February 20, 2017

God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil

Joyce and I recently watched two truly terrible--because they're true--tsunami movies: The Impossible and The Wave. The sudden, tragic death of hundreds of thousands of people begs the age-old question of a good God and the problem of evil. This morning I ran across this brilliant essay by NT Wright entitled "God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil:"

One excerpt, which is classic Wright, and the reason every Christian leader should be reading him:

"The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders. As Sydney Carter put it in one of his finest songs, 'It’s God they ought to crucify, instead of you and me.' Or, as one old evangelistic tract put it, the nations of the world got together to pronounce sentence on God for all the evils in the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence. The tidal wave of evil crashed over the head of God himself. The spear went into his side like a plane crashing into a great building. God has been there. He has taken the weight of the world’s evil on his own shoulders. This is not an explanation. It is not a philosophical conclusion. It is an event in which, as we gaze on in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over the evil of our world; and then, and only then, may glimpse also God’s vocation to us to work with him on the new solution to the new problem of evil."

And this "vocation to us" is where it gets interesting. Because we, in Christ, are called to bear that same responsibility on our own shoulders as we daily take up our cross and follow him. It's a long but worthy read; if you're pressed for time jump to section "4. Implementation" and come back later for the rest.

Wendell Berry has a very different perspective, on floodwaters, at least--and I think both views are correct. Berry doesn't see floodwaters as representing evil and chaos but God's providence through the ongoing work of the Spirit. From his novel Jayber Crow:

"Where just a little while before people had been breathing and eating and going about in their old everyday lives, now I could see the currents come riding in, at first picking up straws and dead leaves and little sticks, and then boards and pieces of firewood and whole logs, and then maybe the henhouse or the barn or the house itself. As if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea, the water rose and filled all the airy spaces of rooms and stalls and fields and woods, carrying away everything that would float, casting up the people and scattering them, scattering or drowning their animals and poultry flocks. The whole world, it seemed, was cast adrift, riding the currents, whirled about in eddies, the old life submerged and gone, the new not yet come.

And I knew that the Spirit that had gone forth to shape the world and make it live was still alive in it. I just had no doubt. I could see that I lived in the created world, and it was still being created. I would be part of it forever. There was no escape. The Spirit that made it was in it, shaping it and reshaping it, sometimes lying at rest, sometimes standing up and shaking itself, like a muddy horse, and letting the pieces fly."

A very hard truth that a poet like Berry speaks easier than a theologian like Wright or a pastor like John Piper.

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