Evil and the Justice of God. N. T. Wright. InterVarsity Press, 2006. 176 pp. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-3398-6.
In this short, masterful, book on the problem of evil, N. T. Wright proposes to approach the problem of evil in a way that, even amongst Christian philosophers and theologians, is rarely seen. This book, whether you agree or disagree with its main tenets, is a joy to read. In this book review I will begin by explaining the main purpose and intended audience of this book. This will be followed by brief outline of the book. Finally I will give my personal opinion concerning the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons of this book.
This book is, in part, a side-effect of N. T. Wright’s magnificent work on the Resurrection of Jesus-Christ, and, in part, a response to a number of major tragedies that have recently struck our world. This book is the compilation and edited version of five lectures that he gave on the subject at Westminster Abbey in 2003, and, the expanded version of a short documentary that appeared on TV in the U. K. in 2005. This book seems to be primarily intended for popular audiences, though it would definitely be of interest to philosophers of Religion who deal with the problem of evil, and Christian theologians, for reasons that I will explain later. N. T. Wright begins, in his preface, by noting the limitations of his book. He is not addressing the philosophical problem of evil; which he tends to see as being more of a smoke screen, or a way of avoiding the true difficulties, than as a valid inquiry. Nor does he pretend to fully treat, in this short book, each of the important Christian doctrines that he integrates into his response to the problem of evil.
At this point it is worth mentioning that he is seeking to give, not his own version of a response to the problem of evil, but what he sees as the Christian, and therefore biblical, response to the problem of evil. He claims that Theologies that consider the importance of the cross in God’s plan to deal with sin rarely deal with the larger problem of evil in general, and philosophers who deal with the problem of evil have very rarely brought the cross of Christ into the equation. Wright, in this book, proposes to reverse these trends. The Christian response to the problem of evil cannot remove the cross from the scenario. For Christianity, the cross of Christ, and all that was accomplished on that cross (and in His resurrection), is the final solution to the problem of evil. Final, not in that evil has been done away with (many great atrocities and tragedies have happened since the cross), but in that God has provided the means by which all evil will be ultimately destroyed, and by which justice will be given.
The book is composed of a preface and five chapters, seemingly corresponding to the five lectures that he gave in 2003. The book also comes with a detailed table of contents, a subject index which makes it easy to find just about any subject that the author deals with, and an index of biblical references. The main drawback to this book is the lack of references. Though he provides references, on a single page at the end of the book, to the main books that he refers to, a number of comments or paraphrases go unreferenced, such as the occasional mentions of Jurgen Moltmann and M. Scott Peck. The lack of complete references, however, is certainly made up for by the fact that this book is both easy to read and a joy to read. It can be read in just a couple of hours, but in that time the author has given the reader so much food for thought that it is well worth reading again.
In chapter 1 the author sets the scene for his exposition of the Christian response to the Problem of evil by noting how the modern world looks at evil, how postmodernism has restated the problem of evil, what we must necessarily keep before our eyes if we are to truly approach the problem of evil, and how the church needs to approach the problem of evil.
In chapter 2 N. T. Wright sets the stage for Christian approach to the problem of evil by explaining how the Old Testament, in its overarching narrative scheme, approaches the problem of evil. He looks first of all at the universal problem of evil, as it affects all of mankind; then at how the chosen people, who were to be God’s solution to the problem, became part of the problem; and, finally, at how the problem of evil is met with in the lives of Old Testament Individuals.
In chapter 3 Wright shows how the Gospels treat the problem of evil, by showing that they see all evil as climaxing at the cross. This allows him to propose what he sees as a richer theory of atonement, and a deeper understanding of evil, and what can be done about it today.
Chapters 4 and 5 suggest ways in which we can, as Christians, begin fixing a broken world that is drowning in all kinds of evil, in anticipation of that new world that will be without evil altogether. In chapter 4 he suggests a number of practical ways that this can be done in our societies, governments, and even our personal lives (such as prayer and personal holiness). In chapter 5 he suggests that by implementing the particularly Christian notion of forgiveness, properly understood, we can give this broken world a taste of heaven, even as we suffer evils ourselves.
This book is an enjoyable read. The reader gets the impression that they are sitting in the 2003 lectures that were given by Wright. His explanation of the Christian response to the problem of evil is masterfully woven together. Though some theologians may take exception to his claims about atonement, and some philosophers may take exception to his tendency to see Satan as a sub-personal being, and though scholars would prefer to have more footnotes, this book is, all in all, a great addition to the already enormous collection of works on the problem of evil.