I have been thinking a lot about evil lately, specifially on the relation between salvation and the problem of evil. I guess I have been thinking about how when we mention God in everyday speech we hardly ever name Him The One Who Overcomes Evil.
We talk of a god who brings salvation but we hardly ever really know what we are saved from. I mean, we talk about how this god has saved us but we don’t really talk about how this salvation really deals with evil. I think one of the reasons we fail to articulate the god that really is stems from our inability to conceive of salvation outside the idea of a distant heaven and personal moral transformation.
When salvation is synonymous with private transformative experience and has no bearing on the public sphere we can only express a god who declines from dealing withreal evil. I have seen lots of pandering and whining about healthcare, but the language of evil belongs to the church and her mission.
When salvation has no bearing on the way evil and good are conceived we are not letting our imaginations be transformed by the power of the spirit. Salvation is not just about going to heaven, salvation is God’s answer to the problem of evil.
There is an old Evangelical statement that is illuminating in regards to all this “if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.” Often I was taught that this statement is about my own life and actions and the lordship stops there. The thing is, the New Testament authors celebrate that the lordship of Jesus poses a serious challenge to the way we have gone about religion, community and government.
We often think salvation stops at going to heaven, or that the heaven is the heart of salvation. However, the message of the gospel is, I think far more daring.
Christians especially need to remember that the God we serve is not afraid of evil, but rises to the occasion and meets it with his own suffering, with his loving embrace and with his loving justice. The cross and resurrection are not about just paying for sin, but they get at the heart of the problem of evill.
God’s own answer to the plight of man is nail scarred hands that speak to us His only answer “look, I am with you.” God’s answer to evil is not a final kingdom, but his continual suffering with us.
The salvation that is God’s reign begins in and with God’s sovereign decision to be for us. Evil is certainly a problem, but the answer is the suffering, crucified God of the gospels, not a sovereign monster who exercises sovereignty against love and mercy against justice.
When we think God as love, we must certainly have a God whose love, reign and actions do not act as evil. If God is light and in Him there is no darkness, certainly we must do justice to both whatwe know as darkness and what we know as God.
We often think that we know what darkness and evil are, but far more surprising we think we know what God is. We don’t often begin to think about this problem with the God we find in the gospels. The only God we know is Jesus Christ, who leads us to the Father and leads us in His Spirit, and any other claim to God with which to begin our formulations will be not only problematic but idolatrous.
The thing is, we often think we know what we are talking about when we ask the question “if god is all powerful, and all loving, why is there so much evil in the world?”
We have to think about the question in and with the Christian story. Not just the idea of sovereignty or love in abstract but the concrete manifestations of this God’s actions, in and through his interactions with His people in time space and history.
The question then becomes, if God is the Triune God of the crucifixion and resurrection the God who raises the dead, the God who enters the human condition, and faithfully bears our suffering and our sorrow then how do we adress the problen of evil?
We must begin answering the problem of evil with nail scarred hands and the resurrection from the dead. The answer to the problem of evil is not a what, or even a when, but a Who. Jesus Himself is the answer. We may not have a final answer about how it all works, but we know that it begins with Jesus and works with Jesus.
The salvation Jesus brings is the solution to the problem of evil. He Himself has shown us that God is not afraid of evil, but faces it with His own suffering and nail scarred body. The loving lordship He brings to our governments and communities is the answer.
We serve the God who overcomes evil, and in this we can rejoice.