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HOW CAN THERE BE "EVIL FROM THE LORD?

Sometimes students of the Bible are shocked and confused to read in the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit at times describes the thoughts and actions of God as "evil." For example, in the Book of Jeremiah alone we read that Jehovah "brought" evil (Jeremiah 4:6), He "thought to do" evil (18:8), He "framed" evil (18:11), He "pronounced"  evil (26:13,19), He "purposed to do" evil (36:3), and He "did" evil (42:10). In each of these passages both the King James Version and American Standard Version of 1901 speak of the "evil" that the Lord planned and/or carried out.

First there are a number of words used in the Bible that have more than one meaning. Their meaning in a particular instance in the Scriptures must be determined by the context in which they appear. So it is with the word "evil." When we read the word "evil," perhaps our first thought is that this signifies wickedness, sinful action, that which is wrong or evil from a moral point of view.

The word "evil" does carry such a meaning in many biblical passages. For instance, in the days of Noah the thoughts of man's heart was only "evil" continually (Gen. 6:5). Is the Lord God guilty of thinking and doing that which is "evil" in a moral sensedoes He do that which is wrong? Consider three biblical statements that show that God could never think or act in an evil (bad, wicked, immoral) fashion: (1) "...the LORD is upright: he is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him! ' (Psa. 92:15). Since "all unrighteousness is sin" (I Jn. 5:17), and there is no unrighteousness in God, then there is no sin, and thus no wickedness or evil in His character; (2) "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid" (Rm. 9:14). Again, no unrighteousness with God means that He could never do that which is not right; (3) "For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth" (Psa. 33:4). That being the case, Jehovah could never be guilty of doing that which is wrong or evil in a moral sense.

If God is not capable of doing that which is wicked, then why does the Bible speak of Him doing "evil?" In the Old Testament the word "evil" is often translated from the Hebrew word ra, which can mean "bad" or "evil." But it can also mean "adversity, affliction, calamity, grief, harm,  sorrow, or trouble" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, word #7451). This information helps us realize that in the Bible "evil" can be used in the sense of adversity, affliction, or calamity, and in such instances it does not have reference to "evil" from a moral standpoint.

When the Bible speaks of God framing evil, bringing evil, doing evil, the meaning is simply that He did that which from man's point of view would be counted as adversity, punishment, disaster, or affliction. The Lord does not yea cannot do that which is wrong or immoral. Thus the "evil" that He works is that which from man's vantage point is some type of punishment or bad/unpleasant experience.

The New King James Version updates some of the verses in Jeremiah. The KJV and ASV state that the LORD brought "evil" (4:6); the NKJV states that He brought "disaster." The LORD thought to do "evil" (18:8); the NKJV says "disaster.' God framed  "evil" (18:11);  the NKJV gain says "disaster." Jehovah pronounced "evil"  against His people (26:13,19), meaning that He planned to destroy the nation of Judah; the NKJV says that He pronounced "doom" against  them.  God's "evil" was simply some type of disaster or doom for His rebellious people.

When Job's wife called upon him to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9), Job's response was, "What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2: 10). When Job spoke of "evil" coming from God he had reference to the disaster of losing his children and livestock. By speaking of evil that the Lord sent to him, Job was by no means accusing God of doing that which is immoral. How can we be sure of this? The Bible declares, "in all this did not Job sin with his lips" (2: 10).

Three  closing thoughts. First if something is evil in the sense of being wicked or against God's will, then we need to abhor it and abstain from it (Romans 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Second, the Bible never contradicts itself. If God can do no wrong, yet He is said to do "evil," then our explanation of His "evil" must not contradict the many plain biblical statements that point to His flawless character. Finally, let us never under any circumstance accuse God of wrongdoinglet us never allow Satan to place a doubt in our mind about God's holiness and righteousness!

Roger Campbell