Question: In your book, In Defense of the Faith, I liked your explanation of “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Is 45:7). You explained that darkness is not something God created, but the total absence of light; and that just as light reveals darkness, so God’s holiness reveals evil—it is not something God causes people to do. I liked that explanation. But what about Amos:3:6, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
Response: The Hebrew word there translated “evil” is ra. It primarily means adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, but it can also mean sin. Of these two possible meanings, how do we know what is meant in a given instance? The context will tell you.
In this short book of Amos, ra appears seven times; only twice (5:14,15) does it mean sin, the other five times (3:6; 5:13; 6:3; 9:4,10) it means judgment from the Lord. The Lord tells Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (3:2). As His special people they have known His protection; no calamity, adversity, affliction or distress could come upon them except the Lord allowed it. Now they will know His judgment. God will bring ra upon them as punishment: “I command the sword, and it shall slay them [the disobedient people of Israel]: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil [ra], and not for good (9:4).”
“Evil” in Isaiah:45:7 is also “ra”. It could be understood to mean calamity or affliction. That would seem appropriate because the phrase “I make peace, and create evil [ra]” contrasts peace with ra. Surely ra, as calamity or destruction is the opposite of peace, just as darkness is the opposite of light. In Defense I took the most difficult understanding, that of ra as sin. Even with that meaning it is clear that God is not the author of sin.