Evil and the “Insufferably Fabulous” World of the New Testament

“.. what the Christian should see.. is not simply one reality: neither the elaborate, benign, elegantly calibrated machine of the deists, smoothly and efficiently accomplishing whatever goods a beneficent God and the intractable potentialities of finitude can produce between them; nor certainly ‘nature’ in the modern, mechanistic acceptation of that word. Rather, the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply ‘nature’ but ‘creation,’ an endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed trough the veil of death; it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days.

Christians sometimes find it exceedingly difficult to adopt the cosmological idiom of the New Testament, and while this is understandable in many respects, it can also yield extremely unfortunate results. It is strange enough that the skeptic demands of Christians that they account for evil – physical and moral – in a way that draws a perfectly immediate connection between the will of God for his creatures and the conditions of earthly life; it is stranger still when Christians attempt to oblige…

Perhaps no doctrine strikes non-Christians as more insufferably fabulous than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe: that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is a phantom of true time, that we live in an umbratile interval between creation in its fullness, and the nothingness from which it was called, that the universe languishes in bondage to the ‘powers’ and ‘principalities’ of this age, which never cease in their enmity toward the Kingdom of God…” 

– David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea 

Hart’s book is a response to the devastating 2004 tsunami and his words are as important now as they were then. The so-called “problem of evil” is difficult especially in response to natural disasters with which one cannot run to the earnest but doomed free-will defense. There’s much to reflect on from the above selection, but I want to focus on the crescendo. Hart believes that the eschatological vision of the New Testament has been lost or reinterpreted. This reinterpretation of the “insufferably fabulous” is not merely by the likes of Bultmann and his heirs, but by most who would call themselves Christian. While many have heard sermons claiming that the ongoing drama has two actors (God and sinful humanity), the New Testament tells a different story.

– ET

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