As part of my Lenten reflections this year, I’m reading through a five-part lecture by N.T. Wright entitled, “Evil and the Justice of God.” I don’t think one can reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection without staring evil in the face. That momentous three-day event was God’s answer to all the evil in the world.
In the sci-fi horror movie Aliens, the young girl, Newt, asks Ripley, “Why do parents tell their kids that monsters don’t exist?” Monsters do exist. They stare back at us when we look in the mirror. They scream and howl from our magazines, our T.V.s, our radios, our corporations, and even our churches. Unless we come to terms with this painful reality, we will never fully comprehend the cross and empty tomb.
As we peer upon the cross and tomb, we must also realize that they are not God’s explanation about evil. They don’t answer humanity’s questions about evil’s origin. They don’t attempt to dissect evil. They do one thing. They are God’s great “NO!” to evil. They are the Creator and Covenant God’s climactic response to evil in his good world. It is both horrifying and beautiful because God’s way of dealing with evil is to let it run its full course upon this one innocent man — Israel’s representative and therefore, humanity’s and creation’s representative.
I love how N.T. Wright describes it as only he can:
“The evangelists tell, through each of the small stories and minor characters which make this narrative so rich, something of what the event means, much as the minor scenes in a Shakespeare play enable the audience to draw out the full meaning of the central plot. Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus for burial; Simon of Cyrene carries the cross; Barrabas goes free; one brigand curses, the other repents; bystanders mock, soldiers gamble, a centurion stops for a moment in his tracks. Jesus on his cross towers over the whole scene as Israel in person, as YHWH in person, as the point where the evil of the world does all that it can and where the creator of the world does all that he can. Jesus suffers the full consequences of evil, evil from the political, social, cultural, personal, moral and religious angles all rolled into one, evil in the downward spiral hurtling toward the pit of destruction and despair. and he does so precisely as the act of redemption, of taking that downward fall and exhausting it, so that there may be new creation, new covenant, forgiveness, freedom and hope.
“The gospels thus tell the story of Jesus, in particular the story of how he went to his death, as the story of how cosmic and global evil, in its suprapersonal as well as personal forms, are met by the sovereign, saving love of Israel’s God, YHWH, the creator of the world. This, the evangelists are saying to us, is what ‘the kingdom of God’ means: neither ‘going to heaven when you die’ nor ‘a new way of ordering earthly political reality,’ but something which includes and thoroughly transcends both. What the gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it.”