I come from an American Jewish family where the majority of our family members no longer believe in the existence of God. When I was a child my uncle used to tell me that if God was good why does so much evil exist in the world and why does the Bible say God is the originator of evil…
For many years I have struggled with my thoughts about God, his existence and the cause of evil…. I guess my question is, is God responsible for the creation of evil? A casual reading of Isaiah 45:5-7 makes me believe he does….
Shalom my friend,
You are not alone when it comes to this struggle. Many people ask this same question.
Since the Jewish Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, in order to have a better understanding of the verses you quoted from the Book of Isaiah, we need to know a little about those ancient languages.
Isaiah 45:7 says: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe – I the LORD do all these things.” The Hebrew word “ra” (pronounced “rah”) is used in this verse and is translated by some as “evil”. This Hebrew term can be translated in many different ways, depending on the context. As shown from the verse quoted, the Jewish Publication Society decided to use the English word “woe” instead of “evil” in their translation of the Hebrew Bible.
This does not necessarily mean “evil” in the sense of “wickedness” or that God Himself is the author of wickedness. However, from the Biblical record we can see that when humankind rebels against God and His purposes, He will bring about conditions that are not so favorable for earth’s population. But this doesn’t mean that God is both righteous and wicked at the same time. In fact, the Hebrew Bible tells us very clearly that God is completely righteous, pure, and the Source of peace. Within the context of the verses in Isaiah, we can see that natural phenomena is being referred to.
The Creator has always given ample warning before bringing about any calamity due to humankind because of their disobedience toward God. Recall the narrative of Noah and the great deluge. Recall the warnings given in Torah for those who become unfaithful in committing themselves completely to the Mitzvoth (Commandments). God is Just in all His acts. He has provided us with Torah (the Law and its Divine Instructions, Precepts and Regulations) and expects those who come into covenant with Him to abide by the same without wavering. He blesses His people for their righteous obedience, thereby maintaining His covenant promises.
Deuteronomy 7, verses 9 through 11 says: “Know, therefore, that only the LORD your God is God, the steadfast God who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments, but who instantly requites with destruction those who reject Him – never slow with those who reject Him, but requiting them instantly. Therefore, observe faithfully the Instruction – the laws and the rules – with which I charge you today.”
Deuteronomy 11, verses 8 and 9 says: “Keep, therefore, all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you today, so that you may have the strength to enter and take possession of the land that you are about to cross into and posses, and that you may long endure upon the soil that the LORD swore to your fathers to assign to them and to their heirs, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Deuteronomy 30, verses 19 and 20 says: “See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His laws, and His rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess. But if you heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish; you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against yo this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life – if you and your offspring would live – by loving the LORD your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the LORD your God swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.”
From the Bible we can see that disregard for and disobedience to God’s Commandments leads to woe or unhappiness for humankind. On the other hand, those who are obedient to the Divine Commandments receive blessings. “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Psalm 1, verses 1 and 2 tells us: “Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners, or joined the company of the insolent; rather, the teaching of the LORD is his delight, and he studies that teaching day and night.”
Psalm 119, verses 1, and verses 9 through 12 says: “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who follow the teaching of the LORD… How can a young man keep his way pure? – by holding to Your word. I have turned to You with all my heart; do not let me stray from Your commandments. In my heart I treasure Your promise; therefore I do not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD; train me in Your laws.”
From all of these verses, we can see that evil is a result of our disobedience to God and His Law and all the Commandments within that Law. God is not the author of evil, rather our own actions bring about calamity, distress and woe upon us when we reject the Creator and His Torah.
Psalm 128, verse 1 says: “Happy are all who fear the LORD, who follow His ways.”
 All Scripture quotations are from the Tanakh – A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text, published by the Jewish Publication Society, copyright 1985.