Did God Create Evil?

By Brian Chilton

After Bible study, one evening, a good friend of mine and I discussed the problem of evil. He asked an excellent question, “Did God create evil?” I said, “No, I don’t think he did.” However, my friend objected because he said, “God created everything, so he must have created evil.” This conversation was quite good, and we found common ground by the end of our discussion. This article relates some of the issues that we discussed.

Did God Create Evil_

One of the first issues we needed to define was the nature of evil. What do we mean when we say something is evil? He was using the term to define any type of disaster or bad thing. I was using to term to define immoral behaviors, such as torturing babies. How do we answer this question? Did God create evil? In this article, I would like to look at four common tricky areas that need to be dissected in order to answer the question.

Ontology and Epistemology of God and Evil. The terms ontology and epistemology are philosophical terms but are important to this area of conversation. One cannot neglect philosophy because bad philosophy often leads to bad theology. First, let me define the terms and how they play a role in this discussion.

Ontology is the study of the nature of being. It deals with how we know something exists. For instance, does a pizza exist? How do we know a pizza exists? These are ontological questions that deal with the nature of pizza’s existence. And oh, how tragic life would be without the existence of pizza!

Epistemology deals with the theory of knowledge[1]. This area deals with how we know something to be true. What is the nature of such and such? To use our illustration of pizza, ontology would ask, “Does pizza exist?” whereas epistemology would ask, “Is pizza good? Can we know that pizza is tasty?” So, a created thing would deal with the area of ontology, whereas the nature of the thing would deal more in the area of epistemology more or less.

When we talk about God creating all things, we must understand that God created everything that exists including the potentials to do certain things. However, if we grant the existence of human freedom, then God is not responsible for the actions that people take. Yes, God provides the means and conditions that can lead to a person’s actions and God knows the free actions that a person will take, but the person is responsible for his or her own actions[2]. Therefore, God created all things and created the conditions where a person could do good or evil. But, God did not create evil, because evil is not a thing to be created. It is not like a virus or slab of concrete. Evil is an attribute. It is a personal rejection of the good, the good which is an attribute of God.

The Moral Character of God. God is thoroughly identified in the Scriptures as being the ultimate good. John tells us that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). Scripture also indicates that God is absolutely holy, which means that he is set apart and absolutely pure (1 Sam. 2:2; 6:20; Ps. 99:9; 1 Cor. 3:17; Rev. 4:8). Since God is the absolute good and absolutely pure, it is false to claim that God does evil. James says that “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself does not tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (Jms. 1:13-15). James answers the question for us in great detail about God’s relationship to evil. God cannot do evil because God is the absolute good[3].

So, how do we know what is evil and what is good? If you are driving down a highway, you will see a sign that posts the speed limit. In town, the speed limit will most likely be 35 miles per hour. How do you know that you’re breaking the speed limit driving 55 miles per area in that zone unless there is a speed limit posted stating that one should only go 35 miles per hour? The law must exist before you can know if you’re breaking the law. Moral standards must exist before one can know that he or she is doing evil. Objective moral standards come from God. Again, evil is not something to be created. Evil stems from a rejection of God’s moral goodness.

Ra’ah, Disaster, and Evil. Let’s face it. Biblical interpretation is tough especially when it comes to the original languages. Some individuals have spent their entire lives seeking to master the biblical languages but are still left with questions. If that is the case, should those of us with less training in the biblical languages not have much more humility when it comes to such terms? I think so.

Often, Hebrew words can take several different meanings depending on context. I remember when taking Greek that Dr. Chad Thornhill would often emphasize context, context, context when interpreting a confusing term. In Hebrew, one such example is the confusion that occurs with the term ra’ah. Ra’ah describes a disaster, but it can also be used to describe something evil. Ingrid Faro explains with the following:

“For example, the Hebrew root “evil” (ra’; ra’ah; r’ ’) occurs 46 times in Genesis and is rightly translated into English using at least 20 different words, and nuanced in the Septuagint by using eight Greek forms (11 lexemes). Yet English-speaking people often incorrectly assume an underlying meaning of “sinister, moral wrong” and interject that into each use of the Hebrew word.”[4]

In Amos 5:3, it is noted that “If this is a judgment announcement against the rich, then the Hebrew phrase עֵת רָעָה (’et ra’ah) must be translated, “[a] disastrous time.” See G. V. Smith, Amos, 170.”[5] Thus, the term ra’ah can indicate a disaster that has befallen a group of people and does not necessarily mean “evil” as some older translations have indicated.

But, doesn’t disaster indicate something evil? If God brings disaster, does that not indicate that God does something evil? No, not at all! God is holy. If a people are unrepentant and are unwilling to stop doing evil, then God is completely justified in bringing judgment. The disaster is not evil if it is due to justice. Like a parent disciplining a child or a judge executing judgment against a convicted criminal, disasters are sometimes the judgment of God poured out upon an unrepentant people. I think it was good that the Allies stormed into Germany to overtake the evil Adolf Hitler. Likewise, it is actually good for God to bring judgment as it coincides with his holy nature.

Evil Allowed to Permit the Ultimate Good. So, the final question that must be tackled is this: If God is good, then why would he allow evil to exist in the first place? Why would he create a condition where evil could exist? The answer to this is quite simple. God’s allowance of evil is to allow a greater good. What is that greater good? Love. For love to truly exist, it must be free. It must be freely given, freely received, and reciprocal between both parties. God could have created us as robots or automatons. But, that would not provide true love. The ultimate love was given in Jesus, who experienced the horrors of torture and experienced the just punishment that we deserve. He did so that we would have life eternally. The penalty of our eternal punishment was paid on the cross at Calvary. God lovingly confers his grace to all who would willingly receive. His grace is freely offered and is freely received. This kind of love would not be possible if God did not allow the conditions that would allow evil to exist. A greater good has come. One day, those who have trusted Christ for their salvation will no longer need to worry about evil because evil will be vanquished. The redeemed of Christ will be transformed. We will experience the bliss and glory of the heaven that awaits us. To God be the glory!

So, did God create evil? It depends on what you mean. God created the conditions for evil to exist but did so to allow a greater good which is the free love that is experienced between the Lover (God), the beloved (us), and the spirit of love between the two. Evil is not a thing to be created. Rather, it is a condition that exists when a person or group of people reject God’s goodness and his holy moral nature.

Notes

[1]Epistemology is the discipline that deals with the theory of knowledge. The term can be broken down into epistem-ology (Gk. episteme, “to know; logos, “study”). It is the study of how we know.”[1] Norman L. Geisler, “Epistemology,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 215.

[2] In Ezekiel, God notes that each person is responsible for his or her own actions. “But suppose the man has a violent son, who sheds blood and does any of these things, though the father has done none of them… [The son] will not live! Since he has committed all these detestable acts, he will certainly die. His death will be his own fault” (Eze. 18:10-11,13). It is true that God has control over history and the like. But remember, a person is responsible for his or her actions. God’s sovereignty does not negate human responsibility. God does not force a person to do anything. His Spirit may woo a person to receive his salvation, but he will not force a person to do so. Unless otherwise noted all quoted Scripture comes from the Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2017).

[3] The Bible makes clear that God cannot operate in a manner that betrays his moral nature. For instance, Paul writes, “God, who cannot lie, promised before time began” (Ti. 1:2).

[4] Ingrid Faro, “Semantics,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Am 5:13.

 


Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as a pastor in northwestern North Carolina.

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4 replies
  1. jcb says:

    Did God Create Evil article

    https://crossexamined.org/did-god-create-evil/

    We all know what evil is and how it is created (F)
    Most of the time, “evil” refers to things like murder, and it is “created” by humans (T)
    God is not known to have “created” any “evils”, as God does not exist (T)
    If God created everything, then he must have created evil (T)
    God created everything (F)
    Evil here refers to a “disaster” (T)
    Torturing babies is “evil” (unwanted, harmful, unkind, etc.) (T)
    God does such things (F)
    If God existed, given that rapes and murders occur, God “allowed” such things (T)
    If a being existed that could stop rapes and murders, but didn’t, it would (PF) be unkind (T)
    Bad philosophy often leads to bad theology (T)
    Ontology and Epistemology are not identical fields of study (T)
    Ontology is the study of what exists, epistemology is how we know what is true/exists (T)
    Pizza exists (T)
    God exists (F)
    We know Pizza exists from our senses (T)
    We know God exists from our senses (F)
    Epistemology asks “is pizza good?” (F)
    Epistemology asks, “How do we know if a pizza is full of salt (or tasty)?” (T)
    “God created everything that exists including the potentials to do certain things.” (F)
    “if we grant the existence of human freedom, then God is not responsible for the actions that people take.” (T, but God would be responsible for his actions, including choosing not to stop Hitler)
    God knows what actions we will take (F)
    An all knowing being knows what action we will take (T)
    “God did not create evil” (T)
    “Evil (murder) is not a thing to be created. (F)
    Evil is a personal rejection of the good, the good which is an attribute of God. (nonsense)
    People who murder often are “rejecting” being kind (T)
    Any of that has something to do with God (F)
    Kindness (“Good” has some relevance to what an all kind/all “good” being would be like (T)
    An all kind being would always be kind (T)
    Such a (non human) being is known to exist (F)
    God is all good, and thus doesn’t do bad/evil (F)
    If an all good thing existed, that thing wouldn’t do anything not good (T)
    We (often) know the meanings of terms by asking people what they mean (T)
    The meaning of a speed sign is a reliable indicator of what will happen to you if you drive greatly over it (T)
    If there are no laws, then there is no breaking of laws (T)
    One can use a moral standard, such as kindness, to evaluate others (like on dating sites) (T)
    Without God, there can be no such moral standards (F)
    Objective moral standards come from God. (F)
    “Objective” is defined here at all (F)
    Evil (like murders) are never created (F)
    “Evil” can mean many different things to different people (T)
    One meaning of evil is “sinister” (T)
    Disasters are not always sinister (T)
    So some “evils” (disasters) aren’t always “evils” (sinister) (T)
    If your neighbor punches you in the face, does that indicate unkindness (yes! PF)
    If God brings disaster does that indicate unkindness (yes! But not necessarily)
    If God punches you in the face, that is not evil b/c God is holy (F)
    Sometimes it is not unkind to give others punishment (T)
    Punishing murderers with jail time is usually justice, and kind to possible victims, etc (T)
    So God not stopping Hitler from spilling his milk might be justice/karma (T)
    God not stopping Hitler from killing the Jews is probably justice too (F)
    If a perfect being allowed “evil” it would have to be for the greater good (T)
    God, a perfect being, could have made us robots, which would have been worse (F)
    Either God had to make us all robots, or let Hitler murder others (F)
    Jesus suffered for us (F)
    We can have eternal life (F)
    So God didn’t create any evil (T: God doesn’t exist)

    Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “But, God did not create evil, because evil is not a thing to be created. It is not like a virus or slab of concrete. Evil is an attribute.”
    Then you could make the same argument that God did not create good.
    .
    “God could have created us as robots or automatons. But, that would not provide true love.”
    By this logic, either evil exists in heaven or true love doesn’t exist in heaven.

    Reply
  3. Bob says:

    From the authors website:
    .
    About Pastor Brian:
    Began his studies in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University in the fall of 2017.
    Graduate of Liberty University School of Divinity in 2015 with a Master of Divinity in Theological Studies (recipient of the Gold Medallion, summa cum laude).
    Graduate of Gardner-Webb University with a Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy in 2011 (with honors, inducted in the Gamma Beta Upsilon Chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda society recognizing academic honors).
    Graduate of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in 1998 with an Associate in Religion/Church Ministry.
    Earned from Biola University the Certificate in Christian Apologetics in July of 2016.
    Currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University.

    In other words – he sees absolutely no value in the study of ANYTHING that might go counter to what he already believes. Every course of study he has taken during his entire adult life was designed for, and had the expressed purpose of, reinforcing his religious beliefs.
    .
    Hobbies include being an avid weightlifter, football fanatic (especially for his beloved Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, and Liberty Flames), studying theology and philosophy, playing fantasy football, and spending time with his family.
    Notice the order.
    Is spending time with family a “hobby”?
    .
    Favorite dessert: chocolate ice cream and banana fudge milkshakes from Cookout, and, thanks to Josh Parrott, Oreo milkshakes from Cookout. Yummy!!!
    Favorite Bible verse: Romans 8:31.

    Apparently he does not care for these bible verses at all:
    1 Corinthians 10:31 – So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
    Philippians 3:18-19 – For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
    Proverbs 25:28 – A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
    .
    Accepted as a full member of the International Society of Christian Apologetics in March of 2017.
    Requires a minimum of an M.A. in a field related to apologetics – and – pay $30 per year. You don’t actually have to be a practicing apologist…just pay your dues every year. In other words – it’s a club.
    .
    Testimony:
    Pastor Brian came to know the Lord around the age of 7.
    Long before any critical thinking skills had been developed, Brian came to the conclusion that the bible was true. I am confident that in a matter of minutes I could convince most any 7-year-old that the Harry Potter movies are documentary.
    .
    At the age of 16, Brian accepted the call into ministry.
    Translation: A teenage boy had an emotional response to a feeling he had during a particular sermon during a youth conference which resulted in years and years of religious studies so that now he can give the same sermon at a youth conference directed at teenage boys…
    .
    However, beginning in early 2000, Pastor Brian left the ministry for 7 years and nearly became an agnostic due to doubts pertaining to the reliability of the Bible and the hypocritical behavior by some Christians that he knew.
    So, at the age of about 21, with an Associate in Religion/Church Ministry, “Pastor Brian left the ministry for 7 years and nearly became an agnostic…”. It sure would be nice if he offered a more concise explanation for his “nearly” loss of faith at that time, and what he experienced during those 7 years as “nearly” becoming a non believer (Did he “nearly” lose his salvation? Can a “nearly” agnostic still be a Christian?).
    And news-flash pastor Brian – the reliability of the Bible is still a valid question, and the answer is…it’s not – and the hypocritical behavior of Christians – It hasn’t changed. If anything, it has gotten worse. You have either decided to overlook it, or you have simply decided, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
    .
    He came back to a strong, vibrant faith after encountering Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ.
    ’nuff said.
    .
    In July of 2007, Pastor Brian was rescued by the grace of God after being caught in a massive lightning storm that lasted 30 minutes while being trapped in an exterior building. After God delivered him from what should have been a direct hit by a lightning bolt, Brian surrendered to the call to ministry once more.
    Of course – throw in a claim of miraculous intervention for good measure.
    .
    Early Greeks believed that lightning was a weapon of Zeus and thunderbolts were invented by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Since lightning was a manifestation of the gods, any spot struck by lightning was regarded as sacred.
    The Moslems also attributed lightning and thunder to their god. The Koran says, “He it is who showeth you lightning and launches the thunderbolts.”
    Scandinavian mythology alludes to Thor, the thunderer, who was the foe of all demons. Thor tossed lightning bolts at his enemies.
    In the pantheistic Hindu religion, Indra was the god of heaven, lightning, rain, storms and thunder.
    Umpundulo is the lightning bird-god of the Bantu tribesmen in Africa. Even today their medicine men go out in storms and bid the lightning to strike far away.
    The Navajo Indians believe that lightning has great power in their healing rituals.
    Throughout early Europe, church bell ringers would make as much noise as possible, hoping to scare away the storms from these holy dwellings which were struck frequently by lightning.
    .
    So, it would appear that in Pastor Brian’s mind, all these ancient religious / superstitious beliefs were close with regard to lightning…very close. They were simply wrong as to WHICH supernatural being was in charge of lightning – for it is Yahweh who is the true God of lightning.
    And this is the result of years and years of bible training at the university level, years and years of personal bible study, and apparently years and years of eating chocolate ice cream and banana fudge milkshakes while watching football.
    .
    r.u.reasonable@gmail.com

    Reply
  4. Bryan says:

    Isaiah 45:7
    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

    Of course the spin doctors haven’t had their say yet.

    Reply

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