Evil and the Justice of God

I read N.T. Wright's Evil and the Justice of God a few months ago. I have to admit - at the time I wasn't as impressed with the book as I've been with Mr. Wright's other works.

At the time I read it, I was trying to reconcile my understanding of the present and coming kingdom of God with America's struggle against terrorism in the wake of 9/11. I was left wanting a more comprehensive solution than Wright proposes. And so, the book took its place alongside the many others in my library and I moved on.

But over the past week, the evil surrounding the otherwise victorious death of my mother has brought several insights given in the book to the forefront. I'll deal with only one of them here.

In the recent events - as the title of my last post hints - I've received a particularly vivid understanding of where evil is and how evil works. Also, no less important, I have a particularly deep feeling of the effects of evil.

First, to the questions, "Where is evil and how does it work?". Wright masterfully points out that evil is not a problem of me (the good guy) versus them (the bad guys).

Rather, evil is a problem that runs like a polluted river right through me, you, Mother Theresa, Adolf Hitler and everyone in between.

But for now, let's take the focus off me for a bit and use you as an example.

Let's say, hypothetically, that you are slandered. Let's say that heinous lies are perpetuated about you for the benefit of the slanderers. What is your "natural" reaction? Well, if you're anything like me, and you have similar skills, you'll likely want to use those skills to systematically destroy those slandering your good name.

And "why not?", you might ask yourself, "they're doing the slandering, they're doing the lying!". Then, if you're like me, you can actually plan and visualize the retribution. What's more, you know that you're capable of taking that retribution to shocking and debilitating levels.

But if - and this is a big "if" - if your moral compass still works, you realize that evil is "crouching at the door", to use a phrase from a particularly ugly family situation in Genesis 4.

So where, then, is evil? That filthy river is indeed running right there next to you. The antagonists are swimming in it, for sure. In fact, they've found a way to channel it right through them, through their thoughts, words and actions. It runs out of their mouths.

And the temptation for you to do the same is almost beyond resistance. You dip your toe in and much to your surprise, the water's warm. Sure, there's rot and feces and every manner of vile putrefaction floating by - but strangely, you don't retch.

That's how close evil is to you, to me, to the antagonists and even to the heroes.

How does it feel to be in such proximity to evil? Well, in this case, I have two very strong sensations. The first is utter loneliness, brought on I think by the shape of this particular evil.

Truth is, I deeply enjoy a certain kind of loneliness, the kind I recently felt for 6 days spent solo backpacking in a remote section of the Rocky Mountains. But this is not that kind of loneliness - evil this close to home does indeed hurt.

But the second sensation is unexpected. It is that of pity - pity for the antagonists.

Not a self-righteous pity born of a "me-good, they-bad" mentality, but a deep, slow sigh born from the knowledge that I was able by the power of the Spirit to pull my toe out of the river, yet the antagonists were not. For whatever reason, they surrendered themselves to its current.

It's just really, really sad.

Wright reminds us that one day Jesus will set the world fully straight. His kingdom will come, for real, on the earth - and he will rule with utter justice.

In fact, there's a very different river in store for those of us that can keep from being overcome. In the last chapter of the Bible the Apostle says:
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great
street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing
twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the
tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse."

Father, give me strength to stay ever farther from the filthy river so that I may enter your coming kingdom, and experience that river which waters the tree of life.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike,

Truly sorry to hear about your mom passing. I have recently witnessed American materialism and greed fragment no less than 4 families in the past 3 years, it appears to be reaching epidemic proportions. On an even sadder note, each of these families had people of faith that were as powerless to stop the carnage as they would be to stop the flow of a river with their own body.

Perhaps turning away from evil as quickly as possible, and focusing time, energy and attention on souls to be won, has worked the best for me. These days, when I see someone compulsively trying to stuff a camel through the eye of a needle, I move on quickly. These hardened materialists can be a Black Hole for your resources, and even your soul.

Mike said...

Thanks - that's good advice. I'm finding that writing on the topic of evil is helping me to get a grip on the reality of the situation.

It's cheap therapy, too!

Anonymous said...

Evil or Human Nature? You give evil too much credit. Not everthing is spiritual but natural. Based on human experiences, hurts, education,fears etc.
Even Christ on calvary was rejected by his disciples. Later they came back to truth after reason returned. Add that humans deal in emmotions,and if grief and despair is there, how open at that moment are they for good judgements. Through out the Bible over and over bad decisions occurred out chaos or inaccurate information. In our world there will be pain,anger, unfairness, disease, hurt, injustice. Just bad stuff, count on it. The only answer for a christian is to hang to the word, forgive others as Christ forgives you. Stay to the true course that will stop the doorway of compromise to become true evil. Look to the true future and try not to willingly sin to allow evil to attain a position. To separate you from God, that is true loneliness. Everything else will pass in time and in the reality of what is important in the future totally insignificant.

Mike said...

Anonymous,

I understand and agree with you for the most part. The real difference between your view and mine is that, in my view, it's not "Human nature or evil", it's "Human nature is evil".

My point is that by "nature", we jump into the filthy river. That's why it feels so good. That's why we don't vomit even though it's filled with rot. That's why it's so hard not to jump in with everyone else. It's our nature to do so.

And that's why I find a sense of pity for the antagonists, because I realize that I can too easily go where they are - it's my nature too.