Advent's Answer to the Problem of Evil1
International Journal of Systematic Theology, 2000
The Problem of Evil: Christianity's Ultimate Epistemological Crisis?
Recently The New Republic's "Washington Diarist" weighed in on age-old theological problem: The problem of evil. There James Woods recounted his loss of faith over theology's inability to solve it. "I could find no satisfactory answer to David Hume's negative algebra [in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion]," he says. "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?" Woods rejected both the heretical and the standard orthodox responses, arriving at Hume's own answer: "Either God omnipotently presides over these happenings in some way, or there is no God. But if God omnipotently presides over them, then he presides over our suffering. He watches us drown in our own incomprehension. I'm afraid that I must choose the latter explanation...."2
Perhaps no argument against the Christian faith is sharper than the problem of evil, whether it is put in Hume's terms or others.3 The paradox of a good God and a hurting world, it seems, simply will not go away. The problem's many philosophical and existential forms are manifestations of a larger "epistemological crisis," to use Alasdair MacIntyre's term, that has long challenged the traditions which confess the God of Israel.
I think Wood is right that Christian theologians and philosophers have failed to meet its challenge -- or at least failed to make their better solutions known to more than an elite few. Then why do Hume's critiques carry so little force within the many communities who worship the triune God as creator and redeemer? If the problem of evil is so intractable, why does it not paralyze the faith of Christians?
J.L. Mackie has a blunt explanation: Christians are irrational. Not only do our beliefs lack positive rational support, but we can only maintain our faith through an "extreme rejection of reason."4 I believe the opposite is true: That faithful Christian practice is an exercise of reason, built upon positive rational support. The Church's practice of eschatology (liturgically embodied, among other places, in the season of Advent) is both a common and coherent Christian response to the problem of evil.
This essay first compares two varieties of Christian responses to the problem of evil. Next, it proposes Advent as a practical account of moral and natural evil that is superior to the "theistic" response generally offered at the academic level. Finally, it explores how Advent reframes the way Christians practice theodicy.
Is Messiah the Answer? Two Responses and Their Problems
The Christian tradition has offered responses to moral and natural evil that generally fall into two clusters. The distinctions between the clusters are more important than the names themselves, but for economy we will call them the "Christological" and the "theistic." The former refers to an explicitly Trinitarian, economic doctrine of God epistemologically centered in the past, present, and future work of Jesus Christ. The latter refers to a doctrine of "mere" theism: A unitarian doctrine of God abstracted from Trinitarian categories and narratively uninformed by the concrete economy of God's salvation.
In first-century Judaism, a popular answer to the problem of evil was Christological.5 Many Jews saw the eschatological promise of Messiah as God's answer to whether God had abandoned Israel to a world of injustice. The first Christians shared this expectation (John 2:45), and associated Jesus' career with the coming of the promised age of justice (Luke 19:38). Even when Jesus died, rose, and ascended without apparently having brought the promised age to pass, so strong was the Christian belief that Messiah was the answer to the world's suffering and evil that Christians quickly associated Jesus' second coming with the full arrival of the age of justice.6
For several reasons -- among them the parousia's delay, the Hellenization and Romanization of the Christian community, and the Constantinian revolution -- Christian theology also developed an alternative cluster of accounts of evil. These appealed to the greater good of creaturely freedom,7 or God's inscrutability, or God's sheer omnipotence and transcendence, or even to suffering as essentially beneficial. Christology and eschatology usually played much smaller parts in these merely "theistic" answers. Sometimes they were dispensed with entirely.8
Albert C. Outler contrasts these two clusters of theodicy in several ways. The theistic cluster tends to be grounded in the doctrine of creation, and generally stresses divine transcendence. The Christological cluster, grounded in the doctrine of redemption, tends to stress divine immanence.9 Outler further associates the former cluster with Augustinian monism, and the latter with Irenaean dualism. But he also adds a crucial and often overlooked, practical difference between the two. He says:
In [Christians'] liturgies and devotions the stress was on God's involvement -- the Divine Sacrifice for which the Cross and Eucharist were the effective symbols. In their metaphysical reflections, however, the accent moved over to a stress of God's remotion from the finite. Men like Tertullian and Origen and, thereafter, the Cappadocians and Augustine, made much of God's transcendence, his invulnerability to change, passion, degradation -- which is to say immutability, im-passibility, a-seity, etc., etc. (the "attributes" of deity so long familiar to the philosophers).10
In other words, the theistic cluster is more metaphysical, and finds expression in the language of philosophy. On the other hand, the Christological cluster is more practical, being embodied in the semiotics of the worshipping Church, where it remains to this day. It may not enjoy pride of place among Christian philosophers, but it has always maintained its privileged place in the Church's liturgy.
This practical difference helps explain some of the theistic cluster's chronic weaknesses. While Church Fathers and philosophical theologians have developed sophisticated and profound theistic theodicies, their claims have no real practical embodiment in the life of the Church. (There is no "Feast of Impassibility.") So on the congregational level, theistic accounts of suffering and evil have fared relatively poorly. Indeed, they have become infamous, especially when they take the form of prooftexts that wound rather than heal: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isa. 55:8). "God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Eccl. 5:2). "Who are you, a human being, to answer back to God" (Rom. 9:20)? "All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Well-meaning pastors and apologists deliver these one-liners like Job's friends, intending to comfort the afflicted, but instead ratifying injustice in the world and distancing sufferers from the God they thought was compassionate. For the sufferers, these apophatic responses are insults added onto injury. They are white flags raised in the face of theodicy's epistemological crisis, responding to the problem of evil only by intensifying it.
Yet at the same time seminary professors are discouraging their students from these kinds of answers, seminary curricula are encouraging them. In letting philosophers of religion set the debate in abstract terms and propositions, they divorce the concept of "God" from the specifics of the God of Jesus Christ, and divorce theodicy from concrete Christian practice. Furthermore, systematic theology's tradition of treating theodicy under the doctrine of God structurally prefers the theistic cluster over the Christological. When working through a systematic theology sequentially, the reader encounters the problem of evil long before he or she has the Christological, soteriological, or eschatological resources to answer it in anything but an abstract, merely theistic way.
Karl Barth and others have recently turned theological attention back towards Christological accounts of suffering and evil.11 In their answers we can find accounts of suffering that, plausible or not, can at least claim to be a truly Christian rather than merely theistic responses.12 Yet in this cluster too, the parousia's delay has done real damage -- by undermining the coherence of Christological categories. The space between Jesus' two comings has driven his past work on the cross and his present work on the throne apart from his future work in the clouds. In the minds of most Christians, the first two have become "salvation," the last one "judgment." Again, systematic theologies often exacerbate the problem. When they partition the saving works of Christ into separate loci, and call only one "the doctrine of salvation," they pull apart the "realized" and "futurist" dimensions of the Christological cluster into two distinct (and therefore defective) answers to the problem of evil.13
The Promise of Advent
Where should we look for a robust, coherent ecclesial response to the problem of evil? Christology, soteriology, and eschatology come together powerfully in the liturgical practice of Advent.14 Advent begins and ends Christian time by focusing on Messiah's two arrivals to deliver the world from its bondage to sin and decay. In Advent the Church celebrates the Messiah's first coming and awaits his second. The season's most appropriate symbol, according to one liturgist, is the empty throne of the Pantocrator.15 When Christians celebrate Advent, they affirm God's justice and presence in spite of the apparent absence of justice and divine presence in the world.
Consider five virtues of Advent in addressing the problem of evil:
First, Advent is a Christological practice. It does not appeal to God's sovereignty or the value of human freedom so much as it proclaims that God's justice was, is, and will be made manifest in the work of Jesus Christ. Advent honors the fact that theodicy is treated under the second and third articles of the Nicene Creed, not the first: "He shall come in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. ... We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come." God's justice is a mystery already revealed in the person and work of the Triune God, not an eternal secret hidden from those who suffer.
Second, Advent's bifocal perspective gives it great flexibility in explaining the complex state of creation. Advent both anticipates and celebrates salvation from natural and moral evil. On the one hand, under the weight of natural corruption, human sin, and divine wrath, the cosmos longs for its redemption (Rom. 8:18-23). On the other hand, in the firstfruits of the resurrected Christ and the new creation in him (1 Cor. 15 and 2 Cor. 5), it already experiences some of that redemption. Advent's faithful hopefulness looks back as well as forward (cf. Heb. 11:1-12:3). It presupposes all the other events of the previous liturgical year and foreshadows all those of the next, merging Jesus' narrative into the eschatological narrative of those who have not seen and yet believe. With its images of nativity, it corrects the "premillennial" pessimism of those who forget that God has already come to inaugurate a kingdom of justice in our midst. With its images of parousia, it corrects the "postmillennial" optimism of the comfortable Christians who sentimentalize and domesticate the God who came to save. Advent's anamnesis of past and future salvation in the same season holds together the Christological cluster's "already" and "not yet," envisioning salvation and judgment as one work of the triune God, not two. In doing so, Advent appreciates that Christian salvation is salvation from, not just salvation of.16
Third, practicing Advent not only accommodates the delay in the parousia, it honors it. Advent arose as a fairly late development in the liturgical year.17 Its very existence appreciates that Christianity cannot simply return to the primitive kerygma or even Jesus' own words to explain the world's suffering, as if two thousand years had not elapsed since it was said that "this generation will not pass away before all these things take place" (Mark 13:30).
Fourth, Advent addresses both the natural and moral aspects of evil. Today we distinguish between these more starkly than Jesus' contemporaries did, and with good reason: Those who suffer from disease and disaster do not deserve the added pain of mistaking the corruption of creation with God's wrath on them (John 9:1-5). Yet the prophets perceived the natural consequences of sin, and foresaw in the Messianic Age an era of both ecological and social purity; and this expectation is carried over into Christian eschatology and amplified (2 Pet. 3:10-13, quoting Is. 65:17 and 66:22). The Messiah's career was marked by signs of his coming victory over natural corruption (Luke 7:18-23, John 9:6-7). Advent looks back upon this career and forward to the full renewal of heaven and earth, to the making of all things new, and to a divine presence that forever drives away personal sin, social sin, and pain of every variety (Rev. 21:1-5).
Finally, because Advent is a churchly practice, it arises from, describes, and in turn prescribes the practical reason of Christians. Its lectionary readings, liturgical objects, and habits comprise an eschatological ethics in which Christians practice justice and mercy in the Church and the wider world. The rest of this essay concentrates on these two practices as the most vital forms of Christian theodicy, drawing largely on Advent readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.
First, the practice of justice. Advent is a penitential Christian season of waiting and watching for the coming of the Righteous One.18 It cultivates the virtue of patient endurance.19 In Advent, today's and tomorrow's martyrs take on the voice of John the Baptist to announce the imminence of the age of God's justice.20 This is more than just waiting: The fruits of their righteousness reveal Jesus to be in the Church's midst (Rev. 2:1), realize the Kingdom of God on earth, and anticipate its full arrival at the parousia.21
Second, the practice of mercy. As John the greatest prophet is John the baptizer, so Advent is a time for another side of martyrdom: missionary witness, taking God's word of forgiveness to everyone who needs to hear it.22 The urgency of this task actually causes the Lord to tarry, withholding judgment for a time, in order that people will be saved through the judgment that comes (cf. 1 Cor. 3:12-15). This means God's delay is not evidence of divine insensitivity, as Hume assumes, but of God's mercy. "The Lord," says 2 Peter, "is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."23 In fact, the Church can actually hasten the arrival of Judgment Day -- not by taking God's judgment into its own hands, like a vigilante, but by extending mercy, like the Lord Jesus.24 The dreadful converse follows that the Church's failure to practice mercy delays Christ's return, in effect prolonging sin's endgame of further natural and moral evil. The scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3-4 are right to point fingers. Their mistake is pointing them at God rather than the Church (3:14).
Advent does more than describe or even prescribe God's and the Church's practices of justice and mercy. It unpacks their implications for theodicy. In particular, it appreciates the unpleasant, even evil, side-effects of exercising both mercy and justice.
The Evil of Mercy
The trouble with God's mercy is that it goes out to the wrong people. Judgment is suspended for precisely the oppressors who deserve it immediately. Even the bloodthirsty God of Revelation is not Dirty Harry, daring sinners to make his day, but the Lamb who was slain for the ransom of many (Rev. 5:9). So God mercifully withholds the eschatological violence until every chance at repentance and forgiveness has passed. And this causes frustration, suffering, and even death for innocent victims who must wait. To the martyrs who cry, "Sovereign Lord, how long?" God answers: "A little longer! ... Until the number of your fellow servants and their brothers and sisters should be complete, who are to be killed as you yourselves have been" (Rev. 6:10-11). John the Seer understands the tragedy of divine mercy.
God's mercy can be unpleasant even when it does not lead to bloodshed. God tells, then forces, Jonah to go to hated, pagan Ninevah and preach (3:4), "Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!" Once there, Jonah delivers the message, only to pout when Ninevah repents, and its repentance leads God to repent of his punishment:
This was a great evil to Jonah, and he was angry. And he prayed to Yahweh and said, `I pray you, Yahweh, isn't this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repent of evil (Jonah 4:1-2).
Advent is our own forty-day-long probation,25 delivered by people who should not have to endure it, to people who do not deserve to receive it. It is a time for the Church to wake up, sober up, and do its job of going to the ends of the earth, even to its enemies, and letting the Holy Spirit save them through it. And God's mercy is such that apparently even two thousand years' worth of martyrs -- and even Crusades and Holocausts! -- are not enough to exhaust it.
The result of God's extraordinary mercy in withholding judgment is, of course, theodicy. Jonah would rather die than hear the answer to Hume's question, because he already knows it. Why does God wait while people wound and annihilate other people? Who could have thought that he does it out of love? But God replies: "Should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle" (Jonah 4:11)?
The Evil of Justice
Mercy does not explain the entire problem of evil. In fact, justice is culpable too. This is hard to see in the usual anthropocentric accounts of suffering, but clearer in accounts that center on God. So let us consider a theodicy "from above" developed in both Athanasius and Anselm: Once evil triumphs in God's formerly good creation, God faces a double-bind. On the one hand, were God mercifully to revoke his death sentence upon disobedient humanity, it would break his word and compromise his justice. Such a thing is absolutely unthinkable; for Athanasius it "would argue not goodness in God but limitation." On the other hand, letting either humanity's sin or God's just wrath destroy those created in God's image would still be an embarrassing concession to evil. Human history would be one grand tragedy. This too is "unworthy of the goodness of God," says Athanasius. "In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning?"26
Show mercy or bring justice; both lead to tragedy. Both are losses for God and victories for evil. So God overcomes the dilemma of justice or mercy by coming. The Creator comes into dying creation to reassert his rule and to bring the created and corrupted nature of humanity to its intended destination. Advent does not just present a synthesis of mercy and justice, but God's radical, redeeming comings, his self-interventions in the fallen order. God's "merciful justice" rescues both God's creation and God's reputation.27 The double-victory leaves evil both defeated and deserted, and God glorified. Tragedy is averted, and the story ends as a divine comedy -- wedding scene included.
Advent's Coming Justice
Mercy, then, is not something opposed to justice. It is a form of justice. Viewed theocentrically, the two are complementary aspects of God's glory. Advent is right to hold them together as it does. Then are there grounds for hoping that justice can be assumed without remainder into mercy -- that God's greatest glory demands that all be saved? If perfect justice and infinite mercy intersect on the cross, is universalism not the proper outcome?
Advent answers no. Mary's Advent hymn is the Magnificat, not "Away in a Manger."28 Advent resists both the sentimentalization of the Lord's first coming and the dissipation of his second.29 Its practice avoids the mistakes of dissolving God's justice into realized eschatology, or putting it off into a future that never arrives (cf. 2 Pet. 3:4), or imagining a Judgment Day with all sheep and no goats. Divine mercy never collapses into an idealized present day, negligent procrastination, or the false promise of universalism. When the Church observes Advent, it promises that in the end, final justice will arrive (2 Pet. 3:10).30
But what good is this promise after Ninevah? Why can God not simply repent of it like he repented of so many others, and leave Revelation's martyrs sulking like Jonah? Judgment Day's difference is its finality. It makes good on all of God's earlier judgments and mercies. Without it, all of God's other redemptive acts are compromised, including the cross, and emptied of their power to liberate. If God will not do his job as judge, we may as well sin that grace (and more sin) may abound, or take the gavel from him and do the job ourselves. Miroslav Volf contends persuasively that only the promise of eschatological violence is enough to break the cycle of violence.31 Christian mercy will only overpower vigilante justice by the knowledge that God will repay (Ro. 12:19, on Deut. 32:35). Advent is a theodicy that satisfies. It helps keep the Lamb's War from becoming the Church's.
Advent's Present Justice
But is even the assurance of final justice enough? What about justice today? Advent's Old Testament readings center in Isaiah,32 which delivers its messages of hope against the backdrop of Israel's terrible experiences of God's justice. It was justice delivered early that shook Israel out of its overconfidence in the Davidic covenant. It is past mercies and judgments that Mary remembers in her warrior's hymn of expectation: "[The Lord] has shown strength (epoiêsen kratos)."33 Noah's companions, Egypt's firstborn, Israel's and Judah's enemies, Israel and Judah themselves, Iscariot, Herod, Ananias and Sapphira, pagan Rome, and countless others got the punishment they deserved, and their demise ushered in ages of relative justice in Israel's and the Church's history.34 The expectant Church proclaims that every past and present dispensation of justice is a down payment on the final justice of the Last Day. In the same way, 1 and 2 Peter correlate the Genesis flood with the heavenly fire, the ark's inhabitants with the baptized, and Israel in exile with their own churches.
Advent's eschatological orientation gives Christians more than a future. It gives them a present. Jesus' career inaugurated a victory over natural corruption. His followers are not left wallowing in injustice until their Master's return. His victory continues to unfold in their proleptic colony of the coming order,35 whose sanctification anticipates and prepares for Jesus' return.36 Practices like evangelism,37 healing,38 mercy ministries,39 discipline and excommunication,40 almsgiving and redistribution of wealth,41 pacifism,42 obedience to governing authorities, and martyrdom presuppose affirmative answers to the questions posed by the problem of evil: Does God exist? Does God care about suffering? Is God going to act?
Furthermore, the Kingdom's colony occasionally receives assistance from a surprising place: Caesar's sword. The ecclesial and civil ethics of Romans 12-15, like those of the Petrine corpus and Revelation, is grounded Christologically43 and eschatologically.44 When Paul calls the governing authority "the servant of God, to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:4), he is linking civil justice to chapter 12's eschatological justice. As the Church's present mercy participates in the final mercy ("Overcome evil with good," Rom. 12:21), so the state's present wrath can participate (when justly dispensed) in the final wrath.
Conclusion: Epistemological Crisis Resolved (for Some)
To conclude: Advent presents the problem of evil not as an objection raised against Christian theology and ethics but as a constructive part of it. Advent names theodicy not chiefly as an intellectual or even existential exercise, but as a praxis: Because Jesus has come and gone, and comes again, repent; watch and pray; submit to God and to one another; honor the emperor; go and make disciples; suffer in Christ; conquer by persevering.
Catholics light the Advent candle, Salvation Army officers ring bells for the hungry. Both communities act out answers to Hume's supposedly airtight logic: "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent." "No," answer the faithful, "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." "Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent." "On the contrary, he is merciful towards the malevolent, and willing that all come to repentance." "Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?" "Evil is everywhere, and nowhere more than on the cross, where God himself became its victim. He, more than anyone, bore the evil of his own justice and mercy. Yet it was on Calvary that evil was vanquished. We would have been vanquished along with it, if not for the time God has given for us (and you too?) to be numbered among the victors."
Not everyone will find these answers satisfactory, or even pleasant. Some will want God's patience to run on forever; others wish it had run out long ago. God's plans are bitter-sweet even to John the Seer (Rev. 10:10). Jonah's own final response is left out of his story, where it is God who gets the last word.
1 This essay is the final part of an entire Christology of the liturgical year, tentatively titled The Reason for the Season: Christology Through the Liturgical Year. Therefore it is not a self-contained argument, but depends upon material concerning the rest of the divine economy of salvation, as expressed in the rest of the liturgical year. An earlier version was presented to the American Academy of Religion Systematic Theology Group, November 23, 1998, in Orlando, Florida.
3 This essay treats "the problem of evil" and "theodicy" their its common use as encompassing the wide variety of efforts to comprehend human suffering in terms of the divine, not in its more technical sense referring to the modern movement associated with the work of Leibniz, Hick, et al.
5 Or one popular cluster of answers. There was of course no uniformity, or even coherence, to the various Jewish responses to evil and injustice. But the figure(s) of the Messiah and the Son of Man figured prominently in many, and it was from these circles that Christianity seems to have emerged.
6 C.H. Dodd finds the confession of Jesus' prompt return to judge the living and dead an authentic dimension of the primitive kerygma of the earliest Church. See The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (New York: Harper, 1944), p 23.
7 "God made man for the purpose of sharing in his own goodness. ... He would not therefore have deprived him of the most excellent and precious form of goodness, namely the gift of liberty and free-will. ... For how could a nature that was enslaved and subject to necessity be called an image of the sovereign nature?" Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration 5-8, trans. J. Srawley, in Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer, Documents in Early Christian Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp 103-104.
11 James McClendon, for instance, traces a Christian answer through the typological, "proleptic" Job to the Nazarene for whom Job's horror story came true. The Christian reading of Job (found in Rom. 11:33-36) proclaims that Jesus is where God truly answers those who question his righteousness. James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Systematic Theology: Doctrine (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), pp 173-175.
12 For all the power of Jewish and Muslim answers to the problem of evil, for Christians they must suffer from the common weakness of being unable to refer explicitly to Jesus Christ. "Christian" theodicies that fail to appeal to Christology necessarily exhibit the same weaknesses. Whether or not they are wrong per se, they must be inadequate.
14 This move is further supported by several recent developments, which together show promise for improving systematic theology's response to natural and moral evil. The first is the recovery of apocalyptic consciousness in biblical studies. Honest historical critics of Jesus' career will no longer let theologians forget that Jesus' apocalyptic sayings and the Church's early expectation of his quick return are firmly embedded in the earliest strata of the New Testament traditions. Jesus thought God's imminent eschatological judgment to be the final answer to the problem of natural and moral evil.
The second helpful development is the revival of apocalyptic practices in the Church. In continental Europe, the cause itself seems to have been theodical, arising from the experiences of World War II and reflected in the work of Ernst Käsemann, Jürgen Moltmann, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Walter Kasper, and others. Off the continent, apocalypticism had long been on the rise in evangelical Dispensationalism and other millennial movements, whose popularity continues to grow worldwide. Millennarians adopt the biblical picture that Messiah is the answer to the problem of evil. Earthquakes, wars, and oppression are all signs that Jesus is coming, and justice will follow. This conviction may be worked out poorly and even abusively in many millennarian communities. Eschatology is sometimes reduced to futurism. But the recovery of eschatological practice to an extent reminiscent of the early Church has been healthy, at least in principle.
The third development is postmodernity, which has helped restore theology's premodern appreciation for the practices of the worshiping Church as a source and example of theology. In them, we gain an epistemological ground for insight into the economy of salvation and the nature of God. In the gathered and worshiping Messianic community, we see "the Christian rationality" acted out.
These are strange bedfellows indeed: Historical criticism, fundamentalism, postmodernity, and liturgics! But each in its own way appreciates the importance of eschatological, Christological, and practical categories in Christian theodical reflection. The Church's response to suffering was provided by Jesus himself, received from his apostles, and has been shaped and lived out (even if poorly) in his Church. While Hellenistic concepts of divine attributes and Platonistic accounts of evil have their place in Christian thought, they are neither the first word nor the best word on the matter. They stand in great need of clarification and correction by the Church's more traditional Christological answer to suffering in God's good creation.
16 Two examples of this must suffice. First, the Lord's Prayer sees salvation as salvation from: "Let your Kingdom come.... Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.... Deliver us from evil." Second, 1 Peter's account to the suffering of innocents (3:13-4:19) puts it sacramentally: The water that judged the world, saved Noah's family from its sin; and now this water saves 1 Peter's readers through baptism.
17 The event originated in the West probably in the fourth century as a preparation for Epiphany, and by the fifth and sixth centuries had become a forty-day preparation for Christmas. See Peter G. Cobb, "The History of the Christian Year," in Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold and Paul Bradshaw, eds., The Study of Liturgy, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford, 1992), p 468.
18 Matt. 24:36-44, Mark 13:32-37, Luke 21:25-36, First Sunday in Advent, Years A, B, and C respectively; Jer. 33:14-16, First Sunday, Year C; Mal. 3:1-4, Second Sunday, Year C; 2 Sam. 7:8-16, Fourth Sunday, Year B.
20 Matt. 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-6, Second Sunday, Years A, B, and C; Matt. 11:2-11, John 1:6-8, 19-28, Luke 3:7-18, Third Sunday, Years A, B, and C; Isa. 2:1-4, First Sunday, Year A; Zeph. 3:14-20, Third Sunday, Year C.
21 Phil. 1:9-11, Second Sunday, Year C; 1 Thess. 3:9-13, Year C; 1 Cor. 1:3-9, First Sunday, Year B; Ro. 15:4-13, Second Sunday, Year A; 1 Thess. 5:16-24, Third Sunday, Year B; Phil. 4:4-9, Third Sunday, Year C; Ps. 24, Fourth Sunday, Year A.
26 Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, §6. See Anselm's Cur Deus Homo for a similar argument. One can see similar dynamics at work in Moses' exchanges with God at Sinai (Ex. 32:1-14), which leads to mitigated punishment for Israel and a sharply dialectical picture of divine justice and mercy (Ex. 34:6-7).
28 Luke 1:46-55, Third Sunday, Year B. John Howard Yoder calls Mary "a Maccabean," entertaining Paul Winter's proposal that the Magnificat originated in a Maccabean battle song circulated through John's disciples. See John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), p 21.
30 Note here that apocalyptic expectation is an integral to the argument of the latest document in the canon. It is no discarded relic of a primitive, overly Jewish Church.