Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The New Problem of Evil

[There are] three things in particular which I see as characterizing the new problem of evil. First, we ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face. Second, we are surprised by evil when it does. Third, we react in immature and dangerous ways as a result.
-N.T. Wright

The problem of evil is an issue that all philosophies must face, and we have done so here a few times as well. N.T. Wright, the archbishop of Durham, gave a series of lectures called "Evil and the Justice of God." They are all available on the N.T. Wright Page (link to the right). I propose that we all read and discuss them together. We'll begin with Lecture 1: Evil is Still a Four-Letter Word. Use this thread for comments on Lecture 1, and as we progress, I'll create new threads for each lecture.

I've tried to do this at one of my other blogs, and it has not gone well, so I may be a bit overzealous. But we've always had good conversation here, so I'm not too worried.


  • At 5:37 PM, June 05, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    I would like to discuss a fourth thing that I believe should be included into the new problem of evil. I believe that Wright would agree, nevertheless he doesn't overtly express it. I take this from Wendell Berry's "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear", a series of ideas that he wrote and subsequently numbered after the attacks of 9/11.
    In Roman Numeral XIII, Berry states, "One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as before with the corporate program of global 'free trade', whatever the cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism or public debate."
    My point is this, after 9/11 (after we ignored the evil until it hit us in the face, after we were surprised when it did, and after we reacted immaturely and dangerously), we made the attempt to go on exactly as we had before. We hold the same technological and economic optimism. We must take a step back for self-appraisal. We are, as Senator Fulbright pondered during Vietnam, guilty of "arrogance of power". But instead of strenuous self-appraisal, we resort to disintegration of our ideals into rhetoric of self-justification. Falling into this rhetoric of self-justification is just another way to ignore the problem of evil.
    Therefore, the 4 characteristics of the new problem of evil; 1) we ignore it until it slaps us in the face, 2) we are surprised when it slaps us in the face, 3) we react by the curtailment of civil rights, by defiance of laws, and by resort to overwhelming force, for those actions are the ready products of fear and hasty thought, and 4) we go on as before, without changing, without questioning or criticizing ourselves, because we can't be the one's who are doing wrong, they are the one's against freedom, against democracy, against peace, against justice.
    This fourth characteristic completes the cycle and the problem of evil perpetually restarts. We must change something. We must stop the cycle. We must 1)question what is going on. Should be be as technologically and economically optimistic. Can this technology we produce be used against us? Is this global economic system of "free trade" too vulnerable? Don't ignore our evil doings and label them as good.
    We must 2) be educated. We shouldn't be surprised when evil slaps us in the face. We must be educated about our own evil doings.
    We must 3) respond differently than we have. Lashing out is immature, we used to get in trouble for it in elementary school. It's time to grow up.
    Instead we must 4) change. We must take those evil doings of our own and change them. Perhaps we shouldn't set the demons of modern warfare at large and then wonder why we can no longer control them.
    I'm sorry, that was definitly a lot longer than I intended. But in conclusion, when evil occurs, we cannot simply pretend that it didn't happen and go on with our lives as before. We must question and critique ourselves and make authentic changes.
    I hope someone read this far.

  • At 11:20 AM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    That's a great point. I've heard a lot of people talk about how America changed after 9-11, but I don't see how.

    I'm also interested in discussing Wright's concept of evil emerging out of chaos. Those of you who took Bonzo's Philosophy of Religion with me have heard this theory of "mine", but for those who have not, I will set it out again.

    At the beginning of the creation story, we have God and we have chaos (Genesis 1:2 - notice the presence of water). God then speaks into the chaos, creating order. Because I believe that it was not necessary for God to create, and because we know from Scripture that God is love, I believe that love was the ordering force in Creation.

    God then creates humans in his own image. Part of their responsibility as image bearers is to continue to order Creation through love (Gen 1:28;2:15).

    But the humans fail in this task. They allow the serpent, one of the beasts they were supposed to rule over (Gen. 2:28), to rule over them. In doing so, they subvert Creation order allowing the chaos to emerge. This, we call evil.

    A common rebuttal to this theory is that God created the chaos, and how then can we call it evil. But chaos on its own is not evil. Only when chaos enters where there should be order is it evil. To continue with the sea imagery, the sea is not evil; it is chaotic. When the sea destroys homes (order) in the form of a tsunami, then we call it (natural) evil. So that chaos in Genesis 1:2 is not evil, it is merely chaotic. But when humans fail to contain the chaos by ordering it through love, the chaos emerges into the order, and thus we call it evil.

    I guess The Dish isn't the only one who's long-winded on this topic.

  • At 5:00 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    How then do humans continue to order creation in respect to natural evil? Through the good work of ordering that makes the inconnection of creation healthy/whole, how will this affect natural evils such as tsunamis? Will tsunamis cease to occur through our ordering of creation?

  • At 5:10 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I do believe that they will, but I'm a bit shaky on how.

    I believe that it is the task of the church to fully realize the Kingdom of God on earth, and I believe that once the kingdom is realized, there will be no more evil, including natural evil.

    In the meantime, while there are chaotic elements of Creation that we can order, we must do so, so that when the time comes that we can order other elements, we are free to do so.

  • At 10:36 AM, June 07, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    Consider: Enmity with Creation is part of the curse (Gen. 3.17-9). Jesus, who was himself above the curse and frees us from it, was able to overcome natural evil (Mat. 8.23-7 [notice again the water]). Once the church is fully embodying its freedom from the curse, we will also have power over natural evil (John 14.12; Mat 17.20).

  • At 8:05 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Buddy, I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly. You're saying that the church has the power to eliminate all evil by realizing the kingdom of God on earth. Even if people outside the church are not realizing it and are living outside of God's law? Or is this speaking of a rapture of some sorts?
    As far as the lecture goes, I thought it was very well written, and I find myself agreeing with almost all of it (classic me, almost all). But one thing perplexes me. He seems to think that cultural events (such as the Holocaust) should have the capability of playing a pivitol role in shaping truth about God. While I feel that these sort of events can change the way we feel, we need to fight against deriving truth about God based on what we see in our world. I feel that too often we get our hands around truth by saying that the scripture is the source of it... then when our daily life and thinking contradict that truth, we will side with our own intuition.
    other than that, very interesting so far.

  • At 9:12 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    Part of building the kingdom of God is bringing the entire world into it. If this were impossible, I don't think Jesus would have told us to do it. I don't believe in a rapture of any kind.

    I've always claimed that the source of truth is God's word, which would include creation order. Thus, by observing how Creation works (and doesn't work), we can learn about the Creator. Scripture shows us how God works within an historical context, and if we believe that God still interacts with his Creation, I think we need to be open to learning about him by observing it.

  • At 12:37 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    I'm not saying that we shouldn't be open to observing what's going on... But if the scripture says something, and we can't make it jive with what we see around us, we'll either ignore the scripture or try to explain it differently. that, i feel, is a terrible mistake.
    as far as ordering creation by bringing everybody to Christ, a couple of thoughts. We are powerless to bring people to Christ, the Father draws people to the son. we are to be ambassadors for Christ, not lawyers winning converts. if a person is saved, it is for the glory of God. If a person is not saved, it is for the glory of God. it seems that scripture is clear on this, I don't see how it all fits together. I don't believe we realize the kingdom, I believe that kingdom is realized in us. This might sound semantical, but from where I sit there is a big difference in the two.
    Also, one shouldn't take the "faith to move mountains" reference out of context. Herod had recently just physically moved the mountain Jesus was standing in front of when He said this. Jesus was pointing out that moving that Mountain was a feat for man, but that for God nothing is impossible. It wasn't specifically talking about being able to control all of nature or creation by being more loving.

  • At 9:58 AM, June 12, 2005, Anonymous Jeff said…

    Hey again.

    Regarding your theory, Buddy, I'm not completely sure what I think. In fact, I'm not completely sure what you mean by chaos and order. What's the difference between the two?

    Are you using the word chaos to mean "out of control?" Whose control, God or ours? Or is chaos simply a shorter way of saying "not obedient to God's law" and order a way of saying "obedient to God's law?" I guess I'm just not sure what the measure of chaos/order is and until then I can't really think through what you're saying.

    There's another thread of conversation I found interesting. Ryan and Buddy briefly touched on the role of experience and the Bible in shaping our knowledge of God. The question of authority has always interested me. Ryan, I think you've falsely split "what Scripture says" and "what we see around us." As I see it, what the Scripture says (to us, to the people of God) is determined by what experiences we have.

    Here's what I mean. I believe all texts (and people, and the world) have a question/answer (dialogue) structure to them. By this I mean that what a text says to us (i.e., the answers it provides) depends on the questions we ask of it. No text, including the Bible, has some transcendent meaning apart apart from this dialogue. So meaning only becomes realized in dialogue. The questions we are interested in answering are determined by two (maybe more) sources: the tradition we receive and our (individual or collective) experience. Our tradition hands down certain topics, questions, puzzles it has deemed important. For example, your Calvinism (itself a kind of tradition) has given you a set of puzzles which and Arminian doesn't have and, therefore, doesn't approach Scripture with. (Arminians, of course, have their own puzzles)

    The second source of questions is experience. We've all had experiences which have caused us joy, pain, or confusion. They cause us to ask questions which were previously irrelevant. So it is with evil. The experience of evil raises new questions for us. The more awful the evil, the greater the intensity of the questions. Because at this point we begin asking different questions of Scripture, it begins offering different answers. All of this is not to say, of course, that God's Word has changed. God's Word is always the same, but what it means (to us, to everyone) is shaped by the questions we ask.

    So, to defend Wright, I think he's (W)right (good one, Jeff!) in suggesting that the evil of the 20th century has been so awful that it has raised an entirely new set of questions. The legitimacy of a belief system now hinges on its ability to answer these (previously less important) questions.

    Another long post. Surprise, surprise.

  • At 10:59 AM, June 12, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…


    I agree that it is God who works in people's hearts to bring them to him, but I don't think that that means we are powerless. The church is the body of Christ, so the work that God does in the world is done through the church.

    I understand the importance of you're distinction, and I would say that the outworking of the realization of the kingdom is that we continue to realize the kingdom in the world.

    I hesitated to include the faith to move mountains passage, because I realize that it is not directly related to the topic. My point was that while certain things such as natural evil may seem beyond our power, Jesus says that if we have faith, we can do anything.


    I'll try to articulate what I mean, but as I'm still thinking through it, my ideas may change. I take the order/chaos idea from Genesis, where we have God and chaos. I don't know what that chaos is or how it got there, but in faith I affirm that it's there because of God (the theory of God withdrawing himself and the chaos being the result is an interesting idea, but I don't necessarily hold to it).

    The chaos is not evil, but it is not as God wants it to be. So God speaks order into the chaos. Part of that includes creating beings to continue his work in creation. But when they fail, creation atrophies, releasing the chaos into the order.

    So the force that I would call chaos, or at this point in the story, evil is that which undoes what God did and calls us to do through love.


    I'm sorry if I misunderstood what you were saying earlier. I'd love to get your thoughts on this subject.

  • At 1:36 PM, June 12, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Jeff, thank you for pointing out some ares where I was a little too vague and I now realize that I misrepresented my own opinion a little bit. I agree that words are powerless unless we understand the meaning behind them. And that we would have no knowledge of the answer if we had not asked the question, and that we get those questions from looking around us.
    What I think I'm trying to say (and I'm still getting my thoughts together on it) is that we tend to get the questions by looking around us, then also tend towards the answers we come up with by looking around us again, rather than from scripture. Here's an example: The Bible tells us that God is loving, and works all things for good for those who love Him. People look around them and say "How can a loving God allow such evil to go on?" In some ways, it's an invalid question. We have decided it's ok for us to question the answer the creator has already given us. We don't understand based on what we see around us, so there must be some other explanation.

    Buddy, I also overstated myself about our power, for we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. I just meant when it comes to actually bringing somebody to Christ, it's important for us to remember that we don't do that. nor can we.
    One other thing... are you suggesting that humans can become perfect while still here on earth? Maybe i'm stretching, but that seems to be the only way for sin to be destroyed completely, is for us to never ever ever sin. Does the grace of God cover our sins, or does it make us pefect beings? Jesus asks us to do many things which are impossible, for in the striving towards them is God brought glory (such as to live as Christ lived exactly, which is impossible for only the Son of God is blameless). I don't want to get too far off topic here, but I couldn't help but draw those conclusions by your charge to the church. if those conclusions are correct, I'd be very interested to understand them better.

  • At 10:43 PM, June 12, 2005, Anonymous Jeff said…


    I'm still not quite clear on what you mean by order and chaos. Are these metaphors? If so, where are they pointing? Does chaos simply mean a violation of God's Law and order mean obedience to God's Law?

    I feel that perhaps I just may not be following your train of thought fully. If you think my questions indicate I'm misunderstanding something, please correct me.


    Thanks for putting your thoughts in the question/answer language I was using. It helped me to understand what you were saying. I agree that too often Christians take their cues from the surrounding (secular) culture rather than submitting to God's Word. Surely we've all witnessed the devastating effects cultural capitulation has had on the church.

    I agree with the point you were making but I have a question about the example you used. Regarding the experience of evil, you said Christians reject the answer provided by the Creator and instead ask the question God's choice to allow suffering. My question is this: what answer has the Creator provided? You seem to imply that Rom 8:28 is God's answer to evil. Am I interpreting you correctly here?

  • At 3:52 PM, June 13, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    I don't think any one scripture passage can answer such a complex problem such as evil. It's the very nature of the question itself that assumes a sort of arrogance on our part: "How can a loving God allow such evil?" In the question we are casting doubt on God really being loving, which is what scripture teaches clearly and we are ignoring b/c of what we see around us.
    Even if you're saying that God is love but you just want to understand why God would "allow" it... it's a TOTALLY understandable question, but in my opinion it's the wrong one. God doesn't have to explain why He does things. Scripture teaches that God causes disaster, hardens people's hearts, and does many other things that we are not allowed to do b/c it would most likely be sinful for us. So why? Why is God allowed to do something and we're not? Because He is God, we are not. So when scripture says that God works all things for His own glory, we have to accept that things that appear to us as evil are being worked for God's glory. Therefore, the question of why He would allow it also assumes a sense of arrogance, because we don't think it's necessary.
    Abraham is a perfect example of following God's Word the way that we should. God makes a covenant with him promising that his unborn son will be the father of many generations, and that Jesus will come through his line. Then, after the miraculous child is born, the first thing God tells him to do is to go kill it. Abraham could've said "well, i don't understand how he can have many decendants if I kill him, so obviously i shouldn't." But no, He trusted that even if he killed Isaac, God could raise Him from the dead if needed, just to fulfill His covenant, b/c He believed God at His word. This is something that most of us (myself included) have a very very hard time doing when it doesn't jive with our logic. Sorry about the long rant, I've just been thinking a lot about this recently.
    Buddy, I'm also curious what you mean. Genesis 1 doesn't say in the beginning there was God and there was chaos. at least my version doesn't.

  • At 5:29 PM, June 13, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I think that I'm having trouble articulating the chaos/order theory because I'm trying to stay rooted in the story while abstracting it enough to theorize about.

    The Bible only gives us three words about the time that only the eternal God existed: "In the beginning God." As soon as we read the verb "created," something exists alongside God, which is "formless and empty" (chaos, also supported by the mention of waters).

    God's next step is to speak into the chaos, ordering it in the act(s) that we call Creation. Part of God's Creation are beings created in his image to carry on his task of ordering.

    Here's where I think I lose some people: I need to come to terms with evil's emergence in this good Creation. My explanation is that God gave the task to humans because Creation was not where he wanted it to be; it had not reached its telos. There was still chaos that had to be ordered, and this was done through tending the garden, building family units, and creating culture. When humans fail in the task that God called them to (ordering the chaos, in this particular case, allowing a beast that crawls along the ground to master them rather than vice-versa), the chaos that is supposed to be ordered is not, and is thus released upon the order, and is thereby evil because it damages something ordered (Creation itself).

    Perhaps I can liken it to the ocean again. The ocean is chaotic, but it has boundaries, and so long as we and it respect those boundaries, it is good. Skiing, sailing, fishing, etc. When it extends beyond its boundaries, what was once simply chaotic is evil, e.g. the recent tsunami.

    I am saying that at the fall, humans allowed the chaos to exceed its boundaries, which damaged Creation: creatures who were to be subservient to humans (Gen. 2.28) are now enemies (3.15), the task to fill the earth (2.28) is now painful (3.16), the balance of power between the sexes is upset (3.16), and the call to create culture (cultivate) will be difficult (3.18&9).

    As we read the rest of the story, we find that some beings and institutions assist t his undoing of Creation, so evil is now not only a directing force, but an element of certain structures and personalities.

    This is how I understand the story, and I attempt to live it out by opposing evil (both structural and directional) and by obediently building structures and directing creation in love.

    This "theory" is an understanding and living out of a story. It is not a systematic theology or philosophy. It may need to be expressed in those terms, but I do not consider myself equipped to do that.

    Incidentally, after developing this theory, I read that Stephen King understands his books as having forces of order and forces of chaos, which may be why they resonate so much with me.

  • At 9:33 AM, June 14, 2005, Blogger Ryan said…

    Hmm, what about the evil that occurred before the fall? How is that dealt with in regards to this line of thinking? The Bible tells us that there was a gigantic rebellion of angels, and a holy war breaks out because of Lucifer and his pride, which God calls sin. This occurred before humans would've had any chance at having responsibility for ordering chaos. These angels who rebelled were cast by God to the earth, before the fall (from what I gather from the text). So, in the garden of eden you are living on an earth that is already infested with demons who are "prowling like lions looking for souls to devour." Even if you don't believe that the serpent is Satan, that really is a moot point. The point is that God's Law was broken before the fall, and the humans were living in a world that was apparently riddled with pitfalls, which is not the picture we usually receive.
    Please don't misunderstand, even with all of that stuff, adam and eve were still 100% responsible for their actions, i would never blame the serpent or the demons. but, it's interesting that the Bible describes the earth as good at this point in the story. It's as if the very real possibility of sin was just as God wanted, or else He would not have called it good.
    Some may argue that the demons weren't cast onto the earth until after the fall (that's not the implication from scripture necessarily) but even so, the sin (Lucifer's pride) definitely occurred before human's. I'm interested in all thoughts on how this all works.

  • At 11:11 AM, June 14, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    While several traditions hold to belief in a pre-fall fall of angels, I don't think Scripture necessarily says that, and that's not how I read the story. The description of the fall of the angels and Satan in Revelation seems to be concurrent with Christ's birth, which would explain the difference between Satan in the Old Testament and the New. The one passage refering to Lucifer or the Morning Star is refering to a human king. While some traditions interpret that as refering to Satan, that is not the literal meaning of the text.

    So I don't believe that God's law was broken before the fall. Adam and Eve, humans, were the first to introduce evil into Creation, so when God says "It is good," evil is not part of it and, I would argue, not even a possibility at that point.

  • At 4:40 PM, June 15, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Are you offering "creatio ex chaos" (chaos is a Latin word, don't think that I was too lazy to look up the Latin form), as an alternative to "creatio ex nihilo"?
    The ordering of said chaos would be a loving order, so it would also agree with Olthuis' "creatio ex amore".
    Also, do you hold that there are structural evils? I think we have talked about this before in Philosophy of Religion, but I still don't know what I think. It would help if you would explain structural evil more.

    I believe that the story implies that Lucifer did not fall until he opposed the birth of Christ in Revelation 12.
    I understand that this is Apocalyptic literature that is extremely difficult to interpret. Yet, I interpret it as the child being Christ and the Dragon being Lucifer waiting to devour Christ at birth, and subsequently being hurled from Heaven. Therefore, I hold that there was no pre-lapsarian introduction of evil into the very good cosmos.

  • At 6:51 PM, June 15, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    I don't know that I would necessarily say that God created out of chaos, because Gen 1.1 tells us that God created the chaos, apparently ex nihilo. I don't agree with creatio ex amore, because if all there is is love, then where does evil come from? I believe that Creation was itself an act of love that ordered the chaos, and humanity's failure to order the chaos released it into creation, the result of which was evil.

    By structural evil, I mean that persons, places, and things can be evil. By directional, I mean that persons, places, and things can be used in evil ways and accomplish evil ends. I realize that you know what these terms mean, but I thought definitions could help us discover where we disagree.

  • At 6:48 AM, June 16, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    Aren't these persons, places, and things just misdirected by a bastard spirit, therefore evil? If they were structurally evil, then they would have been created evil by God.
    Also, I think that is what Olthuis was getting at, that creation was an act of love.

  • At 9:40 AM, June 16, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…

    If the directing force of love resulted in good structures, then it seems to follow that the directing force of evil would result in evil structures. God certainly didn't create them that way, but some were corrupted, and some evil structures are created by humans. To use an obvious and perhaps too easy example, the Nazi party was not simply a misdirected organization, it was itself evil. It was not only directed by evil, it directed against love, and undid much of Creation.

    I wouldn't say that evil structures are irredeemable, anymore than I would say that good structures are incorruptible.

  • At 5:01 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    I think we agree, but are referring to different uses of the word "structure".
    By structure, I am referring to God's law for the creation order. The direction then is an obedient or disobedient response to the calling of God.
    These structures FOR Creation cannot be affected by the fall because human sin cannot pervert God's abiding word.
    Perhaps you are referring to structures OF Creation (as opposed to structures FOR creation). Because, according to Dooyeweerd, evil is pervasively manifest in the humanly constructed structures of creation at all levels, whether interpersonal, familial, economic, political, social, artistic, technological, etc.
    Therefore, the Nazi party was indeed structurally evil, because it was a human structure of creation, as opposed to God's lawful structure for creation.
    Yet, no area of creational reality, whether in the "natural" or "human" realms, is inherently sinful, yet it may be misdirected.

  • At 5:03 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    RSVP. I can't handle the suspense.

  • At 5:11 PM, June 20, 2005, Blogger Buddy said…


  • At 4:38 PM, June 22, 2005, Blogger Chris said…

    I want you to respond to my above post about structures of creation and structures for creation.
    I am looking for where we agree and where we disagree on structure and direction.


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