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.

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3 Comments

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

3 responses to “The God I don’t understand 3: Chapter 2

  1. Mark O.

    It seems to me that we often turn to other explanations for dealing with grief, suffering, and pain because “crying out to God” is more difficult; it requires us to acknowledge that things aren’t ok, that we don’t have certainty about why things are the way they are, and it requires us to keep our wounds open and bring them before God.

    In bringing them before God, there seems to be even more difficult doubt, will God meet me? Or will my prayer be answered with limitless silence?

    Explanations are answers, and they often close up our wounds, and reduce our anxiety, even if they don’t fully address our problem. I think our nature as humans is to resist ambiguity and seek certainty.

    I think the saints of the Old and New Testament are saints becuase they do wrestle with God, and they keep their hearts open even when they are wounded, which is an act of faith, and that produces profound spiritual growth. I think this wrestling is often what we should mean when we are talking about our “relationship” with God, because it really is dynamic.

    But it is so much easier and safer for me to stop my conversation with God, to give up on him and seal off my wounds, and essentially say that God’s not able to heal or that he doesn’t really care…

  2. Lightbearer

    “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?”

    I think the answer is hidden in the fact that the above mentioned explanations are thematically found in the NT, while Wright explores OT books (Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Psalms) for the answers.

    The NT emphasizes evangelization, while the OT emphasizes authority. The Jews already knew God was in control of all things, so felt confident in expressions of lamentation, doubt, etc. They weren’t trying to convince anyone of anything.

    Christians, on the other hand, feel the pressure of needing answers, and positive outcomes, in order to effectively bring the Message to potential converts, i.e., everyone who is not a Christian. So Christians are more vulnerable to fall prey to masking authentic doubt and despair with a false self of confidence and grace that they don’t actually feel at the time.

    Kind of hard to grow your flock if you admit that you don’t understand God’s actions any more than the non-believer :)

  3. Lynn

    Phil,

    A book you may be interested in reading is Don Carson’s ‘The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God’.

    Lynn

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