I picked up ‘The God I Don’t Understand’ by Chris J.H. Wright immediately after I finished my last post and the opening section on evil speaks directly regarding Gods’ personality, as I began speaking about then. This is based on the first section of that book, and my own responses.
If I, as most Christians, believe that there is one God, creator of all, who is good, loving and omnipotent (or sovereign, as Wright calls it – a similar concept, focusing on the fact that he is in control of all), then evil is a massive problem. Either God is omnipotent, so he could end all suffering and evil, but since he obviously chooses not to, he cannot be loving, or God is loving, but he cannot end all suffering and evil despite the fact that he would choose to, so he cannot be omnipotent.
I find that Wrights’ interpretation edges around this issue, as does the bible itself (although I’ll have to seek that out more). They ignore it, choosing instead to focus on it as a mystery. I’m happy with mysteries (Christianity is difficult to manage without tolerance for mystery), but when a mystery acts to conceals a part of the very nature of God himself, I don’t feel that dismissing a question as unanswerable is an acceptable solution.
To Wright, the bible affirms both that God is sovereign and that he is loving. More so, he separates evil into two broad categories: Moral (that caused by man and the sin of man) and Natural (the predation of animals and natural disasters). I can agree that Genesis in chapter 3 and Job 24:1-12, and the bible as a whole, address Moral evil to an appropriate degree. More specifically, for God to do justice to all moral sin would do harm to all, as this evil is something that can be laid at the feet of man. I don’t find Moral evil problematic at all: This is the purpose of the cross (Wright attributes a summary of this to Acts 2:22-24 and 36-38).
Natural evil – evil without cause or reason – is Gods’ responsibility and therefore does pose a problem. Wright answers this initially with a comment that equates to “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, that is, he imagines God telling us how we can judge him for letting earthquakes occur when we allow, for example, people to starve while we feast. But this edges around the issue as well – it’s not an answer to the theological problem, because if we were all sinless, this natural evil would still exist. He then goes on to interpret the lack of an answer to this problem as Gods’ choice: “God has chosen not to explain the origin of evil, but rather wants to concentrate our attention on what he has done to defeat and destroy it.” True to the text, but an unsatisfactory answer to a mystery that speaks to the nature of God.
Wright addresses a few ways to answer the question of Natural evil: It could be a curse, related to the original fall, putting it in the same basket as moral evil. But it’s less of a stretch to interpret the text of Genesis as talking of our relationship to the earth, rather than the transformation of the earth itself into something evil. And God chose to curse us, therefore this just pushes the problem deeper into a set of theological matryoshkas. It could be Gods’ judgement. The bible shows God using nature in this way, but it does not follow that God uses all nature or every disaster as a judgement on somebody; John 9:1-3 speaks of this fallacy: “As he passed by, [Christ] saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned,this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” To think otherwise grants that God is a spiteful and vengeful creature, even as he asks us to forgive our enemies and their sins. There may be further possibilities here.
But to me the point is that there is no answer to this question, not with strong theological grounds. The Cross conquered evil, but it does not absolve God of evils’ existence in the first place. I feel that the answer you have to this question is an intensely personal one, and one, as I said in a previous post, that you make well before you ever read the theology; the answer is a reflection of how you were brought up, your life, your choices, your culture. These things inform the God you want to worship.
Either you are a person who chooses to worship a God who loves, or you are a person who chooses to worship a God who is sovereign.
Both of these are biblical, supportable, theologically sound views. I don’t think God would judge anyone for believing one or the other. But they have repercussions on every other belief in your system, and, to me at least, only one of them is a God I’d choose to believe in.
I choose love.