Evil and the Justice of God – N.T. Wright
The problem of Evil is a big deal. I make no claims to understating it before or after I read Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright but I think he may have helped point me in the right direction. In the aftermath of events such as 9-11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir, Wright set out to add to the conversation about the problem of evil in a world ruled by a Just God. He admits that he will not
“solve” the problem and that solving the problem is not even his primary task (11) but he wishes to point to signs of God’s New World on the basis of Jesus’ victory on the cross and his resurrection.
Evil and the Justice of God is a relatively short book (165p). What he lacks in length he makes up for in the time I had to spend reflecting and processing what he wrote. Wright’s book is intended to be read by all Christians and his language and length makes it accessible to anyone with interest in the subject. The book is laid out into five chapters. In the first he outlines the problem and describes it as deeper and more serious than the world usually takes it. Chapter two deals with the Old Testament and God using Israel as part of the solution. Chapter three shows how the Gospels present Jesus as God’s rescue plan for the world. In chapter four, Wright discusses the hope Christians might have imagining a world without evil. Chapter five deals with our present responsibility in relation to the problem of evil.
Wright puts out some interesting philosophical ideas in regards to the problem of evil and surmises that the problem cannot and has not been fixed in the way that Modernism has proposed; a philosophy rooted firmly in the steady march of an assumed doctrine of progress (22). He comes to the conclusion that the world either a). ignores it when it doesn’t hit us in the face, such as not rocking the economic trade boat because human rights would stifle business, or b). act surprised when something evil does happen, and c.) react to it in immature and dangerous ways; “Just as you cannot eliminate evil by act of congress or by a philosophical argument, so you cannot do so with high explosives (28).” He says we often project evil on to others, generating a culture of blame and claiming that we are all victims of (insert choice evil here) or we internalize it; neither is healthy. He concludes that we must not soften the blow and we must name evil for what it is and take responsibility for it. The most powerful idea I took from this chapter was that we often turn the problem of Evil into an “us” vs. “them” game when in reality, “the line of evil runs through all of us because of the fall.” There is evil in the world and we can not ignore it. “Evil may still be a four-letter word. But so, thank God, is Love (41).”
Chapter two looks at how God deals with evil in the OT. At the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) he confronts it, judges it, and keeps it from having its desired effect. The Flood (Gen. 6-7), one of the most depressing events in the OT, is a “reminder that God hates evil and what it does to his creation, that he can and sometimes will take steps to stop it in its tracks (50).” The Fall (Gen.3) shows again that God judges evil and will not allow man to live forever in a fallen state. The OT shows us that God will ultimately contain Evil and not let it have full run of his creation and he foreshadows deliverance in his Servant of Isaiah 40-55.
In Chapter three Wright takes us to the foot of the cross and proposes that at the cross all human systems and evil put Jesus on the cross and in the grave but it was not enough to keep our loving creator from bursting forth new life out of the deepest darkness. “Evil at all levels and all sorts had done its worst and that Jesus throughout his public career and supremely on the cross and dealt with it, take its full force, exhausted it –(that’s) why the, of course, death itself had no more power (89).”
Four and five give practical applications to the previous content. Wright wants us to envision the world as God intends it to be; full of love, justice, beauty, and peace (102) and work toward redeeming it now as much as we can. As the people of God we now partner with him in his restoration of all creation until it reaches a climax with the return of Christ. He believes that we can partner with God through prayer as in Romans 8, Holiness, living presently by the rule of what will be in the future, and in Politics and empire. “Medical care, education, work on behalf of the poor – all these are signs that Jesus is Lord and that the powers of the world are his servants (123).” The most personal application Wright gives for us is that of forgiveness; forgiveness through the cross and forgiveness for each other, just like Jesus taught and lived.
Wright says the central point of his book “is not only that in the new world God himself will be beyond the reach of the moral blackmail of unresolved evil, but that we shall be as well (143).” Not that we have to wait for the second coming but it will be the ultimate end. Until then, the Cross has transformed us into God’s agents in the world, and it is our joy and responsibility to be a light in the darkness.
I cannot answer all or many of the “Problem of Evil” questions, all I can do is pray that he gives me understanding and thank him for the grace and work of Jesus on the Cross. Still, I see that maybe God has not done away with evil entirely in the world because it would take an act of de-creation counter to his character to get it out of his creation. But, he did start the process of creating anew with the Resurrection and victory over Evil and Death on the Cross.
Give this one a read, if you do, let me know what you think. Blessings.
N.T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.