Evil and the Justice of God review

This was a great book. I don’t endorse all that is written therein, but I don’t have to. Probably the greatest impression with which I took away is the undeniable fact that God’s plan of action to defeat evil, is still on the march. God has not been “asleep” on the job. Part of the problem at evil being the stronghold it is due (in part) to the failure of the people of God to act as chaos defeaters on his behalf. This leads him into speaking much about the Kingdom of God and the ultimate defeat of evil. There are real applications of a future reality to be lived out now as “kingdom citizens”, but until God’s timetable has expired, there will continue to be an (the) adversary (hasatan) doing what has been done for ages past.

He also refers (in brevity) at times to the “heaven myth” that has become such a mainstay in Christian Theology. More on this in my next review of Wright’s book Paul: In Fresh Perspective.

Another thing I really enjoy about Mr. Wright's writing is his frequent use and referral to apocryphal and pseudepigraphal wisdom literature. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book. I would recommend this book.

[In speaking of the author of Job finishing the account]:

“It might have been easy for the author, if he had been of a different theological position, to say that after Job’s death the angels carried him to a paradise where everything was so wonderful that he forgot the terrible time he’d had on earth. But that is emphatically not the point. The question is about God’s moral government of this world, not about the way in which we should leave this world behind and find consolation in a different one. That is the high road to Buddhism, not to biblical theology.” p. 70

“…there is the danger of dualism, of the us-and-them disjunction which says, ‘Our’ way of life is ‘good’ while ‘theirs’ is ‘bad.’ And this is ultimately not much more help than the ontological dualism which says that the world of space, time and matter is evil and that only the world of pure spirit is good, so that a world without evil would be a world of disembodied spirits sitting on non-spatiotemporal clouds playing nonphysical harps. Imagining that is certainly not easy. Fortunately it is not what we are called upon to do.” p. 105

Being intrigued and having studied the “heavenly divine council/court,” I got all giddy at his passing reference to the position of hasatan.

“In the Old Testament…we meet from time to time a figure called “the satan,” in Hebrew Ha Satan. The word means ‘the accuser,’ and in the opening chapters of Job this figure appears as a kind of junior minister in God’s heavenly court. He is, as it were, the director of public prosecutions, whose job it is to sniff out offenders and bring them to trial…The satan, it seems, is a nonhuman being, a type of angel, perhaps in some accounts an ex-angel or fallen angel, and he or it (somehow feminists never campaign that the satan should be referred to as ‘she’) comes to be opposed to humankind, and then to Israel, and hence, not surprisingly, to Jesus.” pp. 108-109

A pet peeve of mine that I have discovered in my studies is Christianities denial (or ignorance in general) of “other gods”. The popular consensus on the matter is that when “other gods” are referenced, these are merely “wood and stone,” etc. My purpose here is not to attempt convincing you of this, but rather give reason for my interest in this next quote. I have dealt briefly with it in another article entitled “God, god and gods.”

“…in 1 Corinthians 8-10, where Paul is discussing food offered to idols. He insists in chapter 8 that idols don’t really have any existence, since there is no God but one. So, you might think, it really doesn’t matter whether you go into a pagan temple or not; there is quite literally nothing to it. Not at all, says Paul two chapters later. When pagans offer sacrifice, they do so to demons; and Paul doesn’t want you to share in the demonic festivals. “Well,” we say to Paul, “are they nothing, or are they demons?” I think Paul wants to say, ‘both.’” pp. 112-113

“How do we then live appropriately between the past victory of Christ over evil and the future world in which that victory will be completed?..we shouldn’t imagine ‘heaven’ as popularly conceived, but ‘the new heavens and new earth’ of which both Isaiah and Revelation speak. The Bible doesn’t give us a picture of the ultimate future as a world of disembodied spirits or cherubs on clouds or a Platonic ‘Isles of the Blessed’ where the righteous get to talk philosophy all day. It’s all much more solid, much more real, than that. Revelation 21-22, for all it language full of symbol and imagery, clearly envisages that the reality to which these symbols and images point will be a new creation, an actual world of space, time and matter in all sorts of ways, even as it will be far more glorious, full of new possibilities, new healing, new growth and new beauty.” pp. 114-115

“When we come to the Pauline pictures of the same ultimate reality, we first meet 1 Corinthians 15, where the emphasis is on a future world without death. Death – the corruption and decay of the good creation and of humans who bear God’s image – is the ultimate blasphemy, the great intruder, the final satanic weapon, and it will itself be defeated. That is the point of the resurrection, which is the main theme of the chapter. mere “life after death” in some spiritualized sense is not the point; by itself, it would actually collude with death rather than overcoming it. When we think of a world unreachable by death, we tend in Western culture to think of a nonphysical world. But the truly remarkable thing Paul is talking about here is in incorruptible, unkillable physical world. New creation is what matters, a new kind of world with a new kind of physicality, which will not need to decay and die, which will not be subject to the seasons in the apparently (to us) endless sequence of deaths and births within the natural order. God's new world will be the reality toward which all the beauty and power in the present world are mere signposts...they point to a world which will be more physical, more solid, more utterly real, a world in which the physical reality will wear its deepest meanings on its face, a world filled with the knowledge of God's glory as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14)” p. 116

“The renewal of creation, the birth of the new world from the laboring womb of the old, will demonstrate that God is in the right...the New Testament invites us, then, to imagine a new world as a beautiful, healing community; to envisage it as a world vibrant with life and energy, incorruptible, beyond the reach of death and decay; to hold it in our mind's eye as a world reborn, set free from slavery of corruption, free to be truly what it was made to be.” p. 118

“We are called not just to understand the problem of evil and the justice of God, but also to be a part of the solution to it. We are called to live between the cross and resurrection on the one hand and the new world on the other, and in believing in the achievements of the cross and resurrection, and in learning how to imagine the new world, we are called to bring the two together in prayer, holiness and action within this wider world.” pp. 128-129

“I have argued…in various places and have shown that the promise of God’s new world and of bodily resurrection is precisely a reaffirmation of the goodness of this present world, not a summons to leave it out of consideration, and that where resurrection is truly affirmed it leads not to a lack of concern with the present world but rather to a determination that the life of the future world should begin to infect the present one as much and as far as possible…this vision of God’s ultimate future should lead us to redouble our efforts to discover the meaning of forgiveness, and the defeat of evil which it involves, here in the present as well.” pp. 144-145

“Part of the Christian task in the present is to anticipate this eschatology, to borrow from God's future in order to change the way things are in the present, to enjoy the taste of our eventual deliverance from evil by learning how to loose the bonds of evil in the present.” p. 147

[Speaking in reference to Matt 18:15-20]

“This passage makes it quite clear what the command to forgive does not mean. it does not mean letting people get away with things... if someone has done something wrong even at a personal level, the right thing to do is not to gossip about it, not to tell everybody else, not to allow resentment to build up and fester, and certainly not to begin plotting revenge. The right thing to do is to go and tell them directly. Unfortunately, the people who are best at doing this, in my experience, are the people who actually rather enjoy telling other people that they're out of line. Perhaps the only real qualification for doing it is if you know, deep down, that you would much rather not have to do it, and you have to pray for grace and courage to go and knock on the door in the first place.” p. 154

“‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Jesus is declaring, with every breath he takes that the new covenant is being inaugurated in his own work, and that his followers are to live as returned-from-exile people, and hence as forgiveness-of-sins people.” p. 156

“The command to forgive one another, then, is the command to bring into the present what we are promised for the future, namely the fact that in God's new world all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. it will still be possible for people to refuse forgiveness- both to give it and to receive it- but they will no longer have the right or opportunity thereby to hold God and God's future world to ransom, to make the moral universe rotate around the fulcrum of their own sulk. This is where we need to understand, better than we usually have, the biblical account of inaugurated eschatology, of living in the present in the light of the future. Understanding this is difficult to begin with, but it gets easier as you try. Living by it likewise requires hard work: prayer, thought, moral attention to your own state of mind and heart, and moral effort to think and behave in certain ways when ‘what would come naturally’ would be something very different.” p. 160

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