evil and the justice of god

March 8, 2010 | Leave a comment

Much of my Christian journey over the last decade has been a growing understanding of how following Jesus shapes how we join God’s work in the world today. It’s not just that we are being formed to be like Jesus, but that we act with the intent of seeing God’s kingdom come through our continuation of Jesus’ ministry.

No one has helped me understand this more than NT Wright — though I should acknowledge Dallas Willard as a close second. As I’ve read Wright’s work, a gap became apparent to me — if Christians do good works in the world, bringing about God’s intended plan for creation, could that not just be some kind of religious humanism? We make progress, and the problems of the world go away.

It is this gap that NT Wright addresses in Evil and the Justice of God. Not a sexy title, to be sure. But Wright, as usual for his popular level writings, takes a challenging subject, and makes it both accessible and hopeful.

Of course, it is quite an idealistic dream to hope that humanity will continue to improve to perfect harmony. Though not so idealistic that we haven’t seen that scenario played out at the hands of future fictional heroes like Captain James Tiberiau Kirk in _Star Trek_. But as write addresses, even such a dream does not eradicate the problem of evil:

If the world gradually gets better and better until it turns into a utopia — though we should in any case be appropriately cynical about such a possibility– that would still not solve the problem of all the evil that has happened up to that point.

So Wright does not dismiss the need for God in setting things right. But he does show how it is important for followers of Jesus to engage with God in this grand task:

I now want to suggest that part of the Christian task in the present is to anticipate this eschatology, to borrow from God’s future in order to change the way things are in the present, to enjoy the taste of our eventual deliverance from evil by learning how to loose the bonds of evil in the present.

Wright takes a complex problem that has been discussed through human history and wraps up a helpful overview in five chapters. But, as usual, where he shines, is in helping me engage a large concept with how I should live.

Two themes stood on in my reading as proper responses to engaging the tension between good and evil in the physical reality we engage everyday. Here are a few of his words around these themes:

Art

How can the Christian imagination be reeducated so that we can become conscious of living between the victory achieved by Jesus and the ultimate renewal of all things? At this point, we must speak about art. One aspect of being made in God’s image is that we ourselves are creators, or at least procreators.

Genuine art is thus itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God.

Forgiveness

The New Testament promises a world in which forgiveness will be offered not only by God but also by all God’s people.

I selected this book for review from the publisher. The edition I received also included a companion DVD entitled Evil. I watched the DVD after reading the book. It was a helpful summary, though I think it could stand well on it’s own. I did find the DVD a little overdramatic at times, to the extent that it diminished the message at times.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”