Posted by: duncandrews | June 27, 2011

(not) Making sense of evil

I sat a Philosophy exam the other day here at College, part of which was exploring a Christian account of evil. Here are some notes I wrote in preparation for the exam essay. This is such a big issue, and I’m not really sure I’ve nailed it, but have appreciated the chance to give it at least some thought.

The Bible does not present a simplistic account of evil. Within the Bible’s narrative the arrival of evil is not ultimately explained; it is, however, presented as both uncreated and non-eternal. It has both cosmic and personal dimensions, and accordingly humanity relates to it as both its victims in need of rescue, and its culpable agents in need of forgiveness. Many philosophical theodicies tend to reduce these complexities in order to make conceptual space for both the reality of evil and the Bible’s sovereign and good God. The Bible, however, is not concerned to create such conceptual space; that would be to make sense of evil and give it a necessary place in God’s ultimate purposes. In contrast, the Bible presents a narrative in which evil is, not a necessity, but a contingency that is not logically accepted but eschatologically overthrown in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, the burden of Scripture is not theodicy but gospel.

In this sense, while the Bible’s account of evil is not reducible to a single statement or approach, its response to evil can be encapsulated in a single historic person, the one who has uniquely defeated evil and offers both freedom and forgiveness to its enslaved agents, in anticipation of the eschatological new creation in which what is now defeated in Jesus will be universally brought to nothing.

What has struck me is that the Christian gospel gives what sufferers of evil actually need- not a philosophy that makes ‘make sense’ of evil, but a story – the world’s true story if Jesus is to be believed – in which evil is a nonsense, a tragedy, and an enemy that is consistently fought against and finally triumphed over. It doesn’t give an ability to ‘get over’ the evil we experience because we see it fitting into some larger scheme – it gives permission to genuinely grieve and hate that evil for the real pain and loss it brings; it gives a real hope that what is now broken will one day be renewed; and it gives the resources to not shut down in ourselves but to continue to love and make ourselves vulnerable even in the midst of that grief.

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