In the old King James Bible, Isaiah 45:7 read: “I [the LORD] create evil.” The Hebrew word for “evil”, ra`, means “bad” in a broad sense. Modern Bible versions tend to narrow it down by translating “adversity”, “calamity”, etc.
But what about morally bad things? Does God have a hand in wickedness? Did he create devils and demons? Does he cause people to sin? If he is in control of everything, and bad things happen, isn’t God somehow responsible? This age-old question of theodicy is not easily answered!
First, God did create even the devils; but he did not make them evil. (See also BC art. 12.) How did they fall? That we don’t know!
Second, God created people with the ability to do wicked things. Otherwise, the fall could not have happened. God also knew beforehand that Adam and Eve would fall—he had his plan of salvation ready from eternity. Reformed theologians have always maintained that the fall in sin was ordained by God.
This means that God’s involvement in sin and evil is permissive, yet it is fully under his control. Louis Berkhof writes: “By his decree God renders the sinful actions of man infallibly certain without deciding to effectuate them by acting immediately upon and in the finite will.”* By “finite will” he means the human will that chooses to do good and evil. This choice is ours; God does not make use choose; we are not robots!
James 1:12-18 deals with this question. When we are tempted to sin, God does not force us to do anything. The inclination to sin comes from our own heart. What God gives us is always good. Likewise, the Canons of Dort insist that “The cause of guilt for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins is by no means in God, but rather in man.” (CD I.5) God is not “the author of sin (the very thought is blasphemous!)” (CD I.15).
Third, the profound teaching of Scripture is that God uses the evil (which he did not cause) to do work out his plan of salvation. This is the plot of the Joseph narrative: “You meant evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) He allowed Pharaoh to be stubborn, so that he could show his saving glory. He allowed Judas to betray Jesus, so that the atoning sacrifice for our sin could be offered. Finally, many bad things happen in the world; not only caused by our sinful choices, but also natural disasters and the like. Here we can see the negative side of God’s providence, executing the curse to which he subjected the fallen world. This is clearly meant in Isaiah 45:7: “I create adversity…” In his governance of the world, the LORD often creates hardship, to show his wrath and power, and to make us long all the more for his salvation.