What or who is the source of evil on the earth? Is it God (YHVH Elohim), the devil or something else? This is a legitimate and honest question since so much evil exists all around us. If YHVH Elohim is the Creator of everything, then does this mean that he also created evil? If so, then how can this be, since the Bible reveals that YHVH is all good, loving, holy, righteous and sinless and perfect? If not, then who or what is the source of evil? It is important to understand the source and origin of evil, for the answer reflects either positively or negatively on the innate character of Elohim and the validity of the Bible, which promotes itself as the inspired Word of Elohim.
The answers to the question of who created evil seem like an unanswerable conundrums to many people. In attempt to resolve this issue, too many people have thrown up their hands in frustration only to become agnostics or even atheists. In reality, the answer is quite simple, and no one’s faith needs to be shaken much less obliterated as we will discover below. Frankly, to answer this seeming perplexing question, it is necessary to stop thinking like finite humans, start thinking outside the paradigmatic box of our physical earthly existence and understand the concept of evil from a biblical, heavenly and logical perspective. It is then that the answer as to the source and origin of evil neatly reveals itself as we are about to discover below.
The belief that YHVH Elohim created evil is often based on a single passage in the Bible. In Isaiah 45:7 we read,
“I [YHVH speaking] form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I, YHVH, do all these things.” (KJV, emphasis added)
Based on this verse, some people believe that all the evil that occurs in the world is YHVH’s fault. The stickler, however, is this: If he is the creator of evil, how can everything about him and all that he does also be good? Because of the belief that YHVH created everything including evil, some people have refused to serve and obey YHVH and questioned or even rejected his Truth as found in the Bible. After all, they reason, how can we believe much less serve a God who claims to be good, yet who is also the creator and purveyor of evil? These are valid considerations that need addressing.
In addressing this issue, let’s first ask a simple question. What does the Bible mean when YHVH says, “I create evil,”? For a better understanding of this seeming enigmatic phrase in Isaiah, let us look at how some other English Bibles translate this same verse. As we are about to discover, there is not a unanimous consensus among Bible translators as to the exact meaning of the biblical Hebrew word for evil. We will soon see that the biblical definition of evil is perhaps broader than at first thought. This alone can change one’s perspective dramatically regarding one’s understanding of the concept of evil. Perhaps our perspective is limited resulting in our coming to wrong conclusions.
I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity [Heb. ra]; I, the LORD, do all these things.’ (NKJV, emphasis added)
I form the light and create the darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster [Heb. ra]; I the LORD, do all these things. (NIV, emphasis added)
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity [Heb. ra], I am the LORD, who does all these things. (ESV, emphasis added)
I form light, I create darkness; I make well-being, I create woe [Heb. ra]; I, ADONAI, do all these things. (CJB, emphasis added)
Based on how other Bibles translate the Hebrew word for evil, this begs an important question. What is the biblical Hebrew word for evil and what is its definition in light of the fact that different Bibles translate the Hebrew word for evil so differently? The Hebrew word in question is ra or ra’ah It is the generic Hebrew word meaning “evil”, but, as we see below, it can mean much more than “evil” (as quoted from the Online Bible Deluxe Software Program):
- 1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
- 1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
- 1c) evil, displeasing
- 1d) bad (of its kind – land, water, etc)
- 1e) bad (of value)
- 1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
- 1g) sad, unhappy
- 1h) evil (hurtful)
- 1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
- 1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
- 1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
- 1j2) deeds, actions n m
- 2) evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity
- 2a) evil, distress, adversity
- 2b) evil, injury, wrong
- 2c) evil (ethical) n f
- 3) evil, misery, distress, injury
- 3a) evil, misery, distress
- 3b) evil, injury, wrong
- 3c) evil (ethical)
As we can see, “evil” is only one of the many and varied definitions of the Hebrew word ra, which can also mean “distress, adversity, unhappiness and sadness” among other things.
Now in light of the broader meaning of the word ra, let us ask a couple of questions and briefly explore the concept of evil. For example, can “bad” things happen to people that end up being good for the person in the end? Similarly, are there things that on the surface appear to be bad, injurious and hurtful, but in reality are for our own safety and protection? Absolutely yes to both questions. Perhaps you have never thought of bad or “evil” in this way, but it, nevertheless, is within the definition of biblical word for evil. Keep these points in mind as we proceed in our discussion and expand our understanding of the concept of bad and evil .
Let’s continue to broaden our understanding of the Hebrew word ra. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the primary definition of Hebrew word ra is “the lack of quality or inferior quality of something or someone and is thus unable to meet standards of value or function beneficially.” The word can connote “moral deficiencies” and is contrasted to the Hebrew word tov which is the generic word meaning “good”. The TWOT goes on to note that Elohim [as the Just Judge of the universe] acts with painful punishment against evil or ra against people who refuse to repent of their wicked, evil or sinful actions. If he failed to take such action against evil, then evil would take over the earth and universe. Do you think this is impossible or that this has never happened before? If so, go read what Scripture says about Satan and the angelic rebellion that occurred before the creation of humans (see Isa 14:12–17; Ezek 28). It happened once and it can happen again.
Let’s now explore another ramification concerning the concept of evil and its source and origin. Is YHVH the creator of evil in a direct sense, or is he merely the creator of the spiritual machinery that set up the laws of cause-and-effect such that evil consequences are the result of wrong choices that people make? That is, when people break YHVH’s laws, evil (in the sense of punishment) befalls them as a result of their actions and the resulting consequences that they bring on themselves. I believe that the answer to this question is yes. Even as blessings and goodness are reaped by those who follow his laws, so curses come upon those who disobey YHVH. You reap what you sow. One is the cause of either the evil or the blessings that comes upon them per the choices they make. As we go along in this study, we shall see that the Bible reveals that people bring evil upon themselves by their wrong choices. So yes, YHVH created the laws and along with consequences, good or bad, that will fall on people based on their obedience or disobedience to his laws. In this sense, his Torah-laws that, in reality, or neutral. What humans do vis-à-vis these laws based on the choices they make and their subsequent actions will determine the consequences they will experience whether good or evil, blessings or curses, life or death, rewards or punishment, victory or calamity. This is akin, on the physical level to the law of gravity, which is in itself neutral. It is a blessing in that it keeps people from floating into outer space and to their ultimate death. However, at the same gravity becomes a curse if one jumps off a cliff or a tall building. Whether the law of gravity is a blessing or a curse is based on the choices that one makes.
The case could even be made that the consequences of one’s disobedience to YHVH’s laws are actually a blessing and not a curse. How is this? Let’s illustrate the point this way: When a parent disciplines their child for doing something morally wrong or harmful to their well-being, does this make the parent the purveyor of evil or the discipline itself evil? Actually, the consequences of the child’s wrong action is what is evil and the parent’s correction is actually an act of love to bring the wayward child back into a right path of blessing, so they will not further harm themselves. The same can be said for a court judge who pronounces a sentence upon a person for a crime that they committed. The judge is society’s agent to correct bad behavior for the betterment of everyone. Similarly, when we read in Isaiah 45:7 that YHVH created evil or more correctly woe and calamity, it could be said that the calamity that befalls a person for breaking his laws neither makes YHVH the creator nor the purveyor of evil. Rather, the calamity that a person reaps because of their wrong action is an act of love on the part of our Father in heaven to bring his wayward children back to him. If a wayward sinner chooses to ignore the Father’s loving disciplinary action and fails repent of their sin, they are then are wilfully cutting themselves off from YHVH and choosing to move into deeper spiritual darkness and away from the spiritual light. Eventually they will cut themselves off completely from YHVH and the evil darkness will consume them, for they have chosen to live in a place where YHVH chooses not to exist because he is pure light and perfect and will not dwell in which places. It impossible to imagine that YHVH is the creator of this kind of evil that encompasses a totally reprobate and unrepentant sinner.
Moreover, and to expand on the idea of blessings and curses based on the choices that we make, when humans choose to obey YHVH, they will experience good or blessings because they are in right relationship with him by obeying his laws. However and conversely, when humans choose to go against YHVH’s laws or commandments, they will suffer the consequences. This is called sin, and when humans sin, they cut themselves off from the Creator, who is sinless and perfect. They choose to walk away from him, to walk away from the light of his Truth and to walk into spiritual darkness. When they walk into this spiritual vacuum that is devoid of light, Truth, goodness and love, darkness and evil rush in to fill the vacuum where YHVH does not exist. Again, does this make YHVH the Creator of evil? Not at all. Rather, people have chosen a spiritual path that leads to a place where YHVH, who is total goodness, does not and cannot exist. This is because YHVH Elohim is pure light, total love and goodness, is the quintessential definition of holiness and righteousness, which are the total opposite of evil. To say that YHVH is the Creator of evil is to imply that there is a component of his character that is evil. This pure blasphemy against a perfect and sinless Elohim!
Moses Maimon known as Maimonides or the Rambam, a medieval Jewish sage and Torah scholar, discusses this issue in his classic book, The Guide to the Perplexed. He starts from the premise that all that YHVH created was good or tov as stated several times in the creation account of Genesis chapter one. If all Scripture is true and cannot be broken, then Elohim is not the creator of evil or wickedness in that sense of the meaning of the Hebrew word ra. But as we have seen, this is not the only definition of this word.
To the western mindset, Rambam points out, darkness and evil are negative existence, but existence none the less, like two sides of the same coin. By contrast, to the Hebrew mind, evil is not even a part of the coin. Since no part of YHVH Elohim is evil, it is impossible for him to be the source or origin of evil, for Scripture declares in Genesis chapter one that all that he created was good. Yet at the same time, there are things that YHVH does that to the human mind appear to be “evil”. How is this possible if all that he created was good? And what about those things that are truly evil that were not part of his creation? What is their source and origin? Obviously this evil exists outside of his creation. This, then begs more questions. What is the “evil” that is part of his creation, and what is the evil that is outside his creation?
In reality, and as we have touched on above, there are two kinds of evil: ultimate evil which is the total negation of all good, light and truth, and “evil” or more correctly, calamity or woe, which is good in that it produces good results in the lives of people or even protects people. What do we mean by this? Let us briefly discuss each kind of evil.
To the Hebrew way of thinking (and that was the mindset of the authors of Scripture) all that YHVH created is existence and all else is nonexistence. Therefore that which is non-positive is nonexistence and not a part of his creation, or is outside of his creation. In Genesis chapter one, we learn that Elohim created physical existence, and it was all good (that is, no part of it was evil). He created good and light (i.e., existence), and the time space continuum in which the earth and its cosmos exist as a type of bubble or spaceship in the midst of darkness and nonexistence. Humans as part of the physical creation live in that area Scripture calls good. Theoretically and spiritually, total darkness that is outside of or apart from YHVH Elohim is non-light and is evil. So, reasons Rambam, all evil is the absence of good; that is, all that is evil is the negation of good. For example, death is evil since it is the negation of life (which is good). Death in the ultimate or eternal sense is separation from Elohim and is, therefore, non-existence or darkness and evil. For example, Paul told the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill that in Elohim all humans live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28). Conversely, it could be reasoned that outside of Elohim there is no existence—no life or beingness. Rambam goes on to reason that ignorance is evil, for it is the negation of knowledge. This type of evil is ultimate evil which YHVH did not create and where he does not exist.
Now let us discuss the second kind of “evil” which is not really evil at all in the ultimate sense, but is actually good in that end results of it are good. Again, think of a loving parent disciplining their wayward child. As already noted, a better term for this type of evil would be calamity or woe, which one brings on oneself due to their wrong choices and actions.
We experience the good kind of “evil” all around us every day. Physical pain is an example of this. For example, if our bodies failed to experience pain when we cut ourselves, we might inadvertently bleed to death. If we did not experience pain when eating something poisonous, we might succumb to that poison. If we failed to experience pain from a broken leg bone, we might continue to walk on that broken leg and end up becoming crippled for the rest of our lives instead of getting the bone set and letting it heal. A thousand other such examples could be given of things that appear to be bad or evil, but are actually good for us. As is obvious, this kind of “evil” is for our ultimate good.
On a moral or spiritual level, when we read in the Bible that YHVH “created evil” (Isa 45:7) or “afflicted” his people (Deut 8:3), or brought calamity upon them in one fashion or another because of their wayward actions (Pss 55:19; 88:7; 90:15; 119:71, 75), to the biblical Hebraic way of thinking this cannot be considered evil, since it was for the purpose of bettering or refining the people of YHVH, or to bring them to the higher level spiritually, or to bring them to (or reconcile them to) their loving Father in heaven. The classic biblical example of this is the suffering of Job. Scripture records that he was a blameless and upright man before Elohim (Job 1:1, 8), yet YHVH allowed him to suffer pain, loss, and extreme trials to bring him to a higher level of righteousness and into a deeper understanding of and walk with his Creator. Therefore, what Job experienced at YHYH’s hand cannot be considered evil, for the outcome was good. Paul experienced something similar with his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). Many other examples from Scripture could be given of “evil” that was for one’s the ultimate betterment.
The writer of the Epistle of Hebrews provides another example of “evil” resulting in good. It is the parent disciplining their child example again. Quoting several pericopes from the Tanakh (e.g., Job 5:17; Prov 3:11–12), the author declares that as a father YHVH chastens his children whom he loves (Heb 12:5–11) for the purpose of bringing forth the good fruits of holiness and righteousness (verses 10–11). On the other hand, those who despise the chastening of their Heavenly Father (verse 5) end up separating themselves from him spiritually and this leads to eternal death, darkness and nothingness which is ultimate evil and non-existence. Is it YHVH’s fault that people choose this path? Is it his fault that people, by the choices they make and the actions they take, remove themselves from the protective umbrella of his good creation and place themselves outside of his creation where ultimate evil exists? No. YHVH is good and brings no evil upon people except as they choose to walk away from him and, as a result, they end up suffering the consequences or fruit of their own actions. The Epistle of James clear delineates this path that leads to evil.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by Elohim”; for Elohim cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (Jas 1:13–16)
Moreover, YHVH hates wickedness, and Scripture declares that those who align themselves with evil become workers of iniquity (Ps 5:5). By their choices, they have placed themselves outside of YHVH’s presence and outside of that which is good. They are now the personification of evil.
Now YHVH is gracious to both the just and to the unjust. The earth which he created provides all humans with the necessities of physical life. He also gives each human the freedom to choose to obey or disobey him. If YHVH chooses to withdraw his hand of mercy and grace from an evildoer, so that they suffer the consequences of their actions is he therefore the agent or cause of evil? Not at all. Again Rambam reasons that YHVH Elohim cannot be the creator of evil. Elohim cannot be responsible for or connected to that which he did not directly cause, even though he may have set up the spiritual “mechanical” of reaping and sowing, cause and effect. Nevertheless, when a person chooses to commit evil (called sin), he brings upon himself the consequences of his own actions which is divine judgment against evil or sin. Furthermore, because Elohim, the Just Judge of the universe, may be temporarily staying or withholding judgment of heaven’s court against the evil actions of humans does not make him the agent or creator of evil. Eventually, the heavenly gavel will fall and judgment will be pronounced on unrepentant evil people for the evil they have done and they will permanently consigned to the evil of non-existence where YHVH is not. They have reaped the consequences of their actions, and a loving YHVH is simply cleaning house by ridding the place of evil, which in no way makes him evil.
Now, for the biggest question of all. Was YHVH Elohim evil when he “smote” (which means “slay”or “slaughter”) and “bruised” his Son, Yeshua (Isa 53:4 and 10)? Not according to the Scriptural definition of evil, since the result of Yeshua’s death on the cross paved the way for the reconciliation of man to YHVH Elohim, which is good or tov in the ultimate sense and is the opposite of all that is evil or ra!
A Thought Provoking Story to Illustrate the Point (from an unknown source)
Did God create everything that exists? Does evil exist? Did God create evil? The university professor challenged his students with this question. “Did God create everything that exists?”
A student bravely replied, “Yes he did!”
“God created everything?” The professor asked.
“Yes sir,” the student replied.
The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.”
The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor, quite pleased with himself, boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said, “May I ask you a question, professor?”
“Of course,” replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”
“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.
The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-459 F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”
The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?” The professor responded, “Of course it does.” The student replied, “Once again you are wrong, sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”
Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”
Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course, as I have already said. We see it everyday. It is in the daily examples of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.
To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat, or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
The professor sat down.