I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all
The best place I can go when dealing with this passage in Isaiah, which at face value is admittedly challenging, is the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers commit a heinous crime against him, and would have killed him if not for Reuben. Their intentions are later described as evil in what is, in my opinion, the clearest passage for reconciling human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Genesis 50:20 says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”(ESV) So, as best as I can understand and explain it, the intentions of man and the intentions of God run parallel. They intended destruction, God intended restoration. The intended evil of Joseph’s brothers brought about, ironically, their salvation. God’s plan was ultimate and good, their plan was temporal and evil. Now, they are not let off the hook just because God brought about something good from their evil because their intentions are described as evil over and against the good intentions of God. In other words, there is no shrugging of the shoulders, “all’s well that ends well”, because Joseph maintains the right judgment that his brothers intentions were evil. Now, in the bigger picture, this event with Joseph leads to the enslavement of Israel by the Egyptians, an evil act, which leads to their deliverance, a good act. God even claims that he raised up Pharaoh to show His power and his name proclaimed. Temporal evil running parallel to ultimate good is a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible, the statement by Joseph just makes it about as clear as any. This theme has to be considered when you read a passage like Isaiah.
So, we look at incredibly heinous behavior of people today, like your example of children’s hands being chopped off, and we bristle at the idea of God being in control of that. But a Christian can look at it and say, “Evil plans exist alongside the good and ultimate plan of God in a way we only get a glimpse of in the story of Joseph. But he is also a wrathful judge who has promised to make all things new and punish those who practice evil and has called us to deliver the oppressed from the hands of evil men.” Christians can both hope for the ultimate future but also have reason to fight evil now. See, we have a resource and a measurement that doesn’t make sense of evil in the moment, but is the temporal and ultimate solvent for it. Without an ultimate judge, god, or measurement, how can you even maintain that an act is objectively evil? Because you don’t like it? Because it hurts someone else? These are merely preferential in the absence of some form of absolute measurement. I would rather trust in the one who has shown he can use temporal evil for ultimate good than believe in space + time + matter = that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
The central claim of Christianity is that God used the most evil event in history, the slaying of the innocent God-man, to bring about the salvation of sinners. So anyone familiar with Christianity is familiar with the greatest parallel of evil intentions running alongside the good intentions of God. If I believe in the claims made in the Gospels then I can trust God means good in all things, no matter how heinous they might be. So yes, He creates calamity, because it is by the greatest calamity that I’ve been saved.