We come to the 3rd chapter of Christopher Wright’s book, The God I don’t Understand(2008, IVP). Poking a little fun at theologians he tells us that while they want to explain evil, God intends and will destroy it. He reminds us that in the 1st chapter he called us to accept the mystery of evil and in the 2nd to protest and lament it. In this chapter he calls us to rejoice over evil’s final destruction.
The whole Bible, indeed, can be read as the epic account of God’s plan and purpose to defeat evil and rid his whole creation of it forever. (56)
Wright wants us to look at 3 ways the cross helps us understand God’s response to evil. “They are: the utter ‘evilness’ of evil; the utter goodness of God; and the utter sovereignty of God” (p. 57). The cross holds these 3 things together and Wright argues through the chapter how each of these things must be part of our understanding of how God defeats evil.
1. If evil isn’t that evil or rather was necessary, then God is somehow stained by it
2. God is utterly good. And his sovereignty over evil people and his use of their acts of evil does not stain him either.
3. God is sovereign and whether or not you try to distinguish between God’s permissive will and his declarative will, he is sovereign over all things.
Wright then recounts the Joseph story to show these three truths. Evil is evil in the life of Joseph. God is good to him and the whole area. God is sovereign, even over the evil behavior of his brothers.
And then he moves to the cross,
First, the cross exposed the utter depths of human and satanic evil–in hatred, injustice, cruelty, violence, and murder…
Second, the cross happened fully in accordance with God’s sovereign will from eternity…
Third, the cross also expressed the utter goodness of God, pouring out his mercy and grace in self-giving love. (62-63)
Finally, he finishes the chapter with an exploration of Revelation as it illustrates the centrality of the Cross in the defeat of evil. “Christ’s power to control these evil forces [the horsemen in Revelation] is the same power as the power he exercised on the cross.” (p. 67). And so, Rev. 21 tells us of the evils that will be banished (sea, death, pain, sin, darkness, shame, strife, curse, etc.).
This is a short but nice chapter on the power of the cross over evil–how God brings evil and righteousness together in one act in order to destroy all evil. Whenever human goodness and evil combine, the result is impurity. But God’s weakness/innocence on the cross results in the destruction of all that is evil.
From here we’ll move to questions about all the killing in the OT, of the destruction of the Canaanites to give Israel a land. How are we to understand that?
3 responses to “The God I don’t understand 4: Defeat of evil”
The two problems I see here: A. Evil is a subjective description, not an objective behavior that can be easily identified; B. The use of obviously allegorical passages of scripture as a magical prescription to effortlessly eliminate everything you either don’t like and/or don’t understand.
According to Christian theology, death is an illusion: you go to heaven or hell, but you exist forever. So how, exactly, does the Cross defeat Death, when it’s been a non-issue since the beginning of time?
How does the Cross defeat psychological issues, like strife, shame, sin, etc., exactly, without interfering with one’s free will?
What does it mean to defeat pain and darkness? How, exactly, are nerve impulses and a dimming of the visible light spectrum, which were set up by God in the first place, “defeated?”
As for the other evils: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” How, exactly, does God’s weakness/innocence on the Cross destroy the “evils” of fear, skepticism, and lying (again, without interfering with free will)? Would “Prosperity Gospel” Christians be considered sorcerers? Which of the 30,000+ Christian denominations are true Christians, and which are idolaters? Would a Christian addicted to pornography (apparently at epidemic proportions amongst Christians, compared to the general population) be considered a whoremonger?
I’m interested to see what he says about the OT 🙂
Lightbearer, you may not mean it the way you sound at the beginning but it comes across as rather sarcastic…
I’ll grant you, however, that the book and my comments on it make little to no sense (i.e., that evil has been defeated by the cross) without the presupposition that the God of the Bible exists and that the events of the cross did take place and did have the effect of curtailing evil some now and completely in heaven. 1 Thessalonians is a short and sweet summary of that viewpoint. And elsewhere, Paul says that if this presupposition isn’t true, then we Christians are foolish and most miserable (1 Cor. 15).
You have a number of other questions which deserve comment but I’ve not the time here to engage in that right now (true vs. false Christians, what happens to sinning Christians, etc.). But I will say this. The power of the cross makes possible union between God and humanity, that was broken by sin. The power of the cross does not eliminate evil, but defeats its ultimate grip on our hearts.
My intention was not sarcasm, per se, but questions pointed at, not the presuppositional point of view, but at the implications of that viewpoint.
I grew up Christian, and am well-versed in both theology and the daily practice of the faith. And a common mistake that I grew up with was the same mistake made by Wright: the confluence of art and science.
The return of Christ will be a paradigm shift of, literally, world-shaking proportions, which is reflected poetically in Revelations, in the best way that the author, living in a pre-scientific age, could do.
We know better. Or at least, we should. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these passages preached at me by well-meaning clergy who A. thought of it as literal; B. didn’t have the faintest idea of what they were talking about.
Just one example: You can say that the sources of pain are evil and will be eliminated; even if I can’t image how that will be accomplished, that in no way makes it untrue. What you can’t say is that pain itself is evil; a sensation that something is wrong in your immediate environment that deserves your attention is not evil in any sense of word. It is like say that, yes, we in fact should shoot the messenger, because bad news is evil.
The problem is not that it doesn’t make sense without presuppositional understanding. The problem is that it doesn’t make sense WITH presuppositional understanding.