What Is the Source of Evil?
Question: Isaiah:45:7 seems to state that God creates evil. How can this be possible if God is totally good? And if He does create evil, why does He do so and what form does it take?
Response: Let’s examine this verse: “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” How does God create darkness? Darkness is really nothing. It is not a “thing” that God created; it is simply the absence of light. No one would know he was in the dark if he had never seen light. Thus by creating light God exposes the absence of it in darkness.
In the same way, God’s perfection exposes also exposes all else as evil. Sin is therefore defined as falling “short of the glory of God” (Romans:3:23). In His presence the angels cry continually, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord” (Isaiah:6:3; cf. Revelation:4:8). God’s perfection is the blaze of light in contrast to which all else is darkness and evil. Indeed, we are told that God dwells “in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy:6:16).
How then does the perfection of God reveal evil if no man can approach unto the light of holiness in which he dwells? Because He has written His law in the consciences of all mankind (Romans:2:14-15) causing us to recognize evil in ourselves and in others.
Dualism and World Religions
In fact, the biblical explanation of evil is unique. The author of The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible points out that “the Jewish religion, unlike other theologies, considered the one and omnipotent God to be the author of both good and evil, the master of the world.” (Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible [Weathervane Books, 1969], inside back of jacket.) The very idea that one Supreme Being could be responsible for both good and evil contrasts sharply with the beliefs of the world’s religions during Old Testament times, which tended toward dualism.
Manly P. Hall, an expert on the occult and non-Christian religions, reminds us: “In all the ancient Mysteries, matter was regarded as the source of all evil and spirit the source of all good.” (Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic, and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy [The Philosophical Research Society, Inc., Los Angeles, CA 90027, 1969], Sixteenth Edition, p. CXVIII.) The mysteries emanate from two irreconcilable opposites: Absolute Spirit and Absolute Substance. For the Gnostics, it was the “positive and negative” principles. In polytheistic mythology, of course, there were both good and evil gods who fought with one another. Isaiah’s statement that the one true God of the Hebrews is responsible for both good and evil stands apart from all the world’s religions and provides one more piece of evidence that the Bible came from a source of inspiration independent of the culture or religion surrounding its writers.
What Makes Evil Possible?
In the Bible, evil is associated with the power of choice and could not exist apart from it. Only beings capable of choice can have moral responsibility; and this very power of choice makes evil not only possible but inevitable. It is a foregone conclusion that creatures who, though made “in the image of God” (Genesis:1:26-27), are less than God (as any creation of God must be), will think thoughts and do deeds unworthy of God and thus evil by the very definition.
That being the case, why would God give mankind this exceedingly dangerous ability to choose? Why would God, who is only good, allow evil of any kind or even of the smallest degree in His universe? The answer, of course, is obvious: God wanted to have a meaningful relationship with mankind. Without the ability to choose to love or to hate, to say yes or to say no, it would be impossible for mankind to receive God’s love and to love Him in return, for real love must come from the heart. Nor could there be genuine praise and worship unless if were voluntary.
It would hardly be glorifying to God for robots, who cannot choose to say or do otherwise, to continually sing His praises. And for such beings to be programmed to say repeatedly, “I love you” would be meaningless. The love and praise of God must come from beings who have the choice of not loving and praising but even of hating and denigrating Him, beings whose hearts have been captured by His love and who genuinely love Him in return. That is why, if Islam, through threats of terrorism and death, could force the entire world to submit to Allah—or if Communism through similar threats and force could take over the world today—it would not be a victory for either totalitarian system. Rather, such a world conquest would be the greatest defeat, for it would have failed to win the love and loyalty of its alleged “converts.”
Of course, while giving man the power of choice made love possible, it also opened the door to all manner of evil. It is by our own personal choice that we think evil thoughts and do wicked deeds. God did not cause Lucifer or any angels or any of us to do evil. That tragedy came about by our individual volition. We choose to satisfy our own selfish desires rather than to glorify God, and thus we come short of His glory and demonstrate ourselves to be sinners.
How wonderful, then, that in His love and wisdom God was able to pay the penalty for our sins and thus to forgive us and make it possible for us to be in His presence, loving and praising Him eternally! And surely His love has captured our hearts and created in us a love that is real and eternal. As 1 John:4:19 says, “We love him because he first loved us.” That can only be said meaningfully by beings who are also capable of choosing not to love.