Evil and the justice of God

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He was formerly canon theologian of Westminster Abbey and dean of Lichfield Cathedral. In addition to his many books, Wright reaches a broad audience through his frequent media appearances.

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A sought-after commentator, Wright writes frequently for newspapers in England, including the Times, the Independent and the Guardian. Evil and the Justice of God. Evil is no longer the concern just of ministers and theologians but also of politicians and the media.

We hear of child abuse, ethnic cleansing, AIDS, torture and terrorism, and rightfully we are shocked. But, N. Wright says, we should not be surprised. For too long we have naively believed in the modern idea of human progress. In contrast, postmodern thinkers have rightly argued that evil is real, powerful and important, but they give no real clue as to what we should do about it.

In fact, evil is more serious than either our culture or our theology has supposed.

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I cannot escape abstract theology altogether anymore than N. Wright can, but I had to ask myself how is it possible for a self-existent, eternal Being, who is omniscient, omnipotent, holy, and sovereign to undertake a plan that includes within it any real risk? What would the risk be? Would God be risking that His plan would fail? Would God be risking that His plan would be thwarted by the decision of mortal agents in this world, such as we find argued in open theism?

What is so daring about a sovereign God's determination to triumph over evil? We may encounter risks as we wrestle with the problem, but how can be transpose those risks to God Himself. I have to conclude at this point that this represented a little nap along the way of Wright's exploration of the problem of evil.

Another aspect for which I'm grateful in his work is his insistence upon the active power of evil. However, the magisterial Reformers of the 16 th century did not deny the elements of negation and privation in evil but added a term to it to make sure that we didn't get lost in a sea of abstraction.

Their preferred term for the nature of evil was privatio actuosa. Here they stressed that evil was not a mere empty hole in the road. It was more than the privation of pavement on the highway. It would be not enough to explain evil simply as a pothole that represents a threat to the well-being of our car's suspension. Rather evil is active. It is a force that cannot be seen as a mere lack of the good or negation of the good.

It is an active negation, an active privation, and it has a supernatural and personal dimension to it. Though Wright stops short of referring to Satan in personal categories, I would ask him to guess again, as the Scriptures attribute the chief attribute of personality to Satan, namely intentionality.

Satan is an actor, and the evil he purveys is an evil that is actuosa.

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Finally, Wright takes us from the cross and points to the future consummation of the Kingdom of God as it is seen in the graphic description of the new heaven and the new earth. He beautifully captures the mood of that eschatological hope that is indicated by the absence of the sea and the chaos that threatens the world from the sea in Hebrew poetic categories. The sea is banished from the new heaven and the new earth, and with it all forms of evil, pain, suffering, and especially death are sent into exile.

He describes his view of the future as "inaugurated eschatology. It is clear that Bishop Wright is not a futurist, where he sees no present power and reality of the intrusion of the Kingdom of God in this world. We live on the other side of the cross, of the resurrection, and of Pentecost, where the power of the Kingdom has been set loose with manifold force. Nor do we find Bishop Wright embracing the kind of realized eschatology that was set forth by C. Dodd and others in the 20 th century.

Rather, his view of eschatology is closer to that of Herman Ridderbos and to Oscar Culmann, who saw the Christian pilgrimage of the present day to be worked out in what was called the "already" and the "not yet. We remember Culmann's famous analogy of his "already" and "not yet" schema, which was the analogy of D-day in World War II.

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On D-day, the war was not over, but it spelled the turning point for the certain victory of the allies. I think that Wright goes beyond that with his inaugurated eschatology. What has happened on the cross, in the resurrection, and in Pentecost is more than D-day. It is more powerful than D-day was and leaves us with an even greater certainty than D-day did to a troubled world during the great war.

Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright

And what it does for us, as we look to the past and then look to the future promise of the complete triumph of God over evil, is that it enables us now to have a real, present, and vital spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness to those whose evil has brought pain upon us.

This is perhaps the most beautiful insight that the Bishop offers where he moves his theological analysis certainly from the abstract to the level of pastoral care. Despite the concerns that his doctrine of God raises in some of the passages I've mentioned, I find in the main that N. Wright has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the problem of evil. Follow us. Home Blog Articles Contributors Reviews.

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BOOK REVIEW: Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright - Vineyard Justice Network

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