N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 176 pages, ISBN 9780830833986.
Though he admits he is not an expert on evil (17), N. T. Wright writes Evil and the Justice of God in light of a new concentration on evil in postmodern Western society. His work is particularly significant in light of the perceived evil involved with such events as the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States; the devastation of Hurricane Katrina; and the Tsunami across the Indian Ocean. Wright defines evil as “the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures” (89). Wright notes that postmodern Western society either typically ignores or denies the existence of evil when it is not directly impacted. However, when postmodern Western society is directly impacted by evil, its typical response is to either blame everyone else or blame themselves (24). Consequently, this reaction has direct implications on the notions of how one exacts justice in order to combat evil. Given its ambiguous notion of evil, can postmodern Western Society clearly define and (more importantly) exact justice in response to evil being manifested? In contrast, what is the Judeo-Christian response to the problems of evil and implementation of justice on an individual and societal level? These are the key questions that Wright so provocatively addresses in his book.
Evil and the Justice of God is comprised of five chapters. Chapter one is entitled “Evil is Still a Four-Letter Word” and discusses the new and practical problems of evil existing in postmodern Western culture. For example, though the culture is often shown examples of evil through channels such as the television, its citizens are typically not directly threatened by that evil. This lack of engagement produces a false notion that evil is under control. Likewise, political leaders and the media also seem to be surprised by evil when it manifests in such a way that postmodern Western society is affected (25–26). Wright notes that this may be because they hold an abstract or philosophical understanding of the problem of evil. However, he asserts that the problem of evil is not an abstract or philosophical dilemma. Rather, it is a practical issue that has been largely ignored since the time of the Enlightenment (78). Additionally, for Wright, when postmodern Western society is directly impacted by the problem of evil there is often an immature, dangerous, and ineffective reaction to it. This is evidenced, for example, for Wright, by a “lashing out” at those perceived to be evil (28). But such reactions do not address the reality of evil—both super-naturally and naturally (32). For Wright, the problem of evil, however, is well addressed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Chapter two is entitled “What can God do about Evil” and presents a Judaic perspective on the problem of evil and the Justice of God. Relative to the problem of evil, Wright points out that in the Old Testament there is evidence of a divine pattern of dealing with the problem of evil in that God judges evil but also offers grace in the wake of evil (50). For example, in the story of the flood (Gen 6–7), God judged the continual evil of humanity (6:5, 11–13), but offered grace through the family of Noah (6:8, 18; 7:1). Likewise, because of their hubris ambition to build the tower of Babel in order to be like God, the inhabitants of the earth were deemed evil, and God’s judgment was to confuse their language, thereby limiting their creativity (Gen 11). Later, God offered grace to humanity through the “Abramic” covenant (Gen 12: 1–3). Though the notion of God offering both judgment and grace in response to evil may appear paradoxical, the Old Testament witness has been consistent on this matter. For, it is those who participate in evil who are judged, but God’s grace is extended to all of humanity.