In N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God
one finds a lot about about how God deals with evil and not so much about what most people define as the problem of evil. Basically Wright claims that we can never really answer the question as to why evil exists (or even why God allows evil) so we should focus instead on what God is doing (or will do) to deal with evil. It is not a typical approach and does little to satisfy most people's concerns. Honestly I think that most people really would rather know why God allows evil to begin with before they are ready to accept that God is working to overcome evil. Wright says to want to understand why evil exists (to solve the problem of evil) is to belittle evil and want to use human means to overcome it (progress). He sees that as a dangerous and immature response influenced by modernism and not scripture. He then proceeds to tell us that we have to believe that evil exists and that God is working to overcome it. He writes, "what the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it's there, nor a set of suggestions for how we might adjust our lifestyles so that evil will mysteriously disappear from the world, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it
So my question is - why can't we believe that God (not humans) is working to overcome evil and still ask why it exists? Wright's approach has a bit too much "just deal with it and move on" to satisfy the spiritual questioning of many readers. Telling someone that their need to understand why their child died of cancer is immature and based on an inappropriate allegiance to Modern philosophy is not what is needed no matter how good your subsequent theology. I did have to laugh at points in the book at how stereotypically "male" his approach was. The old thing about men wanting to solve problems while women want to be emotionally understood and comforted. Not that solutions are bad or unneeded, they just often miss the point of the whole discussion. But maybe it's just personality and depends on the reader and what they are looking for. I guess I was hoping for a holistic approach that doesn't dichotomize between the theology and spirituality.
Once I got past my frustration with the basic premise of the book, I appreciated Wright's take on how God is dealing with evil. I especially liked his insistence that since evil exists in this world, then God will work to overcome evil in this world. Since God is the creator it matters that "the existing creation be set to rights rather than scrapping it and doing something else instead." Our hope is not in escaping it all when we die, but in God's kingdom actually coming on earth. As to Wright's ideas for how that happens, I'll save that for another post.
Labels: Book Reviews, Theology