Evil and the Justice of God
N. T. Wright. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 176 pages.
New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N. T. Wright is best known for his efforts to situate Jesus within the context of first-century Judaism as well as for his support for the so-called New Perspective on Paul. Given his extensive background in Christian origins and New Testament interpretation, Wright’s treatment of one of Christian theology’s most perplexing problems is certainly a welcome addition.
His premise is that classical philosophical/theological theodicies are excessively fixated on the origins of evil, a preoccupation that Wright characterizes as “moaning over spilled milk instead of mopping it up” (150). Instead of asking “Why does evil exist?” we should be asking, “What has God done about evil and what has God promised about evil’s eventual overthrow?” These questions set the agenda for the book as Wright traces God’s purposes as they appear through the stories of Israel and Jesus and as they are projected into the eschatological future.
Wright makes the case that the story of Israel ought to be told as the story of God’s action in response to the problem of evil. What we find in the Old Testament is the persistent effort of the Creator God to renew the blessing originally intended for the world through the promises and vocation given to the nation of Israel. This vocation is not simply to be the privileged recipient of God’s blessing but to be a signpost, pointing toward God’s redemptive purposes for the entire world.
Wright’s argument gains strength as he shows how Jesus, particularly through his death and resurrection, takes this vocation upon himself and draws it toward completion. For Wright, the cross represents nothing less than God’s decisive action against cosmic evil, the point at which all the forces of evil converged and were defeated. This action, this event becomes central to the Christian vision of God as it opens us up to a new perspective on God’s purposes and indeed God’s very character. The problem of evil is thus moved out of the realm of metaphysical speculation and into the realm of human history.
Wright concludes with a compelling chapter entitled “Deliver Us From Evil,” where he points toward forgiveness as God’s chosen method for overcoming evil. Wright’s view of the atonement sees Jesus absorbing the full force of human and cosmic evil and exhausting its power through forgiving love. Christians, through practicing forgiveness, can “enjoy the taste of our eventual deliverance from evil by learning how to loose the bonds of evil in the present” (147).
For those looking for a fresh biblical approach to the problem of evil, Evil and the Justice of God is a highly readable offering that is both honest in its assessment of evil and hopeful in its presentation of God’s intended future for the world. Wright does an excellent job of integrating the stories of Israel and Jesus, demonstrating how the journey of Israel leads ultimately to Calvary and God’s final confrontation with and conquest of evil. Wright may frustrate readers who are troubled by metaphysical questions about the origin and ontology of evil. His silence on these questions is glaring but it is consistent with his effort to address the question of evil in a thoroughly biblical way.