Question: In 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” (Isaiah: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’s not something God causes people to do. But what about Amos:3:6, “Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?” [From February 2001]
Response: The Hebrew word here translated “evil” is ra. It primarily means adversity, affliction, 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. God 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 [i.e., 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, and could mean calamity or affliction. That would be 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. I chose the most difficult understanding, that of ra as sin. Even with that meaning, it is clear that God is not the author of sin.