Category Archives: book reviews

Madness revisited

Yesterday I made mention of Marya Hornbacher’s On Madness: A Bipolar Life. Nearing the end today and I continue to be taken with her capacity to illustrate the experience of mania, of using it to successfully do great things and of being drop-kicked into depression, of repeated hospitalizations, of the experience of being snowed under by medications, of chaotic and fearful thought patterns, of the impact on relationships and more.

She writes of the experience of ECT treatments and the struggle to regain her ability to think, write, relate, remember. After many treatments and lengthy hospitalizations, she reflects on her more stable mind:

Much is lost to those two year of hospitalizations. I remember very little, because madness erases memory, and so does electroshock.

…Memory is not all that’s lost to madness. There are other kinds of damage, to the people in your life, to your sense of who you are and what you can do, to your future and the choices you’ll have. But there are some things gained. The years that have followed my decision to manage my mental illness have been challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes lovely. The life I life, even the person I am, is nearly unrecognizable compared to the life I had when madness was in control. There are things in common,obviously–my mental illness hasn’t gone anywhere, and it still, to some extent, shapes my every day. But the constant effort to learn to live with it, and live well, has changed the way I see it, the way I handle it, and it’s probably changed me. (pp. 216-7)

The interesting thing is these sentences are not the last words or the “happily ever after” of the book. In fact, she goes on to tell how she unravels again and finds herself back in the hospital. Later, she confirms that it is hard to accept sanity as normal when it FEELS like failure. She desires normal to be the manic days. And then she reveals why. When her therapist asks why everything has to be perfect, why it’s okay for others to be “good enough” but not for her she says,

“It’s that your pretty good is better than my perfect”.

I suspect many of us can relate to that sentiment even if not bi-polar.

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology

A window into the world of bipolar disorder

As a teacher I am on the constant prowl for books, movies, pictures, etc. that give a realistic and personal view of the experience of mental illness. I picked up a great book regarding the world of the Bipolar I person: Madness: A Bipolar Life, by Marya Hornbacher (Houghton-Mifflin, 2008).

Marya tells of her life in short chapters beginning with her memories of life as a 6 or 7 year old. It is less biography and more of a sampling of her thought and emotional life. She has severe highs that last for a couple years, severe lows, and many rapid cycling from high to low in a matter of minutes. You can help but get a sense of her inner world from times in the hospital (many times at that) to impact of her medications and the ineffective care by several psychiatrists.

She is also author of “Wasted”, a book about her anorexia and successful treatment. Ironically, while on her book tour for that book she was drunk most days (trying to control her mania), impulsive in every way, and completely out of control.  

If you check out her book on Amazon, you can search inside. See if you can read pages 11-13 (search for the word “goatman”) and get a rich and painful flavor of her inner world in 1978.

If anyone here as read “Wasted” feel free to let us know what you thought of it.


Filed under book reviews, Depression, Psychiatric Medications, Psychology, teaching counseling

On apology: Do you lose your dignity when you apologize?

Really, my last post on this topic for now. But Lazare mentions that the dignity of the apologizer is diminished in the act of apologizing. Read his comment about his wife’s apology for a false accusation against their daughter,

Louise’s apology was successful because it diminished her own dignity while restoring Naomi’s. By saying, in effect, “I am the culprit, not you. I misplaced the brownie and blamed you when I should have known better.” (p. 50).

Later he talks about how apologies restore balance in relationships and restore dignity to the wronged. I agree with that, especially when the offender has power over the offended (like the illustration of the mother over the daughter).

But does the one doing the apologizing lose dignity when apologizing? To whom does that seem to be happening? When someone apologizes to me for something, I see their dignity going up, not down. It went down with the offense and returns with the heartfelt admission and request for forgiveness.

I think he has it wrong here. What do you think?


Filed under book reviews, conflicts, cultural apologetics, Psychology, Relationships

On apology II: Definitions

Last week I had a post on Aaron Lazare’s “On apology” (OUP, 2004) and while I don’t plan on blogging through his fine book, I will make a few comments on his second chapter (The paradox of apologies) since in it he tips his hand to the rest of the book. Here are some of his ideas:

1. An apology consists of “an encounter between two parties in which one part, the offender, acknowledges responsibility for an offense or grievance and expresses regret or remorse to a second party, the aggrieved.” (p. 23).
2. Some think apologies must include expressions of shame/guilt, an explanation, the intent to not do it again and reparations
3. The words “I’m sorry” may or may not be an apology and likely cause confusion since the speaker may be offering compassion or regret but not responsibility.
4. Perfunctory apologies are inadequate most of the time since you cannot tell the motivations of the offender (to restore or regain position, to empathize with the offended, etc.).
5. Many apologies offer explanation (defense, akin to the historic meaning of apology/apologetics). They are inadequate.
6. Women apologize more than men in life and in literature. It is often perceived to be unmanly to apologize. Some research say that women have a higher proclivity for guilt.
7. Other cultures have language much more clear about admitting to guilt. Japanese apologies tend to be much more admitting to shame and much more focused on restoring the relationship than relieving personal guilt. American apologies focus on sincerity but Japanese ones focus on submissiveness and avoid explanations.
8. The offended has certain needs: restoration of their dignity, assurances that they and the offender share a similar view of the situation, that they are now safe from further harm, that the offender has suffered, and promises now reparations.
9. When offender and offended are unaware of each other’s needs or motives, apologies often fail.
10. It is possible to apologize for ancestor sins even when not guilty for the act.
11. An apology can be negotiated

What do you think must be part of an apology. Reparations? Expressions of shame? A commitment to repent? Explanation for offense?

I have found that explanations tend to mute the apology and end up sounding like defenses for actions. I also find that saying that one is sorry is much easier than saying, I hurt you and I apologize. And both are easier than saying, “Will you forgive me?” I’m not sold on negotiating apologies. I’ll have to jump to that chapter to see if I might agree or not. Negotiations would seem to suggest the one apologizing is trying to control or manipulate the situation to his/her interests.

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews

The God I Don’t Understand 6: The Canaanites?

After a long break from blogging, I return to Chris Wright’s book, “The God I Don’t Understand.” We are now at chapter 5 where he explores whether there might be any possible satisfactory solution to the extermination of the Canaanites–something that might make the conquest by Israel more acceptable.

In short, he says he has no “solution…[nothing that would] neatly remove the emotional and moral pain and revulsion generated by the conquest narratives.” But, he does attempt to explore 3 “frameworks” in the chapter to help the reader “cope with the destruction of the Canaanites and understand at least some things about it in light of what the Bible as a whole says.” (p. 86)

1. The framework of the OT story. In this section of the book he explores some of the context of the Ancient Near East (ANE). He notes that the conquest isn’t considered a holy war, but the war of Yahweh. Further, Israel was not to profit from it but that all things were to be for the Lord. He speaks of the concept of “herem” (ban of plunder for personal gain) and that the total destruction of property and civilians was a common concept in the ANE. But, he also says that reports of total destruction were commonly rhetorical exaggeration and points to places where the Bible reports such total destruction (e.g., Jericho) but records individuals being saved. He suggests this is a literary convention rather than falsehoods in writing.

Here Wright takes a detour. He considers whether God accommodates himself and his will to “fallen reality within the historical earthing of his revealing and redeeming purpose.” (p. 88) God allows divorce and even provides a way for it but doesn’t sanction it. He has a creation ideal, says Wright but a legislative concession to our sinfulness 9p. 89). Then, might God use this kind of war because of the nature of the ANE but not have it as his ideal? Wright does not offer an opinion.

Returning to the context of the OT story, he reminds the reader that even though the conquest is bloody, it is limited to a single generation of the Canannites. So, we should not view God as “constantly on the warpath” (p. 90).

2. The framework of God’s sovereign justice. God’s destruction of any peoples is always put into the light of judgment against wickedness. This goes for gentiles and Jews. The conquest is not seen as a genocide by Wright since it is not spoken of in ethnic terms but in response to wickedness. Here Wright points to Gen 15:16 where the Canaanite sin had not reached its full measure in the time of Abraham and so God withheld his judgment at that time. He also points to NT passages depicting both conquest and later destructions of Israel as God’s punishment of wickedness.  While punishment doesn’t make the acts done any easier to swallow, for Wright it does change the “moral context of violence.” (p. 93) There is a difference, he says, between arbitrary violence and intentional punishment of sin. Finally, he ends this 2nd framework by reminding readers that Israel’s victories didn’t make them more righteous. In fact God uses unjust populations to his work (as in Habakkuk) and also warns and then delivers on that warning that Israel will fall if it fails to worship only Him.

3. The framework of God’s plan of salvation. Wright wants to look at the conquest in light of the whole story of salvation. He looks first to the promises to Abraham, which include blessings to all nations. God may use violence to do complete his plan but he condemns it when it is used for wicked reasons. Wright here points to the ultimate destruction of war in the new creation and points out that David was not allowed to build the new temple due to his warring nature.

While the conquest was violent, Wright points out that the work of God is here also to bless the nations. But, “It did not mean that God would therefore have to “be nice” to everybody or every nation, no matter how they behaved.” (p. 100)

Lest we see God as capricious in his choosing who to bless and who to judge, Wright wants the reader to note that conversion and ways to avoid destruction were offered to some of the Canaanites. Even the hated Philistines will have a remnant in God (Zech 9:7).

In the end of this chapter, Wright attempts to make a personal reflection and speaks of the image of the cross as a means to view the conquest.

For the cross too involved the most horrific and evil human violence, which, at the same time, also constituted the outpouring of God’s judgment on human sin. The crucial difference, of course, is that, whereas at the conquest, God poured out his judgment on a wicked society who deserved it, at the cross, God bore on himself the judgment of God on human wickedness, though the person of his own sinless Son–who deserved it not one bit. (p. 107) 


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology

The God I don’t Understand 5: OT violence?

We come to part two of Christopher Wright’s, The God I Don’t Understand(IVP, 2008). In the last section he muses about the problem of the existence of evil but in this section he considers the struggle to understand the violence and wrath of God found in the Old Testament. Wright says that atheists like Richard Dawkins have no trouble understanding (in their way of thinking) the God of the OT. He’s just a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak…vindictive, bloodthirsty…malevolent bully.” (as quoted on p. 73). Wright says their struggle is only to understand Christians who say they believe in this kind of God. It is Christians who struggle to understand the character of God and how punishments on whole families fits with the God of love we imagine. For the next two chapters he wants to consider the following question:

How are we to understand the language of God’s anger, jealousy, or vengeance alongside of what we have been taught about God’s love, mercy, and compassion? (p. 74)

And he wants to apply this to the treatment of the Canaanites.

We’ll look here at his chapter 4 which outlines three popular (but in his mind wrong) attempts to get around the interpretation of a capricious genocidal God.

1. OT God vs. NT God. That is, some try to ignore the problems of the OT by claiming that the NT sets to rights the OT. Wright says that behind this assumption is that the OT God is all “fire and brimstone, war and vengeance, blood and punishment. The so-called God of the New Testament is much nicer altogether.” (77).

Wright disagrees with this assumption because the OT has much to say about God’s compassion and love, the NT, “has much to say (and more in fact) about the anger and judgment of God…[and] because Jesus and writers of the New Testament never seem embarrassed by Old Testament stories, nor do they reject or even correct them (though they do move beyond them).” (ibid.)

To bolster his argument, Wright examines a number of OT passages (e.g., Ex. 34:6-7 [which he says is the “most pervasive definitions of the character of God in the Bible…Love is for thousands; punishment is for thre and four.”], Ps. 103:8-14, Jer. 31:3, 20, Eze 33:11, Deut 7, 10). Then he examines Jesus as the most frequent discussant of hell, the day of judgment, and then cites John Wenham’s observation that while the OT focuses on temporal punishment, the NT focuses on eternal punishments.

Finally, he addresses the ways the NT writers refer to the OT. They refer to the punishment of Sodom and of Korah. They refer to other horrors and do not re-interpret (though they do include Samson in the lessons of faith). And so, he concludes that you cannot and should not put the NT against the OT to resolve the problem of violence.

2. The Israelites thought they were doing God’s will to wipe out the Canaanites but were wrong. This is the 2nd way some try to get around the violence of the OT. God couldn’t have been behind it. It must have been the Israelites mistaken view that God was telling them to destroy the inhabitants of the land. Wright believes this argument fails because (a) when people speak falsely or act falsely for God, it is corrected [hmm., is that always true?] as in Nathan’s advice to David or in Jehu’s bloodbath murder of Baal priests. Since nowhere does the conquest of Canaan get rebuked…therefore it cannot be a misinterpretation of God’s will, and (b) in fact, the unwillingness to conquer the land (after the spies came back) led to the the wilderness wanderings and is seen as disobedience of God in both testaments. Wright concludes,

you simply can’t surgically remove the conquest alone from the great sweep of Bible history…while leaving all the rest of the story intact within the sovereign will of God. At least, you can’t if you treat the Bible seriously as a whole. (p. 83)

3. The conquest passages are allegory for the purpose of getting a “spiritual lesson” from them. Wright doesn’t deny the value of spiritualizing texts. But, he concludes that the “spiritual use of the Old Testament narratives is secondary and derivative. Their primary form is simply historical narrative.” (p. 84).

No one (and I imagine native Palestinians would be included) believes that the stories of the OT are intended as fictional accounts, even if numbers of people killed are somewhat symbolic or estimates.

So, if these ways of thinking about the conquest are not helpful, what is? That will be the content of chapter five.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin

The God I don’t understand 4: Defeat of evil

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?


Filed under book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology

Are you tempted to moralistic formation?

At the ETS meeting, someone handed me the inaugural issue of Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care. Despite the fact that I’m in the business of these activities I have to admit that I am often turned off by writings about spirituality and soul care. Maybe its because the words can mean so many different things.

Anyway, I finally had a chance to look at the articles and found this little treasure by John Coe, “Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation: Opening to Spiritual Formation in the Cross and the Spirit” (p. 54-78).

Coe tells his reader that he is writing to dedicated Christians (rather than consumer Christians) who are very serious about their Christian growth and have a sincere desire for increased holiness. He says he sometimes calls this group the “dedicated neurotic.”

What I have discovered, however, is that these same dedicated persons often struggle with a secret, and sometime not so secret, burden of guilt and shame that they are not as mature as they should be, that their lives often feel spiritually dry and withered, that the Christian life feels more like work than joy. They wonder at times, “God, what is wrong with me? Where are the rivers of living water? Why do I still struggle with the same sins year after year? Why is my spiritual life so dry?” And so they might pick up a Dallas Willard or Richard Foster book or come to our Institute for Spiritual Formation with a hunger to grow, hoping to find something that will make their spiritual life work. (p. 55)

Ever experience this?

Coe goes on to say that he wants to tell this person,

…what they may not know is that they are in the grips of a great temptation… For some, there is a temptation to despair of their spiritual life, to despair that God will come, to tune out, to accept a spirituality of “dry bones.” For others there is the temptation to act out immorally, so that when frustrations mount in the Christian life, the temptation is to say in one’s heart, “I cannot take it anymore, I just want to escape for a while.”

However, I want to address a peculiar temptation, one especially relevant and (I think) universal to those who are dedicated to the Christian life and to ministry. It is what I call the moral temptation. (ibid)

What is a moral temptation? In Coe’s mind it is to,

attempt to deal with our spiritual failure, guilt and shame by means of spiritual efforts, by attempting to perfect one’s self in the power of the self. It is the attempt of the well-intentioned believer to use spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, ministry, service, obedience–being good in general –as a way to relieve the burden of spiritual failure, lack of love and the guilt and shame that results. (ibid)

How do you know if you are a Christian moralist? Coe uses the following diagnostic?

Question one: When you are convicted by sin, what is your first response?Is it “I will do better…I need to work on that…” then you are a moralist. If this is not just your first response, but also your most abiding one then he really thinks you are positively a moralist. The law, Coe says, is our tutor to lead us to Christ. And we can tell the difference based on our response. Are we feeling condemned versus culpable. Are we feeling the “should do differently” versus “I cannot do it apart from Christ.” Are we thinking we should try better versus sorry for our failing. Are we making moralistic efforts versus seeking the spirit.

Question two: When you are aware of your guilt and failure, does it lead to“overwhelming and abiding feelings of frustration, sense of failure, and self-rejection so that you do no want to feel things things but, rather want to repress them from awareness…”? (p. 68) Or do you pray with the ancients, “O blessed vice, for it was you who taught me to cling to Christ”?

The next post we’ll look at some ways out of this moralistic pattern.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Evangelicals, Gospel

The God I don’t understand 3: Chapter 2

Christopher Wright tackles “The Offence of Evil” in this chapter of his book. He begins by reminding the reader that even though she may need to accept the mystery of evil she cannot accept evil itself. No, “There is something within us that reacts to evil in the way the body reacts to a “foreign body”–with rejection and protest.” He tells us the point of this chapter is to say that we are absolutely right to react the way we do and that, “the Bible not only gives us permission but even gives us the words to do so.” (p. 44)

Natural disasters, says Wright, perplex us because these lack “moral or rational explanation.” While some natural disasters may have human agency as partial cause others do not. Wright cites the disasters brought on by movements of tectonic plates. Why? How can such things happen when God is supposed to be in charge?

Are these disasters God’s judgment? A result of the curse? Wright suggests that while both have elements of biblical truth,”both seem to me dangerously misleading when pressed into service as full explanations.” (p. 45). If you take these events to be the result of the curse, then if you follow the cause back far enough, you have to level the charge at human sin. Is this fair, Wright wonders. He finds this explanation “improbable” for several reasons. First, he disagrees that Gen 3:17 is a curse on the whole planet. Rather it describes the struggle relationship humans have with earth and the hardship encountered in trying to make a living from it. He sees it as a functional curse. If you take the curse of the ground as curse of the whole planet then you have to believe that our planet behaved differently before the fall. Wright doesn’t think so.

There is no evidence that our planet has ever been geologically different from the way it is now, or that animals were ever nonpredatory, or that tectonic plates in the earth’s crust were somehow stationary before the human species emerged and sinned. (p. 47)

So, in Wright’s mind, God placed humans on a planet with geological activity that seems rather precarious at times. He muses, “I don’t pretend to understand why…I might wish that it could be otherwise. But I don’t think I can be presumptuous enough to tell the Creator, “you should have thought of some other way of making a home for us.” (p. 47)

But what about these disasters being God’s judgment on a people? While all humans are judged to have fallen short are the victims of natural disasters worse sinners than those who live where no disaster has happened?

It is one thing to say that there may be elements of God’s judgment at work in the natural order as a result of prolonged human wickedness. It is another thing altogether to say that the people whose lives are snuffed out or devastated by a natural disaster are the ones deserving that judgment directly. (p. 48)

He likens those Christians who declare these disasters to be God’s specific judgment on a people for their sin to be no different than the Muslim cleric in Britain declaring that the Tsunami in Thailand was Allah’s judgment on sex tourists–even though most of those killed were families at the beach and not those seeking sex with minors. “The sheer crass arrogance of such responses staggers the imagination.” (p. 48)

This illogic happens, Wright says, because “we so easily take some aspects of what the Bible teaches, then invert the logic, and apply it quite wrongly.” (ibid) Yes, God sometimes uses natural disasters to punish or judge. The biblical account give a few examples. But Wright tells us that when we attempt to speak for God, to speak authoritatively, we err. He gives examples from Job, John 9 and Luke 13 that counter the believe that disaster always equals specific judgment. Also, while these disasters do cause some of us to reconsider life and to repent of sin, Wright believes it is “grotesque” to suggest  that God did this just to warn us.

Wright believes that there isn’t any one answer or explanation for the cause of natural disasters.

Science can tell us their natural causes, and they are awesome enough. This is the achievement, but also the limit, of scientific explanation of “what really happened”. But neither science nor faith can give a deeper or meaningful reason or a purpose for a disaster. Thus we are left with the agony of baffled grief and protest.

When we run out of explanations or reject the ones we try, what are we to do? We lament and protest. We shout that it simply isn’t fair. We cry out to God in anger. We tell him we cannot understand and demand to know why he did not prevent it. Is it wrong to do this? Is it something that real believers shouldn’t do, just like “real men don’t cry”? Is it sinful to be angry with God?” (p. 50)

Wright finds in his bible that the answer is NO. For the rest of the chapter he explores Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Psalms and finds that “those who loved and trusted him most” (and not God’s enemies) were frequently angry, questioning, lamenting, and protesting God’s seeming inaction. Wright tells us that there are more lament psalms than there are praise psalms and yet he finds the church unable to lament in corporate worship. Why? Why do we turn to other explanations (judgment, curse, God’s sovereignty, Rom 8:28, etc.) instead of engaging in public and corporate worship characterized by lament and despair?

We are to “file our protests before God….within a framework of faith that has hope and a future built into it. For the present state of creation is not its final state, according to the Bible.” (p. 54) But for praise to have “integrity”, we must be able to pour out our “true feelings before God”.

Wright ends with some choice quotes from Nicholas Wolterstorff and this,

But if that were all [that we accept the mystery of evil that we cannot understand and that we lament and protest it to God], life would be bleak and depressing in the extreme, and faith would be nothing but gritting our teeth in the face of the unexplained and unrelieved suffering. Thankfully the Bible has a lot more to say to lift our hearts with hope and certainty. That is where we are headed in chapter 3.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals

The God I don’t Understand 2: Chapter 1

Chapter one of Chris Wright’s The God I don’t Understand (Zondervan, 2008) is the first chapter of his section entitled: “What about evil and suffering?” He reminds us that everyone struggles with the existence of evil in the world but that it is a particular struggle for the Christian  given our view of a good and sovereign God.

We Christians believe that there is one living God, the creator of the whole universe, who is personal, good, loving, omnipotent, and sovereign over all that happens. (p. 27)

He asks,

What help does the Bible give us in holding these jarring contradictions together in our minds in such a way that, even if it does not give us an answer we can fully understand, it does give us hope that we can fully trust? Or to put it another way: Whereas we often ask, “Why?” people in the Bible more often ask “How long?” (ibid)

So chapter one explores the mystery of evil. The Bible, he says, “compells us to accept the mystery of evil” (p. 29) in terms of its origin since the Bible does not explain its ultimate origin.

Despite the mystery, Wright tells us the origin of the “vast quantity” of evil can be known–the result of human sin and wickedness. So he distinguishes moral from natural evil. Moral evil is both intentional and unintentional acts (or failure to act) that cause human suffering. Of these Wright says,

Somehow, we manage to live with such facts, simply because they are so common and universal that we have “normalized” them, even if we regret or resent them and even if we grudgingly admit that humanity itself is largely to blame. (p. 31)

But, when we think of natural causes of suffering, “the cry goes up, “How can God allow such a thing? How can God allow such suffering?…Our gut reaction is to accuse God of callousness or carelessness and to demand that he do something to stop such things.” (ibid)

He muses that God might respond to such an accusation (especially those who don’t believe in God) with,

Well, excuse me, but if we’re talking here about who allows what, let point out that thousands of children are dying every minute in your world of preventable diseases that you have the means (but obviously not the will) to stop. How can you allow that?

If the large majority of sin is from human wickedness then Wright says we have to admit that none of us escapes the judgment. We both do evil and are complicit in evil. We benefit from the evil done elsewhere (think cheap clothing made in Asia). However, Wright doesn’t want us to wallow in guilt:

I say that not to turn all our enjoyment of life into guilty depression. Rather, as we enjoy the good gifts of God’s creation, we must at the same time accept the Bible’s diagnosis of how radical, pervasive, and deeply ingrained sin has become in all human life and relationships. (p. 35)

At this point in the chapter he steps back to ask where evil comes from even though he already stated we have no answer. “Evil seems to explode into the Bible narrative , unannounced, already formed, without explanation or rationale.” (p. 35) What can we say about evil from the Biblical record. Wright says, (a) It was not God, (b) it was not another human being, but (c) it was something from within creation. “Whatever the serpent in the narrative is, then, or whatever it represents, it is out of place, an intruder, unwelcome, incoherent, contrary to the story so far.” (p. 36) We have warrant from elsewhere in Scripture to see Satan as a fallen angel. Wright then asks about Satan. He reminds us that Satan isn’t God, isn’t omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnipresent. Wright suggests that we, “should take Satan seriously, but we should not dignify him with greater reality and power than is proper for a creature.” (p. 36)

Wright goes on to explore the differences between the devil and humans and gives us this pithy little statement, “The Bible calls us not so much to believe in the devil as to believe against the devil.” (p. 38.)

In summary, Wright reminds us that we cannot understand the presence of evil. This, he says, is a good thing.

“…we finite human beings cannot, indeed must not, “make sense” of evil. For the final truth is that evil does not make sense. “Sense” is part of our rationality that in itself is part of God’s good creation and God’s image in us. So evil can have no sense, since sense itself is a good thing.” (p. 42)

Instead Wright tells us that we are to grieve, weep, lament, protests, scream in pain and anger and cry out, “How long …” And he ends the chapter with the bible’s answer, “That’s OK. Go right ahead. And here are some words you may like to use when you feel that way.” (p. 43) What Wright doesn’t say is that our Savior uses these same words to communicate to the father.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christian Apologetics, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, sin, suffering