the agent or cause of evil? Rambam reasons that he cannot be the creator of evil. Elohim cannot be responsible for or connected to that which he did not directly cause. The evil actions of the person brought about their judgment. Because Elohim temporarily stayed the judgment of the court against their evil actions does not make him the agent directly responsible for evil.
Now, the big question of all, was YHVH Elohim evil when he “smote” (which means “slay or slaughter”) and “bruised” his Son, Yeshua (Isa 53:4 and 10)? Not according to the scriptural definition of evil, since the results of Yeshua’s sacrifice of the cross resulted in the reconciliation of man to YHVH Elohim which is tov in the ultimate sense and the opposite of all that is ra!
This Hebraic understanding of good versus evil also goes a long way to answering the age old question: “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?”