Did God Create Evil?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Now here is a question that many people struggle with.  Here is how the argument generally goes:

  1. God is the Author of everything.
  2. Evil is something.
  3. Therefore, God is the Author of evil.

This is a valid syllogism, meaning that if premises 1 and 2 are correct, then the conclusion follows.

Looking at premise 1, is God the author of everything?  Well, if he isn’t, then we don’t have a sovereign creator, but that’s what the Bible teaches.  We can’t reject this premise.

Looking at premise 2, if we deny that evil exists, then we deny a basic truth about reality.  There clearly is evil in the world and we all know it.  To deny the existence of evil would be to deny a fundamental aspect of life.

Are we stuck?  Not exactly.  It turns out that premise 2 is problematic because it misunderstands the nature of evil.

Christians argue that evil is not a thing or a substance.  There is no glob of evil floating around the universe.  Instead, evil is a perversion of a good thing.  It is a privation or lack in something good.  Evil takes what ought to be and twists it into what ought not to be.  According to Norm Geisler, “Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree.  It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself.  Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment.  It exists only in another but not in itself.”

That last statement is extremely important to understand.  Evil cannot exist by itself.  It can only exist where there is already good.  You cannot imagine a creature who is pure evil, for instance.  Even Satan has many good qualities: 1) he is persistent, 2) he is beautiful, and 3) he is intelligent.  What makes Satan so evil is that he was originally created so good!

Good and evil are not opposites, contrary to what many believe.  You can have good without evil and that is, indeed, what God promises to those who believe in Christ and dwell in heaven with him.  Evil is truly a parasite that leeches on to good and ruins it.  Evil is not a real substance, but it is a privation or lack in a good substance.  If evil completely destroyed a good thing, then there would be no evil left, because nothing would be left.  According to Geisler, “A totally rusty car is no car at all. And a totally moth-eaten garment is only a hanger in a closet.”

So how would the Christian re-frame the argument?

  1. God created every substance.
  2. Evil is not a substance (but a privation in a substance).
  3. Therefore, God did not create evil. 

Who is responsible for the evil in the world if God did not create it?  That’s a question for another post!

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

    Evil exists, regardless of whether or not it is a substance; therefore, God created it (John 1:3; Romans 11:36).

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Joshua,
    That Isaiah quote is referring, most likely, to natural disaster, as opposed to moral evil (evil done by one person to another). The post was specifically referring to moral evil, but I did not state that clearly. Here are other translations of the passage:

    “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” – NIV

    “I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things.” – NLT

    “I create both light and darkness; I bring both blessing and disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things.” – GNT

    In this passage, Isaiah is addressing the ruler, Cyrus, and he is explaining to Cyrus the power of God. In that context, the statement makes perfect sense. Cyrus rules at God’s leisure.

  • I agree that evil is an absence, not an entity. God no more “creates” evil than a flashlight creates darkness. Rather the light from the flashlight reveals the darkness by contrast. As Paul said in Romans, the Law didn’t create sin, it did show sin to be sin.
    Evil is where Good is not.

    All makes perfect sense but for two things:

    One is that uncomfortable verse from Isaiah. I would not have said it of God, but who am I to oppose Him?

    The other is that rephrased question of yours: “Who is responsible for evil if God did not create it?” Or in my Boolean Algebra form, “Who pushed back God to make a space for ‘not-God’?”

    Do we really contemplate that there is some force that, without God’s permission could remove Him from any space (physical, moral, psychological or ethical)? If we are to contemplate God as all powerful, then we have to understand evil as being at the very least a temporary by-product of His plan, that He foreknew it, understood it, allowed it, and since we believe in His absolute goodness, declared it’s presence part of “very good”

    Boogles the mind! but there it is.

    In considering all that, I have to consider that what God is doing requires, and requires absolutely that we be made in such a way that we can exclude God, that we can choose evil. Not exclude Him by force, but exclude Him by His permission. We can create darkness, by blocking the light from others, and turning our back on it. But ONLY because it pleases Him to make us with that capacity. Rocks and stars can’t do it. That trick belongs to us (and perhaps higher than us?)

    So what was He thinking? God only knows.
    But I think that He knew that for His plan, which He is still working out, we needed to be able to choose against Him (in order to be able to freely choose FOR Him) He foresaw the evil that would result, and dealt with that by taking the evil upon Himself. We are still in creation, and “it has not yet appeared what we shall be” (James I think?)

    So yes, God is responsible in that He created a being that could choose to increase darkness.
    But He sees the end from the beginning, and will wipe away every tear. “All shall be well, and All shall be well, and All manner of things shall be well!”

  • Bill Pratt

    Eric,
    Very well put. I completely agree. The problem is that you preempted my next couple posts! 🙂

  • God no more “creates” evil than a flashlight creates darkness. Rather the light from the flashlight reveals the darkness by contrast.

    It is written,

    And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” And God saw the
    light that it was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4 GHW)

  • God is stating a characteristic of himself. The context doesn’t change the meaning of this verse.

    You say the Isaiah quote is “most likely” referring to natural disaster to the exclusion of moral evil. Your methodology is what I often see, attempting to erase the literal meaning of the verse using arbitrary facts about the context that don’t really change anything.

    The word for evil in Isaiah 45:7 is the same as the word used for tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9) and the evil human heart in Genesis 6:5. As a matter of fact, the number of times this Hebrew word is used to refer to moral evil is nearly uncountable. (Look it up yourself.)

    So is it the tree of knowledge of good and disaster? Or the tree of knowledge of good and evil? God makes a distinction between good and evil, separates the light and the darkness (Genesis 1:3-4), and all came into being by him and through him (Romans 11:36) for his purposes (Romans 11:32). If you deny that God created and causes moral evil, you deny the sovereignty of God, for “in him we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28).

  • I love your insight into this topic. Although I’ve always agreed, I haven’t (until now) been able to really put the argument into words that made much sense. Thank you.

  • I have an idea that the problem can also be solved from another angle.
    The popular angle say: God made everything, but evil is not a thing.
    What about this angle: God created everything’s original form, but we make things by re-arranging.

    In a certain sense, God did not make everything. God made coffee beans; water, milk cows and sugar cane, but He doesn’t make cups of coffee. God makes diamonds and gold, but jewel craftsmen make necklaces and rings.
    When we say: “God made everything” we mean that God created all the basic components. When we say: “I made this meal/ skirt/ table”, we mean that we took existing components (raw food and spices/ cloth and thread/ wood and glue and varnish), and re-arranged it into something new.

    Evil is, in this view, not a created component. Evil is a re-arrangement of existing concepts. For example, stealing: God created the material word. He created humans. He gave humans the right to be stewards of His material world. He gave humans the ability to physically move objects. Humans rearranged these perfectly good things and abilities that God made, and got this new, evil concept, theft. Evil is just a mix of components that could have been used in a better way. And it is us who have to mix and combine existing concepts to get to our inferior form of making.

    So, instead of placing “thing” under the microscope in the God-made-everything-so he-must-have-made-evil argument, I would place “make” there.

  • Joshua, I think that is apt. I’ve always read that simply in a literal mode, but if applied to my question of “Who pushed back God to make a space for ‘not-God’?” then I think it gives the correct answer. Only God has the capacity to exclude Himself. Any other being that exercises that power does so only with the consent of God. We must have His permission to betray Him.

  • Bill Pratt

    Joshua,
    Hebrew words, like English words, can often have multiple meanings. The word used in Isaiah has multiple meanings that can only be determined by context. The other Bible translations clearly understand this, as I illustrated.

    I do not deny that God is sovereign. I do deny that He is directly responsible for moral evil. He created the potential for moral evil when he created free creatures, but free creatures actualized that potential evil. We are responsible, not God.

    God bless,
    BP

  • Bill Pratt

    Retha,
    I think you’re on to an interesting idea. God is indirectly responsible for evil as he created free creatures who could “make” evil. But he did not and does not directly create moral evil. Only demons and humans do that. God made good creatures with a good thing called free will. Those good creatures misused their free will to “create” moral evil.

    God bless,
    BP

  • Amen Mr. Sawyer. Though earlier you said, “So what was He thinking? God only knows.”

    God has (to some extent) revealed his reason for giving Adam His permission to betray Him. It says in Romans 11:32 that “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Similarly, it says in Galatians 3:22, “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

    So we can know from those passages that the reason God gave “His permission [for Adam] to betray Him” was so that, in Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Galatians 3:8).

    Basically, God created evil for the express intent of destroying it (e.g. Romans 9:17, 22-23).

  • Joshua, I agree. My tiny joke had the almost invisible point that we don’t yet know the full reason for all His actions. We don’t yet see the end of His plan, or what role we will have in it. There are hints, but hints only. Enough to believe that this world is not the end of the story, followed by nothing more than cloud-sitting and harp-playing.

    Personally and non-doctrinaly, I rather thhink that there is something to Jung’s idea that there are two great tasks in life:

    The first task is to learn seperation: that I am not the whole world. It is not an extension of me. God is not an extension of me. He is who He is.

    The second great task is re-integration: we are all one, I am one family with my parents (who I rejected in my ‘teens) and my siblings, with nature, etc., ultimately, I am reconciled with the God I renounced in my sin.

    This breaking and reunion theme is the theme of most great novels, and all romance novels (or so I suspect). I think it must be very much a part of developing to the full, and as humanity, we need to go through it as well to develop into God’s vision for us. So yes, God created/allowed/enabled evil so that He could destroy it and we could renounce it.

    Through a mist, I almost think there is something of the fruit of the tree of the knowlege of Good and Evil in it.
    When we come into the fullness of the kingdom, and are fully united with our Lord as the bride of Christ, we will find that we have indeed become wise, as Eve said.

    Sometimes it is God’s delight to give us something, that we would take by force in the wrong way.

    -Blessings!

  • Your post is a good introduction, but needs a bit more elaboration, probably in the form of several small posts.

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD (Physics)
    India

  • You used a clever device to extricate yourself from the syllogism, but me thinks your argument is not as strong as you think. You argued “that evil is not a thing or a substance” and that there “is no glob of evil floating around the universe”. Problem is that the very same thing can be said of God. He’s not a thing nor substance nor glob.

    Secondly, good can’t exist without evil or vice versa. A concept only holds meaning in view of its opposite. If everything was purely good or purely evil, then it would be neutral because there would be nothing to compare it to.

    If lemons were the only food that humans ate, you would not know that lemons were sour. Lemons would simply be lemons. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even have a word to describe the taste because that would be the only taste we knew. Descriptive words are utilized to show difference.

  • Can Good only exist in contrast to evil?
    or perhaps it only be recognized in contrast to evil?

    We have chacterized “evil” as an absence of “good”
    Similarly, “dark” as an absence of light.

    We call them opposites, but there is only one conception, which is either present or absent.

    Or perhaps that is a distinction without a difference? That if we did not comprehend “good” because we had nothing with which to contrast it, that it would not really exist? Do things not exist until we understand them as existing? (not idle questions BTW)

    Perhaps all of this is another way of getting at the purpose of the whole Temptation/Fall/Restoration episode. That the Goodness of God is to be understood by us, and that meant we had to experience the darkness.
    perhaps?

  • Bill Pratt

    Trey,
    You have raised an important issue, and I thank you for that.

    I think you have confused epistemology with ontology. Epistemology is the study of how we know things and ontology is the study of what things actually exist. You are saying that good cannot exist without evil because we cannot know what good means without knowing what evil means. I don’t think that is true, but let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that it is true. I will address its truth at the end of this comment.

    Just because knowing about evil makes knowing about good possible does not mean that good cannot exist without evil. These are two completely different questions. Whether a thing exists and how we know about a thing’s existence are totally separate. Something can exist and I may never know about it or something may not exist and I may never know about it. Existence and knowledge do not equate.

    I am claiming that good can exist without evil. This seems obviously true to me. In fact, when God created the world, as described in the book of Genesis, the world was good and had no evil in it. Good can exist without evil but evil cannot exist without good because it is a parasite. Good and evil are not opposites as much as evil is a perversion of good. Likewise, light can exist without darkness. A world which is always lit is perfectly possible.

    I ask you to come up with an example of pure evil without any good at all. If you do, you would be the first in the history of philosophy, as far as I know. But maybe I’m wrong. Just give us an illustration of pure evil. What would that be like?

    With regard to having to know about evil to know about good, this seems to be contradicted by childhood. Children often look at the world as good until something bad happens to them and destroys their innocence. As parents, we try to protect them from bad things happening which ruin their innocence. A young girl stares out a window at a first, beautiful snowfall, and understands that the glistening white flakes are good. It is not until her nasty older brother hits her in the face with a snowball that she ever sees potential evil in snow. She didn’t need to be hit with the snowball to understand the goodness in the snow. She knew that without ever knowing anything about evil. This example could be multiplied a thousand-fold. I think the burden is on you to convince us otherwise.

    BP

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  • Doug Geivett says that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Have you guys heard his excellend lecture on “The Problems of Evil”? I highly recommend that lecture.

    The lecture:
    http://www.hisdefense.org/audio/Geivett%20-%20Problems%20of%20Evil.rm

  • Bill Pratt

    I have not heard that lecture. Thanks for the link!

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  • Shiraishi

    it stated that there is a perversion of good things like rust in a car, or should we say negative on a positive but as I think about it, what is the source of evil? it even exist before angel Lucifer became Satan as we call him now, God is the creator of everything and everything means all existence of matter, space, time and dimension and even our thoughts, and so a evil it self, like the statement say’s there is no evil if there is no good, then the existence of positive creates evil? the creation of God creates evil? then good didn’t create it?

  • Bill Pratt

    The best way to look at evil is to say it’s possibility existed as soon as finite creatures with free will were created which could actualize it. When only God existed, only good existed, with no potential for evil. God cannot do evil, for he is pure good. However, when he created free and finite creatures, the possibility of evil then started to exist. When those free creatures rejected God, the ultimate good, evil was not only possible, but became actual.

    So we can say that God is responsible for the possibility of evil, but we cannot say that he is responsible for the actuality of evil. Only free and finite creatures are responsible for the actuality of evil.

  • Albert Barrientos

    Ezekiel 14:9-11 (ASV)
    9 And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, Jehovah, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.

    10 And they shall bear their iniquity: the iniquity of the prophet shall be even as the iniquity of him that seeketh unto him;

    11 that the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither defile themselves any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord Jehovah.

    No se ingles (por ahora) no puedo entrar al debate, pero la responsabilidad no depende de la libertad del hombre.

  • Really enjoying this thread. It’s a good discussion to have and great to see people having it.

    One point I would like to offer in the form of a question is this: are ideas things? Are concepts things? A “thing” doesn’t necessarily have to be tangible or the detraction from or destruction of that which is tangible, this I find myself definitely seeing evil as a “thing”. Given that all “things” are created by God, evil must be created by Him as well. The problem, then, can be one of definition and perspective.

    Let’s look at it this way…

    We’re human. We are only capable of seeing things from the human perspective. Our understanding of “good” and “evil” are intrinsically tied to that perspective. But what about from a God’s eye view? Much that we see as evil might not necessarily be evil at all in his eyes, but could easily be tools for the illuminating to our limited viewpoint other kinds of “good”. That’s a very hard pill to swallow, but for me at least, it puts a lot of this kind of thing to rest very well. It leads directly back to faith in God’s design and plan for all things, evil included.

    What’s more, the discussion of it is a beautiful thing because as we do this, we can find ourselves examining God’s creation on a great many levels and in ways that are both challenging and rewarding. 🙂

  • The problem lies in that people don’t know what good and evil are to begin with. Good describes a state of being while evil describes an action.

    Good, tov (טוב) means to ‘be complete or whole’. Hence why God said “It was good” at the end of every day in creation; it was complete.

    Evil, ra (רע) means to ‘take that which is complete and bring it to ruin’. Evil is destroying what God has made whole. Action isn’t something that is created, it’s something that is expressed. Therefore it is not even a question of “Did God create evil?” Such is a stupid question none the less it exists.

    This is also why God tells Moses and John not to add to His word or take away from it. It is whole or complete. If we add to or take away from it, we are destroying it hence we are doing evil.

  • Hilasmos

    Bill,
    Rust is a substance (oxidation); rot is also a substance. I hear people say that Evil is the absence of love/good. This is a false argument. If I stop loving my wife, it should not be inferred that I now hate her.
    There is no “glob” of evil; in the same way that there is no “glob” of good or love or affection or a sense of loss. These can be regarded as abstract concepts, but still manifesting themselves in terms of results, consequences and effects.
    So, where did ‘evil’ come from, since God created ALL things John 1:3; Colossians 1:16, 17?

  • Hilasmos

    Nice points, Eric
    If God is omnipresent, then how did evil get a foot-hold in creation?
    What did God not occupy, that allowed evil to begin to exist?

  • Hilasmos

    Eric, by implication, it might be posited that God, by “pushing Himself back” allowed the opportunity for evil to exist; one might argue that God was complicit in evil at some level.

  • Hilasmos

    If that is so, Joshua, then God truly created all things – as the Scriptures state – including evil…a type of ‘the end justifies the means’

  • Hilasmos

    Demons and humans do that, Bill, because they have evil in the first place; so, how does evil get to be evil?

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