Stage 2. Post 1. Evil and the Justice of God
The N.T. Wright Project = 4 books. 2 weeks. 1 bishop. 1 man.
I must first say that any post will do this book a great injustice. I truly believe this is the best book Wright has written on a popular level. After reading the book in 2 days, I had this appreciation confirmed by a fellow-Wrightian. N.T. Wright (NTW) originally sought out to write a book about the cross, but he quickly realized “that in order to speak meaningfully about the cross one must say at least something about evil, the problem which, in classic theology, the cross has decisively addressed” (p. 16). There is a problem, but there is a solution. Let’s look at the problem first and tomorrow we’ll look at the solution.
“We have to call sin, sin.” I’ve heard this statement before, and Christians usually apply this statement as license to get angry at homosexuals or abortionists. However, NTW correctly shows that we have to call evil, evil. In this way, we do not fall into the usual mistakes that people make in reaction to evil. NTW mentions three reactions by modernity and they are as follows:
- We ignore evil until it hits us in the face. We think the world is
basically OK so there is no reason to fuss about it. For instance, “Western politicians knew perfectly well that Al-Qaeda was a force to be reckoned with; but nobody really wanted to take it too seriously until it was too late” (p. 24).
- We are surprised at evil when it finally does hit us in the face
- As a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways, knee-jerk reactions such as those found in response to the events of 9/11
On the other hand, postmodernity offers a culture of nihilism while at the same time realizes that humanity is deeply flawed. The issue is that “you can’t escape evil within postmodernity, but you can’t find anybody to take the blame either” (p. 32). In this way, postmodernity’s analysis of evil is dehumanizing and offers no redemption (p. 33).
Throughout the Old Testament, there appears to some conclusions about the problem of evil that God is confronted with:
- The Old Testament provides a picture of “the personified force of evil, the satan, is important but not that important. The origin of evil itself remains a mystery; and the satan, when he (or it) appears, is kept strictly within bounds.”
- There is overwhelming evidence of human responsibility for evil. The OT is full of sinners — Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and of course the entire nation of Israel. Interestingly, “God chooses to bring the world back to rights through a family which is itself composed of deeply flawed human beings and thereby generates second- and third-order problems of evil.”
- Human evil is connected to the enslavement of creation. What about natural disasters? NTW explains from the OT, “No theory is offered about earthquakes or other so-called natural disasters, though no doubt the prophets would have been happy to identify them with heaven-sent warnings” (p. 72).
- Perhaps the most difficult thing to swallow is that “the Old Testament never tries to give us the sort of picture the philosophers want, that of a static world order with everything explained tidily” (emphasis mine). As NTW shows God is not “the omnicompetent managing director of a very large machine…What we are offered instead is stranger and more mysterious: a narrative of God’s project of justice within a world of injustice” (p. 73).
I appreciate that NTW is honest with Old Testament material. We all usually miss one or two of these points. Some partially emphasize point 3 and totally miss point 1. Others over-emphasize point 2 and miss point 3 and 4. For me, point 4 is something none of us like to hear. We come to the Bible and expect it to give us a clear expression as to why evil exists and why we suffer. Instead, it offers us mystery.
I once recall a conversation with a young man who expressed that his religion teacher at his college continually referenced God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart Ehrman as a way of deconstructing Scripture. I am not a Bart Ehrman fan, and, in fact, I think he draws simplistic, misleading theological conclusions. If I had to guess, I believe Ehrman’s “problem” is that the Bible doesn’t offer one reason for evil. We really just want to know. We don’t know perfectly well why evil exist or why we suffer. But, from Scripture, NTW shows that we do know that God hates evil, wants to judge it, and has set out to rid the world of it. But that’s for tomorrow…