“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” – Isaiah 45:5, 7
These words have been often quoted, and they have been both misunderstood and misused. The Lord is the origin and source of all life. There is no other life than that which comes from Him. He declares, “I am … the life.” There are no existences that are not dependent upon Him: without Him nothing would be. He is the universal Creator, the Maker of heaven and earth and all which pertains to them. Hence when He says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil,” we feel that these statements logically follow from the primal fact that the Lord is the Life, the only source of existence. So men reason in this way: Everything that exists owes its existence to the Lord; evil exists in the world; therefore evil owes its existence to the Lord. The reasoning seems conclusive.
And yet to appearance it makes the Lord the author of evil. Seemingly it throws upon Him the responsibility for evil and for the suffering that flows from it. The natural man likes this. He likes to escape responsibility. He likes to feel and say when a wrong has been done, “Another did it.” And if by arguing that the primary origin of evil is with the Lord men can find a way to escape the responsibility for their own willing and doing, there seem to be many who are ready to avail themselves of the opportunity. They say, “There is no justice in my suffering for what I cannot help. I am not responsible for my inclinations to do wrong. Why should I struggle and fight against them? I am not responsible for the conditions in which I find myself; so I am not responsible for escaping from these conditions.”
Such thoughts and feelings can hardly fail to deaden all one’s spiritual energies. None who cherish them can effectively hear the Lord’s words, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” or those other words which teach a like truth, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” None who accept such a philosophy will heed the Lord’s injunction, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Such statements as these are wholly inconsistent with a throwing off of all spiritual responsibility, with making the Lord responsible for what plainly rests upon ourselves.
To most minds placing responsibility for our evils upon the Lord is contrary to practical common sense. Individual responsibility is a necessary factor in our dealings with others. Every person of a sound mind is dealt with as a responsible being. The wrong doer is held responsible for his deeds. If he should say that he was not responsible for the inclination that led him to commit the crime and so did not merit punishment for it, such a plea would not be regarded for a moment.
We exercise the same common sense in dealing with our children. After they have been instructed in what is right and wrong, we begin to hold them responsible for their conduct. If a child says, “I wanted my neighbor’s property so much that I took it,” we do not reply, “You are not to blame; your strong inclination excuses you; you are not responsible for the theft.” We say, “You have done wrong; you knew better; you have no excuse for stealing.”
We recognize responsibility in others, and we also recognize our own responsibility. There is in our hearts the conviction that we should not yield to desires to do wrong, that we could have resisted the temptation if only we had tried harder.
This responsibility is necessary to true human life. The Word recognizes this freedom and calls upon us to exercise it. It tells us that our souls are in our own hands. Its commands, exhortations, invitations, and prohibitions are meaningless if it is impossible for us to heed them. This responsibility is inherent in human life. But this has to do with human responsibility.
How is this to be reconciled with the statement that the Lord creates evil? The statement that the Lord creates evil is true in one aspect. The Lord is indeed the Creator of all things. Everything must eventually go back to Him as its source. But evil is perverted good. God created all things “good,” but He is not the author of the perversion. He made no evil in the beginning. He made man, and made him “very good.” And everything made for the service of man was “very good” also. But man was endowed with freedom, as essential to his manhood. And in the exercise of this freedom he gradually perverted the good life that flowed in from the Lord. Hence the real origin of evil is with man and not with the Lord by the perversion of that which was given – and is still given – only for good.
The life that flows from the Lord is in its essence love, pure, unselfish love, thinking only of communicating itself in blessing to others. Received and used as the Lord would have us use it, it is good, and only good. It gives to men the image and likeness of the Lord and enables them to receive blessings from Him. But exercised in a contrary way, turned in upon ourselves and made to center there, its whole quality becomes changed, and from good and unselfish life it becomes evil and self-seeking life. This is illustrated in nature. The light and heat from the sun vivifies not only the useful, nutritious plants but the poisonous ones also. Yet both the heat and the light in themselves are wholly good and useful.
The following clear statement occurs in the True Christian Religion: “Unless free will in spiritual things had been given to man, God Himself and not man would have been the cause of evil; and God must have created both good and evil; but to think that He created evil also is horrible beyond expression; that God did not create evil because He gave man free will in spiritual things, and that He in no wise inspires evil into man, is because He is good itself, and in good God is omnipresent, continually urging and importuning to be received… God did not create evil, but it was introduced by man, because man turns into evil the good which is continually flowing in from God, by turning himself away from God and towards himself.”
Evil is not created by the Lord, but is permitted by Him because man must be left in freedom of the will. But in permitting evil the intent of good is not lost sight of. As evil comes out and makes itself manifest, the Lord seeks to inspire us with the purpose of shunning it. If it remained latent within us, we should not recognize its presence nor realize the danger to us. In permitting it to come forth its quality is revealed, and with this the desire to put it away arises. So the Psalmist prays, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.”
And why then does the Lord in the letter of the Word say, “I create evil?” The Word is written so as to reach the evil as well as the good, and the evil need to be restrained by fear. Because there are people in the world – all of us sometimes – who are bent on serving self, the letter of the Word must present here and there a picture of the Lord as capable of vengeance and punishment. Through heredity we have inclinations to evil, and when we are feeling them, the Lord seems opposed to all that we want.
But our evil inclinations can work us no harm if we do not yield to them. And if we keep the commandments, shunning evils as sins against God, we open our minds to receive the good which flows constantly from Him.