This is a useful resource for living in anticipation of “all shall be well.”
Evil and the Justice of God (paperback edition)
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
The now available paperback version of Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright is just as relevant and engrossing as it was in 2006 when the hardcover made its debut. Written in the aftermath of tragedies like 9/11 and natural disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Gulf Coast hurricane, there has been no cessation of horrific events, particularly ones that involve gun violence or bombs. Despite the continuing onslaught and the passage of time, society hardly seems closer to coming to grips with and restraining evil.
This book can serve as a call and challenge to the Church to take the lead in finding a way forward. It is only in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God has dealt a decisive blow to the problem of evil, making the way for everything to eventually be put right. Between now and the time when all shall be made well is what can be so troublesome.
Wright acknowledges the futility of two extremes that capture the imagination: the utopian dream of progress and the temptation for evangelicals to think that it will only get worse; there is nothing to do but make the best of it until Jesus returns.
This book presents us with a much grander view, worthy of the God, who not only desires to save souls but has begun the process of righting wrong through his people, whom he desires to live in the unfolding reality of his rule.
Wright gets practical as he briefly outlines ways that Christians can engage the world and make a difference. This goes beyond personal holiness and evangelizing. It also includes encouraging and helping the powers that be, in the words of the Old Testament prophet, to do justice and to love mercy.
I appreciate how Wright even brings art into the equation. The Christian imagination needs to be educated to understand how what we create can play a role in God’s grand scheme of redemption. “Art at its best not only draws attention to the way things are but to the way things are meant to be, and by God’s grace to the way things one day will be, when the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the water covers the sea. And when Christian artists go to that task they will be contributing to the integration of heart, mind and soul which we seek, to which we are called. They will be pointing forward to the new world God intends to make, to the world already seen in advance in the resurrection of Jesus, to the world whose charter of freedom was won when he died on the cross. It is by such means as this that we may learn to imagine a world without evil and to work for that world to become, in whatever measure we can, a reality even in the midst of the present evil age” (128).
The book concludes with an overview of the central role forgiveness plays on a practical level in dealing with evil. There is nothing cheap, weak or unjust about it. Wright uses and commends three books that go deeper on the subject: Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf, which he extols as “one of the finest works of Christian Theology written in the last decade,” Embodying Forgiveness by L. Gregory Janes, and lastly, Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness.
For those whose interest includes details of the afterlife and the fate of the wicked, these subjects lie outside the scope of this book. The thrust is the cross of Christ and all its implications for the here and now and the future new heavens and earth.
I am glad that I read this book for a second time. It’s breadth and depth in so few pages on what is vital is amazing. I understand better one aspect of Wright’s handling of what he calls “the satan.” He prefers not to give the Christian’s adversary the dignity of personhood. It’s this supernatural element of evil and spiritual realities that will make it hard for the world to ever deal with evil in the most appropriate ways. Again, this is where the Church can take the lead and make a difference. We cannot convince the world of unseen realities, but we can serve as a living demonstration of God’s victory over evil through the reality of the cross of Christ.
Even if one might not agree with Wright on some of the doctrinal positions that he holds, his writing, as always, is wonderfully stimulating. He remains a thoughtful, scholarly observer of Scripture and the world. This is a useful resource for living in anticipation of “all shall be well.”