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.