Evil cannot make sense?

I just picked up Christopher J. H. Wright’s book, “The God I Don’t Understand: reflections on tough questions of faith.” Wright’s desire is to help us “be perfectly honest about the things we don’t understand without threatening our core faith in the truth of the things we can and should understand.” This is a great aim and much needed in an age when cynicism is the default setting in too many conversations about God. In his introduction, he offers an insight that caused me to draw back for deeper reflection. “All of us,” Wright observes, “struggle to make sense of the presence of evil in the midst of God’s good creation (though perhaps we are not meant to, and never can, ‘make sense’ of evil; the very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness—and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot make sense.”

I never thought of it this way before but it makes sense. As both rational and moral beings, made in the image of God, we want things to make sense. As Wright observes, “we have an innate drive, an insatiable desire, and almost infinite ability to organize and order the world in the process of understanding it.” “….to understand things means to integrate them into their proper place in the universe, to provide a justified, legitimate and truthful place within creation for everything we encounter. We instinctively seek to establish order, to make sense, to find reasons and purposes, to validate things and thus explain them.”

But evil, at least of the gratuitous type, the kind that seems to serve no higher purpose or is not necessary to accomplish some equal or greater good, makes no sense. It did not belong to God’s original good creation and will not belong to God’s new creation. This rejection of the ability of evil to make sense brings Wright “a certain degree of relief.” He suggests that it “carries the implication that whenever we are confronted with something utterly and dreadfully evil, appallingly wicked, or just plain tragic, we should resist the temptation that is wrapped up in the cry, ‘Where’s the sense in that?’ It’s not that we get no answer. We get silence. And that silence is the answer to our question. There is no sense. And that is a good thing too.”

Yet if we cannot make sense of evil, what should be our response. Wright raises the valid concern that, “This may seem a lame response to evil. Are we merely to gag our questions, accept that it’s a mystery, and shut up? Surely we do far more from that? Yes indeed. We grieve. We weep. We lament. We protest. We scream in pain and anger. We cry out, ‘How long must this kind of thing go on?'”

In short, there is a language of lament and Wright feels it is “seriously neglected in the Church.”  He observes that “…it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain in protest to God–without fear of reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”

In summary, Wright argues two main points on this subject:

  1. The Bible compels us to accept that there is a mysteriousness about evil that we simply cannot understand (and it is good we cannot).”
  2. “The Bible allows us to lament, protest, and be angry at the offensiveness of evil (and it is right that we should).”


About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Evil in the world, Problem of evil, Suffering, Trials, Uncategorized, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Evil cannot make sense?

  1. M. Patterson says:

    This reminds me of an argument made by C.S.Lewis, that evil is not the equal opposite of good, as the Gnostics would believe, but that evil is the deficiency of good, just as darkness is a deficiency of light. If what God made originally was good, then any departure from that is a senseless increase in evil.

  2. thinkpoint says:

    So true! I remember reading Lewis on this but at the moment forget where. A Grief observed? The problem of pain?

  3. prof2076 says:

    I was reading something the other day that talked about the purpose of lamentation, anger, and protest. I definitely agree that it is right to feel and do these things, but that there’s more to these things than feeling them. We feel these things as forms of motivation to try to do something about the evil.

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