From N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God:
It is not enough to say that God will eventually make a new world in which there will be no more pain and crying; that does scant justice to all the evil that has gone before. We cannot get to the full solution to the problem of evil by mere progress, as though, provided the final generation was happy, the misery of all previous generations could be overlooked or even justified, as in the appalling line in a hymn: “Then shall they know, they that love him, how all their pain is good,” a kind of shoulder-shrugging acquiescence in evil which the New Testament certainly does not authorize.
What N.T. Wright is rejecting here is the idea which, I think, led to Dostoyevski’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamzov (as described in David Bentley Hart’s The Doors of the Sea) rejecting God. Perhaps I did not understand his argument (which is quite possible–it’s a very dense little book), but it seemed that at the end of The Doors of the Sea Hart had done just this–shrugged his shoulders. He can do this, of course, because ultimately death and suffering have no meaning whatsoever. But still, shrugging the shoulders.
Wright goes on:
No, all theories of atonement adequate to the task must include both a backward look (seeing the guilt, sin and shame of all previous generations heaped up on the cross) and a forward dimension, the promise that what God accomplished on Calvary will be fully and finally implemented. Otherwise the cross becomes merely an empty gesture, ineffective unless anyone happens to notice it and be influenced by it to act in a particular way (97).
So he’s saying that evil is heaped up on the cross. And yet it’s still there. Something isn’t clicking for me. But this is a helpful reminder: “The “problem of evil” is not simply or purely a “cosmic” thing; it is also a problem about me“ (97).
Good point. Evil isn’t just something “other”, something “out there”, but it’s right here beside me and inside me as well. No use pointing fingers at this and that wondering why in blazes God doesn’t intervene there, when one could just as well ask the question of me. I’m reminded of the lyric from Sufjan Stevens‘ song about the John Wayne Gacy, Jr., the Chicago serial killer. The song, which I’ve mentioned here before, gives a short but heartbreaking account of Gacy’s life, actions and victims and then ends quite suddenly with these haunting words:
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid
Of course, God is intervening–in me and in the world–but just not in the way I might expect or want him to.
We’ll see what else the good bishop has to say…