I would expect that most people would agree with this statement: Nothing happens in the world or to individuals that is not filtered through the hands of God. Whether that filter is described as God allowing something to happen or God creating the calamity itself. Of course, there are certain ramifications to that last concept.
Often when chaos of any sort strikes an individual, a community, or a nation, in general terms there are two basic questions coming from two basic groups. Some will ask, “Why did God do this?” Others will ask, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Even though those questions may emanate from both believers and unbelievers, are they not really asking the same question?
Without trying to employing circular reasoning, why does it seem unfathomable to most evangelical Christians that God created evil? After all, if he did not, who did? In the garden of Eden, there was a tree. A tree of the “knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9).” Who planted that tree? What was the source of the fruit of that tree – it was good and evil? What was the basis of that knowledge when referring to good and evil?
When it comes to the original languages of the Bible, most of us are on the outside looking in. We depend a great deal on interpreters and language specialists to translate words and their cognates in a way that makes sense. To some degree, we are all at their mercy when it comes to moving the original languages to our English language. Hence, tools like dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons, and software tools, help us sort out issues. Nevertheless, when reading translations of the Bible, their is little doubt that theology has impacted the translation. Which is completely natural, at least, I think it would be. But that should not prevent us from examining things to see if the translators got it right. In spite of all of that, there are still “problem” passages that cause us to pause and wonder – “What does this passage really mean?”
I came across such a passage when reading Isaiah again. It resides at Isaiah 45:7 and it reads
I (God) form light and create darkness, I make well -being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.
As you might guess, “calamity” is the key word and the nub of the issue. It can be translated in a variety of ways including distress or evil. The Hebrew word ra, ro-ah is the root word, can have various meanings dictated primarily by context – the way we interpret most words.For example, “blue” can be a color or it can mean melancholy. In Is 45:7, when we look at the word ro-ah, it is in apposition to “well-being” or shalom, which makes calamity a rather perfect interpretation. God creates both well-being and calamity. The well-being is the comfortable part of the verse, calamity is not so comfortable. For a comparable reference see Amos 3:6.
There are a couple of other words that come into play when trying to understand the power of the verse in Isaiah. One is tobe(tove) which means “good” as in the tree of the knowledge of goodand evil, the other is “bara” which means to create as in “In the beginning, God created….” Tobe is not the word used in Isaiah 45:7 to describe well-being However, bara is the same in both Genesis 1:1 and the Isaiah passage. A point that should not be ignored.
When I read this passage, my mind was overflowing with things I’ve heard over the years about bad things happening to good people. Somehow, we go to great lengths to use “allow”, “permits”, or “grants permission”, etc. when deciding how we might explain calamity when it invades a person’s life or slaps a community along side the head. We stretch our vocabulary to find words that somehow will let God off the hook for any responsibility. “Providence” is probably the best one. Never, at least in my experience, would you hear someone say “God created this calamity” unless it is to ascribe the event as a punishment of evil.
Is it that hard, or that wrong to say what happened is God’s doing? Or are there things that happen outside his knowledge or his sovereignty? Now don’t misunderstand, I am not attempting to validate the concept that God created moral evil. But we must examine the origin, based on the Genesis account and this one in Isaiah, along with others. As I expressed in the beginning, nothing happens that is not filtered through the hands of God. NOTHING if we believe in God’s sovereignty. Job is a good example.
Whether we examine the context of God’s impending use of Cyrus to bring Israel’s enemies to their knees or today’s current climate of impending socialism and the liberal agenda regarding abortion and stem cell research – two concepts that may be rightly considered evil – none of this is happening outside God’s sovereignty or his will. That gives me cause to wonder.