Evil and the Justice of God

After a year or more of intending to read Evil and the Justice of God, I have finally finished it.  And after over a week of being finished, I’m finally taking the time to blog about it.

I heart N.T. (Tom) Wright, so naturally, I liked reading what he had to say about the problem of evil.  But even though the book was interesting, ultimately I was unsatisfied.  This can be linked to a few major problems with the book:

(1) Buddy Tom is such a rambler.  It’s cute at first, but then it starts to wear on you.  This was the fourth book of his I’ve read–so it’s starting to wear on me.

(2) Wright avoids the question.  He says that Christianity doesn’t answer why evil exists but merely says how God has responded to it.  Perhaps this is true, but if I’m going to read about a book about the problem of evil, I’d like at least a chapter dedicated to that complex philosophical issue.  Otherwise, it’s going to be way too easy for people like Bart Ehrman to make you look like an idiot.  Give us a straight answer.  What do we do with this?  How might we even begin to know what to do with this?

(3) Wright’s ramblings lack clarity and definition.  He doesn’t ever really explain what evil vs sin vs suffering is.  He seems to use them all interchangeably and in multiple ways for each term.  This severely weakens his arguments and is rather unfortunate.

That said, in other ways, I ultimately liked what he said in the book.  He is focused on action–God’s and ours–and since he seems to be lacking an answer to the philosophical problem of evil, at least this was a comforting angle to focus on.  In some ways, as I lack answers myself, I feel this is my only option.  Thinking about that–and learning to be partially or temporarily content with that, perhaps–seemed worthwhile

Here are some other bits and pieces I found noteworthy:

pg 44-45- It seemed interesting to me that in focusing on action vs. explanation, he’s not so much differing with Ehrman (who in his recent book God’s Problem complains about the numerous explanations the Bible gives for suffering), but rather coming at this stuff from a completely different point of reference.  In many ways, then I think they can both be right.

pg. 60- In reference to some Psalms celebrating the Davidic line yet lamenting the troubles that still exist, Wright says, “Here are the promises; here is the problem; God remains sovereign over the paradox… the only thing to do is to hold the spectacular promises in one hand and the messy reality in the other and praise YHWH anyway.”

In response, I ask, is tension the only option?  Why do I find tensions like this attractive yet ultimately unsatisfying?

pg. 64“And he remains implacably determined to complete this project [‘the glorious completion… of the creation’] though his image-bearing creatures and, more specifically, through the family of Abraham.”

I usually like this about God.  But it’s also quite frustrating and impractical and stupid-seeming at times.  Why can’t he find other ways to do things?  Why does he let us act like such complete fools with such astounding frequency?

pg. 94- “The nations of the world got together to pronounce judgment on God for all the evils of the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence.”

A provocative, intriguing way of looking at things.

pg. 113- “‘Well,’ we say to Paul, ‘are they nothing or are they demons?’  I think Paul really wants us to say, ‘Both.’  But they are so in different senses.  This goes with the account of evil offered by many great theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas: evil is really the absence or deprivation of good, and yet this doesn’t mean it’s in any way nebulous or vague or not to be worried about… And I think the point to be made, whether by Paul or Aquinas, is that idolatry—and sin in all its forms—causes potholes in the road, causes rungs to drop out of ladders, where we and others need them to be.  Evil, then, is the moral and spiritual equivalent of a black hole.

Dude, either that’s totally off… or he just hit something deep.  Going to be chewing on that for a while.

pg. 148– I found it interesting that Wright acknowledges that many would say that “forgiveness is for wimps,” and yet his own treatment of evil feels rather wimpy, especially as he gets into this forgiveness stuff.  It’s powerful in some ways, pathetic in others.  I think especially, it is hard to consider what forgiveness means when it feels it needs to be directed at God—for allowing things beyond human control to happen—rather than forgiving an individual who hurt you.

pg. 151“Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we don’t take evil seriously after all; it means we do.”

While stating what I said above, I still believe this is true…

pg 155– Wright notes that when Jesus talks about forgiving “seventy times seven,” this was meant to be linked directly to the Babylonian exile (which was to last seventy times seven years according to an angel in Daniel)–saying that now an age of forgiveness was replacing the age of exile/sin’s reign.  This is interesting because I’ve never, ever heard it explained this way–and you’d think at least one pastor somewhere would have known about this.  Then again, maybe not.

pg 158– In reference to where Jesus says God won’t forgive you unless you also forgive: “Jesus is not giving an arbitrary, abstract commandment and then saying that if you fail to meet the test, God will not forgive you… He is drawing attention to a fact about the moral universe and human nature.  He is telling us, in effect, that the faculty we have for receiving forgiveness and the faculty we have for granting forgiveness are one and the same thing.”

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