This verse has troubled many people for many centuries. However, it is not as difficult as it initially seems.
The problem is with God declaring that He creates evil. Though a small percentage of people teach that God is the source of all evil in the world, most people have trouble with the thought that God could be good and be the creator of evil at the same time. But the problem is in our understanding. God does create evil as He plainly states, but that evil is not what we assume it to be.
The word "evil" is used 613 times in the Bible (as a side comment, Jewish tradition teaches that the Torah has 613 mitzvahs or commandments). Although the Bible meaning of evil includes the idea of sinfulness or wickedness in many cases, it also has a broader meaning that is commonly used. In this broader meaning, evil refers to those things that are generally thought of as bad or undesirable; or as the dictionary says, "causing pain or trouble." This would include things such as wars or disease and this is the kind of evil referred to in Isaiah 45:7, not wickedness.
Of course, this answer has its own problems. Some would think God wrong to be the source of sorrow in the world. So, we must look at two things. First, I will give proofs that the "evil" of Isaiah 45:7 refers to sorrows and not to wickedness. Second, I will explain how God can righteously create sorrows.
Meaning of Evil
- Isaiah 45:7 makes two contrasts. First, light is contrasted with darkness. That makes perfect sense because the two ideas are exact opposites. Then, the verse contrasts peace with evil - "I make peace, and create evil." If evil means wickedness, this does not make sense. Peace is not the opposite of wickedness. However, if evil refers to troubles and sorrows as those found in war, it makes perfect sense. The second pair of ideas would then be complete opposites.
- The immediate context of the verse (Isaiah 45:5-10) also supports this definition. Two times in this passage, God states, "I am the LORD, and there is none else" (v.5, 6). God is not one god out of many. He is the only God. There is not a god of the rain, a god of the sunshine, a god of the storm, a god of the harvest, a god of war, a god of fertility, a god of death, and so on. There is one God who is responsible for all that is done. In this passage, God is not removing responsibility from man for the evil that he brings into the world, He is simply saying that there is no other god.
After the verse in question, we see this warning, "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" This continues the warning against thinking of God as a pagan thought of his gods. He is not to be trifled with. He can bring evil on you if you strive with Him.
- The first reference to evil in the Bible is in Genesis 2:9 where the Bible speaks of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice that evil is the opposite of good. In other words, it corresponds closely to our concept of that which is bad or undesirable.
- Lot feared to go into the mountain when he fled from Sodom, "lest some evil take me, and I die." He was not talking about iniquity catching him. He was referring to something bad happening.
- Genesis 37:20, 33 both refer to an "evil beast." This obviously refers to a harmful beast; one that could hurt someone. The verses are not calling the beast sinful.
These examples could be continued on and on. Some references to evil do refer to that which is sinful but many do not. Evil has a much broader meaning in the Bible. Clearly, in Isaiah 45:7, the broader meaning of evil is meant.
Creator of Sorrow
This, however, does not entirely solve our problem. Is God the cause of all sorrow in the world? Do we blame Him for every tragedy we see? And, if so, how can this be right? If God is love, how can He bring such sorrows on mankind?
But please understand this: God is not the singular author of all evil--even when we understand that it refers to trouble and sorrow. Nothing in this verse states that God is the source of all evil. Man brings many evils on himself. Certainly, the declaration that God creates evil refers to His judgment of man's disobedience. That is, when man disobeys God and evil comes as the result of his disobedience, the God who is the only God is the source of that evil. He is the creator of it. Consider the following verses:
Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.
Job 2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
Psalm 75:7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
1 Samuel 2:6-7 The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up.
There are other verses, but you can understand the idea. Notice especially Deuteronomy 32:39 where the fact that God is the only God is placed alongside the idea that He kills and He makes alive. The Old Testament passages are dealing with pagan worshippers of many gods. They had a god for everything. In these verses, God is establishing the fact that everything that comes from any god comes from Him alone as the only God.
Therefore, God is not the author of sin as some would teach. Isaiah 45:7 is not talking about sin but about the sorrows of judgment. Sin came from the rebellion of Satan and entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. They partook of the forbidden fruit of their own free will and were not made to do so by God. Even most of the evils we see in the world today are caused by the wickedness of man.
However, when sorrows do come in judgment for sin. When peace is replaced by war because of iniquity. The evil that comes from above does not come from a different god than the God of love. There is just one God and He is absolute. The God of love is also the God of judgment. He is the balm of Gilead and He is a consuming fire. The Lord, He is the God. The Lord, He is the God. We must look to Him alone.