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N. T. Wright: Evil and the Justice of God

The problem of evil is an opportunity to proclaim the message of God’s future world without evil, as a result of the atoning work of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just as the Judaic perspective clearly addresses the problem of evil, Wright argues that it clearly addresses the justice of God as well (62). For Wright, this justice of God “is not simply a blind dispensing of rewards for the virtuous and punishments for the wicked … God’s justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the Creator God who has yet to complete his original plan for creation” (64). That being said, Wright makes it clear that humans are still accountable to the justice of God for their evil deeds. For Wright, this is true because beginning in the Old Testament a just God places boundaries on evil; and YHWH’s servant solicits God’s restorative justice by accepting the judgment that humanity deserves (65). In the same way, humanity should exact justice by allowing YHWH’s servants to redemptively limit evil.

Chapter three is entitled “Evil and the Crucified God” and addresses the problem of evil from a Christian perspective. In this chapter, Wright places particular emphasis on the gospel’s account of God dealing with evil through the violent and substitutionary atoning death of Christ on the cross and subsequent resurrection to life—which also represents God’s grace toward humanity. Wright equates Christ’s resurrection with forgiveness of sins because both represent a release from death (90). Further, Wright considers this understanding of Christ’s atonement a re-reading of the gospels because traditional atonement theology has not depicted the cross in terms of both the problem of evil and the solution to evil (79).

Having re-read the gospels, Wright entitles chapter four, “Imagine There’s No Evil.” This chapter is the first of two chapters in which Wright proposes specific ways in which God’s dealing with evil at the cross should impact humanity. A particular emphasis is placed on how Christians should presently and actively live toward a future with no evil. For example, prayer should be offered up to God on behalf of humanity for God’s will to be done in the earth. Similarly, holiness should be characteristic of the people of God, especially in anticipation of the promised future world where only that which is holy resides. Additionally, justice should be exercised by all authorities, both in matters of domestic and international disputes. Thus, humanity, and Christians in particular, are not simply to comprehend evil and the justice of God, but should partner together with God to eliminate evil, effectually exercising justice at all times.

Chapter five is entitled “Deliver us from Evil” and continues by addressing the corporate and personal significance of forgiveness as a way in which God’s dealing with evil at the cross is to impact humanity. Wright discusses three books in order to make his point. The first is Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace which suggests that evil must be acknowledged and confronted before one can truly forgive and reconcile. Second, L. Gregory Jones’ Embodying Forgiveness gives explicit details of what true forgiveness entails as well as how Christians can live a life embodying forgiveness. Finally, Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness posits that forgiveness is essential toward remedying the problem of evil, because forgiveness “releases not only the person who is being forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving” (159). This release also includes God’s forgiving us and releasing “himself from the burden of always having to be angry with a world gone wrong” (136). For Wright, this is a central point in the book because even if one does not accept forgiveness, the one who is doing the forgiving is not emotionally bound by the effects of evil. This is why God’s new world will truly be free from evil. However, Wright is careful to emphasize that forgiveness is also not tolerance (151), because the objectives of forgiveness are to identify and shame evil; do everything possible to reconcile with the offender; and does not allow evil to stipulate who or what one is and does. In effect, then, forgiveness is an inaugurated eschatology that brings into the present what the future promises (160) and exemplifies the restorative justice of God.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2008

About the Author: Fitzroy J. Willis, M.S. (SUNY Health Science Center, Brooklyn), M. A. (Regent University), Ph.D. (Regent University), is an Adjunct Professor of Theology, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy at Ohio Christian University. He has also worked as an R&D Developmental Engineer and a Research Consultant with Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Willis is an experienced teacher, tutor, researcher, scholar, and certified life coach, who is committed to advancing learning and developmental, theological, and biblical scholarship with passion, integrity, and excellence, in service of the church, the academy, and all of society.

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