Did God Create Evil? – Part 2
An Awkward Truce of Disparate Truths
By Steve Schmutzer
In the first part of this article, we noted that God has created everything. Nothing exists without Him. This position is clearly supported in the Scriptures just as the case for His omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent nature is also supported. These are matters which are beyond question if one studies the Scriptures responsibly.
All that being so, it’s tempting to feel that if an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God really exists, then evil should not. If God is who the Bible claims He is, then how does evil fit in?
This awkward truce of disparate truths is not the only dilemma of this tone in the Word of God. The “free will of man” and the “absolute sovereignty of God” are also Biblical truths that co-exist with some unease. The Triune nature of God is another such matter. Doctrines like these cannot easily be explained in terms that satisfy the natural human spirit.
We would do well to properly receive a solemn warning at this point. As humans, we tend to value those things which are most measureable, not necessarily those things which are most important. As earlier noted, strains to our understanding of the ways of God keep us faithful, and they help us to preserve a right relationship with Christ (Heb. 11:6).
If everything concerning God is easily explained, readily measured, and effortlessly known, faith becomes unnecessary as Heb. 11:1 reminds us. The contradictions of logic which are inherent in some of the doctrines of Scripture are intended for our own good. They keep us on the right path.
It is therefore dangerous to our spiritual well-being to become too partisan about matters which the Scriptures present with built-in tensions. A choice to emphasize one side of a particular truth to the exclusion of the other may satisfy our desire to have clear structure, but Matthew 7:13-23 underscores the perils of embracing partial truth. It has the same consequences as full deception.
So, did God create the universe with evil a part of it the same way He created the universe with the sun in it? Some may feel that’s the point of Isaiah 45:7 which says, “I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things.” Personally, I don’t think that’s the right way to see the situation as that notion contends against other Scriptures which clearly encourage a different thought process.
Let’s ask that question another way: “Did God create a universe in which it’s possible for evil to find form and flourish?” I think that’s a more accurate way to think about it, and I believe that satisfies the language of Isaiah 45:7 as well.
Let’s see if we can make some sense of this as we start with the very basics.
Let’s begin by examining the word “evil.” The most common term used in the Old Testament appears over 200 times. That Hebrew word is awon which means “perversion,” and it seems to be related to the verb awah which means “to bend” or “to twist.” Other Biblical words used to describe evil include the sibling-like nouns of awel and awla, and both emerge from a root term which means, “to deviate.” Inherent within all these words is the notion of “moving away” from a prior standard or virtue.
A chief intent of these Biblical terms is to denote something contrary to the character of God. Stop. Go back and read that sentence again. Okay – now read it one more time. This is very important; the full implications of this statement should not be regarded casually.
As their Biblical contexts show, these Hebrew terms are generally associated with words describing wickedness, rebellion, and violence. This is the opposite of words which denote faithfulness, justice, and honesty, and so the Biblical passages in which these Hebrew terms for evil are used often reveal a corresponding divine response of judgment.
You see, evil is not an object like a brick or a tree. You cannot place evil into a container or measure it when you find it. As words like awon, awah, awel, and awla suggest, evil has no inherent existence of its own. Evil is the absence of something, just like darkness is the absence of light which God called “good” when He created it (Gen. 1:4).
It’s most helpful to see evil as a departure from something good or as a perversion of something proper, because that also argues that something good and proper was the righteous standard to begin with. For example, God intended men to be in a sexual relationship with women, and so within an appropriate earthly relationship, heterosexuality is good and proper. Conversely, the Bible teaches that under no circumstance is homosexuality to be regarded as good or proper. Homosexuality is a perversion of God’s good standard, and so by Biblical definition it is therefore evil. Make sense?
We’re getting back to where we started. As John 1:3 reminds us, God created everything, and all those things were good. Some of the good things God created were creatures who had the freedom to decide for themselves and to make choices. In order for real choices to exist, God permitted an alternative to any choice for good. And so, God allowed these creatures – free angels and free humans – to choose what is good or to reject what is good.
That’s how Lucifer became Satan. He started out just fine, but he made choices that were wrong. When one rejects good, then that choice becomes evil. With the aforementioned ‘awon’ and its derivatives in view, this makes total sense. Evil – in all its forms – emerges when there is a decision to depart from God’s perfect standard.
The conclusion is evil originated with God’s created beings – angels and humans – who had been provided with a free will. They misused this free will to make wrong choices. They disobeyed and denied the truth, and they chose standards which failed to conform to the goodness of God. This is evil, and we call it sin.
God did not create sin, but He created beings that could abuse their free will and thus fall into sin. And so it was that “….sin entered the world” (Rom. 5:12) which God had created and which He had called “good.” This is the consequence of self-determination, and this same dynamic still rears its ugly head within our present world in so many ways.
So, what does it mean to “create?” This specific question returns to the original query, “Did God create evil?” Are there latitudes here which are permitted to be part of the creatio ex nihilo processes?
Let’s consider how you and I might “create” or make something. We take a little of this and a little of that, and we make a batch of chocolate chip cookies for example. As a matter of fact, that’s not unlike how man was made. God took the dust of the earth and He “formed” Adam (Gen. 2:7). He took Adam’s rib and He made Eve (Gen. 2:22). He took pre-existent elements and He made something totally different from them.
For the larger purposes of this document, I would argue that both Adam and Eve arrived on the scene in conformity to the basic definitions of “make” or “create” as did the rest of God’s creation. It is obvious from the Biblical account that God could have made Adam and Eve through the same creatio ex nihilo process as He made everything else before them, but – – God chose not to. In no manner does that detract from God’s divine abilities.