Today I'm answering an e-mail I received after making some comments about God's sovereignty and the origin of evil. I subsequently heard from a gung-ho ultra-high Calvinist who suggested that if God is truly Sovereign, He must be both the author and efficient cause of evil as well. Indeed, he insisted, citing the KJV rendition of Isaiah 45:7, "God created evil."
My correspondent, who remains anonymous, wrote the words in red italics:
It is common to hear men defend God against the charges of being arbitrary. Yet if these nervous brethren would but consult their English dictionaries as well as their theologies they would find that arbitrary is a most Scripturally appropriate adjective for the Almighty. Certainly the LORD is not capricious, but He and He alone may properly be arbitrary.
Let's see, shall we?
ar bi trar y (ar' bi-trer-ee) 1. determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle 2. despotic, tyrannical, ruling by whim, usually oppressivelyIt is that sense of the word that people usually mean when they say God is not arbitrary. He is not subject to fits of whimsy. He is a God of order and of lawa "principled sovereign"and though we may not always understand His ways, we know He is never irrational, erratic, or inconstant (James 1:17). He always acts in accord with His own consummate holiness and perfect righteousness. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Of course, He is bound by no rule higher than Himself, but nonetheless, all that He does must be consistent with His own immutable character. Thus He cannot be "arbitrary."
You wrote: "Evil is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. That's why it is not proper to speak of evil as having been created. Sin is not itself a thing creatednot a substancebut the exact opposite. It's a want of moral perfection in a fallen creature." But I would point out that neither are souls, angels, nor evil "substances."
Human souls and angels are beings and thus can be created. Technically, even spirit beings have substanceeven though it is not material substance. (One of the dictionary definitions of substance is "essential nature; essence." It is in this sense that the Nicene Creed, for example, speaks of the Son as being "of one substance" with the Fathereven though God is a Spirit.)
Evil, on the other hand, is a defecta subtraction and deconstruction of what God created.
Scripture is quite clear in teaching that evil was no part of God's creation. When He finished creating everything, He looked at all His creation and pronounced it "very good." If you insist that God created evil, you contradict His own assessment of what He made.
To say God created evil would contradict a number of other Scriptures as well, including 1 Corinthians 14:33: "God is not the author of confusion." For if He is the author of all evil, then He must be the author of confusion as well.
Now look at Isaiah 45:7. There, God says, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things" (KJV). Does this mean what you suggest it means? Not to a Hebrew reader. Other translations capture the sense of the statement more accurately: "I make peace and create calamity" (NKJV). "I bring prosperity and create disaster" (NIV). "Causing well-being and creating calamity" (NASB).
The Hebrew word translated "evil" in the KJV is a word that means "adversity," or "affliction." It's talking about the calamitous consequences of sin; not ontological evil per se.
There is, of course, a true sense in which God decreed evil as part of His eternal plan. It did not enter the universe by surprise or against His sovereign will. He remains sovereign over it. He even uses it for good. But in no way is He the author or the creator of it.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:18).