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Book Review: Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright

Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 174 pages. Hardcover.

Upon completion of N.T. Wright’s take on the problem of evil, Evil and the Justice of God, one is left wishing for more. More primarily in the sense that Wright is a brilliant thinker and a clear articulator of complicated subjects, and it is a relatively short book. But also more in that one feels that there is something missing in his analysis of evil in the world, something like an “answer” or something like a “where we go from here” word of encouragement. But for Wright, that’s precisely the point. For Wright, there really is no “answer” the Bible gives for why there is evil in the world. There is a “where we go from here” word of encouragement, but it looks very different than what we expect. That “different than what we expect” sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It should, as 2,000 years ago a Jewish man with claims to be the Messiah and Savior of the world looks very different than what everybody expected. More on this later.


As it is, Wright could agree very much with agnostic Bart Ehrman’s striking and thoughtful exegetical critique of the Bible in God’s Problem (HarperCollins, 2008) for an answer on why there is suffering and pain in the world. For both Ehrman and Wright, they both acknowledge the lack of a theodicy (a holistic inference of Scripture to reach a satisfactory answer on the origin of evil) in the Scriptures to explain the reason for evil in the world. Yet, that is where Ehrman and Wright part ways. For Ehrman, that’s not okay. But for Wright, it is. And yet Wright is the Christian? What’s going on here for Wright to be okay with the lack of firm Scriptural explanation for evil in the world?


As aluded to above, the lack of origin explanation in the Bible (according to Wright) shows merely that the Biblical writers were not so much concerned about its origin, but rather they were very much concerned about what God is doing about it. Thus for Wright, so should we. Wright is very much interested in what God is doing about evil in the world, for which he shows in brilliant (albeit limited in space) Biblical exegesis of both the Old Testament and New Testament. As is usual Wright style, he wants to look at the Bible generally and evil specifically within the context of the entire canon of Scripture. Much analysis of the problem of evil tends to look at a handful of key passages in Scripture, like the Fall or the book of Job. That is good, but how we got up to those points and also what comes after these points are perhaps more important.


For thousands of years the book of Job has been looked at as the “go to” book on the issue of evil in the world. And for thousands of years, Jewish and Christian scholars have been debating and scratching their heads as the meaning of this peculiar tale. As in the recent film treatment “A Serious Man”, which is a modern take on the book of Job, the “answer” as it were seems to be unsatisfactory at the least and null at the most. Is the book of Job, or any one particular verse or passage in the Bible the “answer” when it comes to facing the origin of evil head on? For Wright, it is not as he wants to cautiously encourage people to think about evil outside of the “why” question, and more on account of the “so what” question. The question is not “How could a good God allow evil in the world?” but rather “So what is God, who is good, doing about evil in the world?” When we approach this issue of evil in this manner, as the Biblical authors did, we paradigm shift our way into an understanding about evil that for many people is perhaps quite new.


And doesn’t that paradigm shift into something quite new sound familiar with the Christ event of some 2,000 years ago? For Wright, thus, the “answer” according to the Bible and the story of God is the very same Sunday school answer pronounced every Sunday --- Jesus! Lack of space limits my own elaboration for anymore of what Wright has to say (who of course could say it ten times better than me), but suffice it to say that Wright’s trademark careful thought and clear articulation of the story of God from Genesis 1 all the way through Revelation 22 presents a very strong and in many ways sufficient case for the problem of evil.


Getting back to the beginning paragraph of this review, I thought that in spite of Wright’s masterful and clear presentation of his case, it still can leave one wondering. I’m very comfortable with Wright’s answer for evil in the world being eschatologically (i.e. in the end) solved with a crucified and resurrected Lord. I’m very comfortable with Wright’s exegesis of key passages and how they form into the broad story of God making a crazy world right. But there is still that…. yeah, but. Yeah, but there is still evil in the world here and now. Yeah, but why in the world was there evil to begin with? Yeah, but. Yeah, but. Yeah but, says Wright, that is the point. In this life we will never know all the answers. We will not know this side of eternity for the origin of evil and its leader Satan. Yeah but says Wright, we DO know that God did something about evil 2,000 years ago by enacting a risky plan. That plan involved being born as an infant, to one day die in the hands of his prosecutors and then three days later to conquer death and evil and to make creation and everything right once again. That is Jesus and that is what God has done and continues to do about the problem of evil in a created order and humanity that has gone astray.
 

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